Friday, June 24, 2016

Jazz Fest 2016, Day 1: Ron reviews Scofield-Lovano Quartet, Mikkel Ploug's Equilibrium, and Paul Hofmann

Posted By on Fri, Jun 24, 2016 at 4:00 AM

The Scofield-Lovano Quartet got right down to business at Xerox Auditorium Friday night. The two stars -- guitarist John Scofield and saxophonist Joe Lovano -- walked onto the stage, along with the excellent rhythm section of Ben Street (bass) and Bill Stewart (drums), and launched into Lovano's "Symbolism." Scofield played gorgeously, even slipping into some Wes Montgomery-style octaves, while Lovano let loose torrents of notes from his tenor saxophone.

Throughout the set, Scofield and Lovano would begin and end tunes with harmonized heads, played in the manner of a sax and trumpet horn section. Every tune, including Scofield's "Museum" and "Slinky," and Miles Davis's "Budo," was filled with great melodic ideas that would hang in the air during improvisations by the two leaders.

Lovano and Scofield played off of one another nicely, each bringing decades of musical personality to the stage. The set was tight, allowing for only one solo each for Street and Stewart, but both were excellent throughout.

After playing the first composition at the Lutheran Church, singer and saxophonist Sissel Vera Pettersen introduced the members of Mikkel Ploug's Equilibrium, and pointed out that she is from Norway, Ploug is from Denmark, and clarinetist Joachim Badenhorst is from Belgium. But the audience already knew that the music was from another planet.

Ploug anchored the group with his relatively straight electric guitar playing. He was flanked by Badenhorst on clarinet and bass clarinet and Pettersen on voice, soprano sax, and electronics. I use the term "on voice" because for most of the set she used no words; her voice was her instrument. She moved her head from side to side and back to front, using the microphone like a Theremin.

The ethereal mixture of her voice and Badenhorst's clarinets was perfect for the beautiful church environment, but if you closed your eyes, you could be floating through distant galaxies. A virtuoso on clarinets, Badenhorst's vocabulary included slap tonguing that made it sound like he was playing two notes at once. Pettersen and Ploug used electronics occasionally to deepen the lush textures and adventurous harmonies.

Popular piano teacher and local jazz hero Paul Hofmann couldn't help but teach a bit of jazz history during his Hatch Hall performance. For instance, the audience learned that Miles Davis led generations of musicians astray with his version of Thelonious Monk's "Well, You Needn't." Hofmann set the record straight with his spirited rendition, true to Monk's original arrangement.

Hofmann's performance was dedicated to the tunes of great pianists who were also great composers. He played tunes by Monk, Bud Powell, Duke Ellington, and others, all in his sparkling style, with an Art Tatum-like arpeggio thrown in once in a while for good measure. Perhaps the most unusual aspect of Hofmann's style was the first thing he did when he arrived on stage. He took off his shoes, preferring to hit the petals with his feet in socks.

Saturday night, I'll start with Makoto Ozone and Tommy Smith in Kilbourn Hall. Then I'll head over to Hatch Hall for Jon Ballantyne, and my last stop will be Christ Church to catch the Phil Robson Trio.

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