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Music Review

At Newport Jazz Festival, highlights were all over the map, and that’s a good thing

Vocalist Dianne Reeves performed on Saturday at the Newport Jazz Festival.
Vocalist Dianne Reeves performed on Saturday at the Newport Jazz Festival.Nic Antaya for The Boston Globe

NEWPORT, R.I. — It’s the nature of multi-stage music festivals that you’re always missing something. Spend a full 60-minute set with one act and you miss most or all of three others. So consider this a series of snapshots of 20 performances from the Newport Jazz Festival on Saturday afternoon, the second of three days of music.

Now celebrating it’s 65th anniversary, the festival is as varied and deeply representative as it’s ever been, freed up in part by founding producer George Wein’s decision, in 2010, to take the event nonprofit, with a strong educational component (the corporate sponsor is Natixis Investment Managers).


So there was the old guard — pianist Herbie Hancock, 79; bassist Ron Carter, 82; and singer Sheila Jordan, 90 (a featured guest with vocal trio the Royal Bopsters). In the vanguard were Newport debut performances from twentysomething vibraphonist Joel Ross and drummer Makaya McCraven, 35. (Long security lines didn’t allow me to catch Jordan’s curtain-raising set, and I opted out on 13-year-old pianist Brandon Goldberg.)

Stylistic choices were all over the map — the McCraven band’s jittery grooves; vigorous hard bop from drummer Ralph Peterson’s band (with an elegant, stirring Bill Pierce on tenor sax); keyboardist Hailu Mergia’s Ethiopian take on American jazz, Afropop, and reggae; Ghost Note’s LOUD hard funk; the Americana jazz of violinist Jenny Scheinman and drummer Allison Miller’s band Parlour Game.

Star turns came from vocalists: multilingual Majorcan singer Buika, with her raw Iberian wail (and a surprising, rolling 6/8 take on the Billie Holiday standard “Don’t Explain”); Dianne Reeves (with her jazz-ballad interpretation of Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams”); and Dee Dee Bridgewater, who offered a succinct civil rights lesson, with a call-back to the Little Rock Nine and the Staple Singers’ “Why? (Am I Treated So Bad).”

Some other memorable moments included Parlour Game’s poised take on Miller’s “Top Shelf” (“about the ridiculousness of getting drunk on expensive liquor”) and the sweet oneiric lope of Scheinman’s “Sleep Rider.” Vibist Ross (who did double-duty with McCraven) and his band followed an appealing slipped-cog groove with a slow boil-ballad. Hancock, in a trio with bassist (and Newport artistic director) Christian McBride and drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, offered an expansive take on his compatriot Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints.” In an intimate duo with saxophonist Ravi Coltrane, pianist David Virelles released knotty, detailed runs into cloud-like soft chords.


Kamasi Washington (left) with his band at the Newport Jazz Festival.
Kamasi Washington (left) with his band at the Newport Jazz Festival.Nic Antaya for The Boston Globe

I’m not a fan of headliner Kamasi Washington’s bland predictability. But the saxophonist/bandleader has become something of a sensation since the release of his triple CD “The Epic,” in 2015. It was hard to fault the earnest uplift of his melodies and stage comments on a day when news of the carnage in El Paso was popping up on people’s cellphones.

For me, the high point of the afternoon was perhaps its quietest: Carter, in a trio with guitarist Russell Malone and pianist Donald Vega, paying tribute to the bassist’s late duo partner Jim Hall, with Carter’s “Candle Light” and the Dimitri Tiomkin-Ned Washington standard “Wild Is the Wind.” In his counterlines to Malone, Carter was a dance partner, both supporting and free. In the August heat, Carter wore a white seersucker jacket and tie with a jaunty pocket square. It doesn’t get cooler than that.

Newport Jazz Festival

At Fort Adams State Park, Newport, R.I., Saturday

Jon Garelick can be reached at jon.garelick@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jgerelick.


An earlier version misstated part of the name of Natixis Investment Managers.