[live Review] Opening Night, Newport Jazz Fest

"My God, Wynton Marsalis really IS the best jazz trumpet player alive!" Thats' what I was thinking as the big W solo'd for about a thousand choruses of a very uptempo "Autumn Leaves"at the Newport Casino tonight -- the opening night of the weekend long Newport Jazz Festival. Wynton crafted one beautiful phrase after another at the lightning tempo, strings of diamond-hard notes, punctuated with a variety of dips, slides, and rests. He was amazing. And his band was completely in the pocket -- pianist Dan Nimmer (especially good on a witty, restrained "Goodbye"), reedman Walter Blanding (he sat out a couple of tunes -- I wished we'd got to hear more of his nubby, blistering, old-school tenor sax), bassist Carlos Henriquez and drummer Ali Jackson. Henriquez and Jackson created tight, springing rhythms all night, and Jackson crafted a detailed, subtle solo on his hi-hat, perfectly mixed the sound team (and perfectly played) so that it rang in the soft night air.

Wynton stuck to all standards -- he was opening for Great American Songbook Crooner Michael Feinstein. But it was still an exciting, satisfying set. Even at its hammiest (some crowd-pleasing "talking" plunger mute during "Comes Love"), Marsalis and his band played with high musicality, engagement, generosity.

Feinstein was generous too, but oy! The singer is the self-appoionted keeper of the Great American Songbook flame, and his natural turf is the tony digs of the Carlyle Hotel in NYC. He DOES know his stuff -- when he tells you that a slow 3/4 is how Bart Howard wanted "Come Fly with Me" to go (and not as Sinatra's uptempo swinger), you believe him. (He was friends with the late Howard.) And he's got great pipes, with amazing breath control (he sang "In other words, please be true" and held that last word an impossibly long time and went into the next phrase without taking more air). But he tends to milk every syllable -- every note-- for maximum effect. Cabaret singing doesn't have to be this way -- Bobby Short delivered maximum emotion and maximum wit in the same breath. Well, whatever, once I got over my Martin Short flashbacks, Feinstein became funny and charming on his own terms, and when he brought Wynton up for a guest spot, he even started to swing. And hey, I've heard a gazillion jazz musicians play "All The Things You Are," but I can't remember the last time I heard anyone sing it. And he sang the seldom-heard introductory verses with everything. God bless him for that.

Tomorrow morning, it's out to Fort Adams, and an early set from the punk-jazz quartet Mostly Other People Do the Killing. I'm ready.

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