Dazzle Recordings Artist Festival at Dazzle Jazz, 4/21-22/12 (photos and review)By Sam DeLeo | April 23rd, 2012 | No Comments »
He’s tall and lean. The dark suit accentuates his lanky frame. He picks up his saxophone while the drummer builds a beat and blows a blistering riff from the title track of Pat Metheny’s 1990 album “question & answer.” He’s Rico Jones, and he’s 14 years old.
“I can show him anything and he picks it right up,” said Josh Quinlan, Jones’ teacher at the Denver School of the Arts. Jones and a host of other young Denver jazz musicians opened the two-day Dazzle Recordings Artist Festival this past weekend that was organized by Quinlan, who not only teaches, but is an accomplished jazz musician and composer, directs the Dazzle Recordings label, holds a Ph.D in Jazz Studies and is perhaps the city’s best ambassador for the art form.
“It’s important young people get performance opportunities,” said Quinlan. “We want to provide them with some.” Quinlan and Dazzle Jazz owner Donald Rossa also work with The Gift of Jazz, a non-profit that busses students to the Crossroads Theatre in Five Points so they can study jazz.
“I remember when Colin Stranahan was a young student,” said Rossa. “Now he goes on tour with Herbie Hancock. That’s what it’s about, that’s why I do this.”
The Dazzle Recordings roster will soon reach 20 artists, most located in Colorado but some based in New York, L.A., Boston and Seattle. The label’s first annual festival drew a steady stream of fans throughout the weekend to hear everything from orchestral music to straight-ahead piano trios, selections from the American Songbook to indie-rock takes on progressive jazz. The album sources of this forward-thinking music that calls Denver home may some day include works by Rico Jones and his bandmates.
Here’s some highlights from the weekend:
• The East High School Jazz Combo, fronted by saxophonist Max Bessesson, got the festival under way early Saturday afternoon. If you expected high school jazz students to memorize a few Ellington ballads and be on their way, you were in for a surprise — the group performed a set largely filled with original compositions.
• East High Combo members like bassist Ben Lampert, Bessesson and Jones joined the Colorado Conservatory for the Jazz Arts Messengers for the second set of the day, bolstered by accomplished pianist and teacher Eric Gunnison, who led the group through rousing takes on songs from Metheny to Cedar Walton.
• Jazz chanteuse Julie Monley opened her set with “Let’s Get Lost” and enjoyed some laughs with the crowd before her next song, “Syracuse” by Henri Salvador, stating that, though it might also be worth seeing, the song’s topic was not a town in upstate New York. In English or French, Monley delivers a truly intimate vocal style.
• Progressive jazz group John Lake and Shirley accented straight-ahead jazz with electronic brushstrokes to play a captivating set. The angular trumpet tones Lake created in a composition by Art Lande were perfectly complemented by bassist Paul McDaniel’s hard funk lines and a jagged but controlled march by drummer Ed Breazeale.
• Seattle-based group the Teaching turned in a fiery piano trio performance. The upper-register solo taken by bassist Evan Flory-Barnes during his composition “Fragrance of Eminence” almost resembled a banjo after a few measures. Pianist Josh Rawlings had the audience clapping and singing in time to songs like “Get ‘em Blues” and “Apex Is a Beautiful Day,” while drummer Jeremy Jones added tasteful beats throughout the set.
• The Josh Quinlan “Mountain Standards Quintet” began with a take on Kenny Baron’s “Voyage” that was highlighted by an intricate flugelhorn solo by John Lake and Ben Markley’s swinging piano lines. Quinlan stretched out and displayed his considerable tenor sax talents on John Coltrane’s “Take the Coltrane,” backed by New York bassist Kells Nollenberger strong melodic lines and Markley dexterously cresting in and out of those lines.
• The Greg Harris Vibe Quintet ended the first day with Harris’ inventive compositions, all performed with the intention of allowing each band member the space to explore and improvise. Jon Stewart opened the set with a scorching tenor sax solo and guitarist Matt Fuller followed with some quick strumming that produced a cascading sound effect. Few bands can move seamlessly from a West African rhythm to back roads Americana, but Harris’ Quintet is one of them.
• Sundays are for pianos, the festival’s second-day lineup seemed to say. Working its way through a noisy brunch crowd, the Carmen Sandim Sextet performed a tribute to Earth Day with “Trees,” a song written and sung by Wendy Fopeano. “Disturbia Nerviosa” allowed pianist Sandim to choppily trade deep left-hand chords with the staccato drumming of Josh Moore in a song that somehow possessed both sharp edges and round corners.
• The Steve Denny Trio reminded everyone that the best jazz is never superfluous. Piano, bass and drums can say so much with players like Denny, drummer Ben Waters and bassist Marty Kenney, who played a soulful and moving take on the Denny original, “Robot Parts.”
• Adam Revell and Essence Rider presented an impressive amalgamation of styles, from pop melodies to classical flourishes to the drama of prog rock, as evidenced in their latest album’s title track, “Triple Leaf.” Revell joked about the album’s “epic rock,” but his sound is much more than that.
• Like a Sunday afternoon drive, Ben Haugland’s piano style is both fluid and wandering. His sextet delivered great takes of Kenny Dorham’s “Escapade” and “Lotus Blossom (Asiatic Raes),” as well as a moving version of the 1930 standard, “My Ideal.”
• With original compositions dedicated to everyone from philosopher Bertrand Russell and his young son’s embrace of house chores (“The Sweeper”), Peter Sommer delivered both light and heavy riffs from his alto sax. Every song his quartet performed was memorable, but standing out was their take on Monk’s “Work,” with slightly shorter pauses and perhaps a more fluid reading than the original, and their fiery version of Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin,’” which, stripped of lyrics, allowed an American anthem’s melody to shine through on its own.
• The Matt Smiley Quartet also added humor to their set, passing out head-scratching geometric music charts to the audience and sprinkling long pauses through its set. Trumpeter Jon Gray has the ability to produce any number of squeaks, squanks and whispers on his instrument, and his presence helped produced one of the more risk-taking sets of the festival. The group’s take of Charlie Haden’s “Song for Che” was breathtaking.
• Dave Devine Relay featured guitarist Devine’s inventive approach, from his intuitive sense of spacing to techniques like bowing strings with his use of an Ebow. Using odd time signatures, Devine can veer from loud sludgy chords to math rock to jazz to ambient sounds in the breadth of a song. More importantly, he makes these sounds emote. Bassist/animator John Grigsby provided visuals of audio-interactive 3-D computer generated images he created throughout the set.
• The Ninth and Lincoln Orchestra provided a fitting end to the festival, a big band arrangement unafraid to try anything, whether improvised solos or electronic instruments. Leader/composer/conductor Tyler Gilmore returned from Boston for the performance and led the orchestra through a stirring set.
At least in the hands of Josh Quinlan and the Dazzle Recordings label, the future of Denver’s jazz scene seems to be shining brightly.
Denver-based writer Sam DeLeo is a published poet, has seen two of his plays produced and recently completed his novel, “As We Used to Sing.” His selected work can be read at samdeleo.com.