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Jazz Festival Report

Travel & news discussion about St. Lucia

Jazz Festival Report

Postby KarenS » Fri May 26, 2006 6:36 am

From "It’s two years later, and both Babyface and I made it back to the St. Lucia Jazz Festival without incident. I had been dying to get back to this lush island of beautiful vistas and friendly people, and the festival is the perfect mix of local flavor and familiar music.

Held from May 9th through May 14th in the Eastern Caribbean island's Pigeon Island National Park, this year's fest thankfully featured a full-on hit immersion from Kenneth Edmonds, who was faced with the wrath of festival-goers in 2004 when a steady rainfall washed away any hope of a full-on performance from the prolific songwriter-producer.

This year, Face did it up as only he can during his Saturday night show, which is essentially the same production he's given us over the last year here in the States. Under a partly cloudy sky, he rained down only musical gems from his own recording catalog -- "Grown & Sexy," "Tender Lover," "It's No Crime," "For The Cool In You," "Every Time I Close My Eyes," "Never Keeping Secrets"--as well as his mind-blowing string of hits for others, like the Bobby Brown numbers "Roni," "Every Little Step," and "Don't Be Cruel"; After 7's "Ready Or Not," Tevin Campbell's "Can We Talk"; Johnny Gill's "My My My," and Boyz II Men's "End Of The Road" and "I'll Make Love To You." Oh, he might have wrapped up with a few more solo tunes, including that Grammy-winning ditty about the world he did with that guitar guy, Clapton somebody, but the Caribbean audience was already in Babyface heaven. After this dizzying jaunt down a musical memory lane, any worries about the humidity, brazen mosquitoes, or the long trek to the dark Port-O-Potty disappeared into the St. Lucian sky like morning dew. Mr. Edmonds, you still got it.

"Face" was just one of the many impressive headliners corralled for this year's St. Lucia Fest, a co-production of the St. Lucia Tourist Board and the new BETJ channel. This year’s lineup featured a dynamic mix of top traditional and contemporary jazz artists as well as R&B and pop sensations, including Seal, Poncho Sanchez, Al Green, Rihanna, Ciara, Kenny Garrett, Nancy Wilson, and others. The rain that never came was kept at bay by our internal prayers and by the Pigeon Island's main stage, which looked like a biosphere dome covered in clear plastic.

Another standout performance came from the Reverend himself, Al Green. Gussied up in a crisp tuxedo and bowtie despite the St. Lucian heat, Green told journalists beforehand that he has three projects in development this year: a follow-up to his Blue Note album Everything's OK, as well as an independent gospel set with collaborator Willie Mitchell, and a possible jazz standards recording. Backed by a band featuring a full horn section, two male hip-hop dancers, and a pair of backup singers that included his daughter Debra, Green kicked off his Mother's Day show just as the St. Lucia sun was beaming directly onto the stage. The veteran performed favorites such as "Just Can't Stop" from his 2003 album of the same name, then blazed through "Let's Get Married," "Everything's Gonna Be All Right," "Here I Am Baby," and a medley of other '60s hits, such as "Sugar Pie Honeybunch, "Bring It On Home To Me," "My Girl," and Sittin' On The Dock Of The Bay."

"Does Al Green still have it?" the singer asked the crowd, who roared their approval. No question, Green still has the pipes and the moves, with his backup band not missing a lick. Green serenaded us with "How Can You Mend A Broken Heart," then led an extended "Love And Happiness," closing the show by dramatically pulling off his drenched tuxedo shirt and tossing it to the crowd, shirt studs flying. Witnesses say that as he came off stage the Reverend stumbled, was caught by crew members, and was whisked away in an air-conditioned limo. Did I mention it was almost 90 degrees, perhaps close to 100 under the plastic in the sun?

For jazz fans, there was much to choose from in the diverse lineup. The main stage festivities got underway on Thursday with an amazing set by “The Three Guitars,” which combined Caribbean guitarists Michael Boothman and Ronald “Boo” Hinkson with unique American guitar technician Stanley Jordan. Playing together without any other accompaniment, their set was an exploration of various electric guitar sounds and styles, from searing electric fusion to rock to nylon string flamenco to reggae. The three blazed through "Autumn Leaves," with Boothman demonstrating assured, lyrical soloing. Jordan employed his unique touch style of playing throughout. As Boothman and Hinson took a break, Jordan stunned the audience with a solo performance of "Song By My Father" where he played piano with his right hand and accompanied himself on guitar with his left. Hinson added Latin flavor to an extended "Sketches Of Spain," where each took extended solos.

Traditional vocalist Freddy Cole took to the stage Thursday with an ace band that included young saxophonist Eric Alexander, beginning the set with a Latin zed version of Billy Joel's “Don’t Go Changing.” Veteran jazz diva Nancy Wilson wrapped up the first night with an elegant set of standards, including music from her RSVP: Rare Songs, Very Special album.

The second evening at the outdoor park stage got off to a start with St. Lucian female quartet Sisterhood, singing a mix of pop, jazz, reggae, and Creole favorites. They were followed by an ad hoc collection of top-flight jazz musicians assembled for the event by promoter Derek Walcott. Dubbed the First Call All Star Band, the set featured saxophonists Everett Harp and Nelson Rangel, keyboardist James Lloyd of Pieces Of A Dream, drummer Sonny Emory, guitarist Hiram Bullock, percussionist Basher Johnson, bassist Richard Patterson, and keyboardist Morris Pleasure.

With only one real rehearsal before they hit the Pigeon Island stage, the group whipped up a stew of old favorites with a stellar level of musicianship that can only be termed soul-satisfying. Included on the set were Ewe's "Can’t Hide Love" with Rangel leading on tenor, Harp playing EWI (electric wind instrument), and Bullock taking a guitar solo that he doubled with a scat vocal. Harp then led off a sexy version of Alicia Keys' "If I Ain’t Got You," upping the intensity by running through the crowd followed by Bullock. The group followed up with Herbie Hancock’s "Chameleon," where James Lloyd’s skills on the electric piano and synch came into startling relief. Rarely can a band duplicate the sound and mood of an iconic recording on stage, but the All Stars made "Chameleon" and Ramsey Lewis' "Sun Goddess" into vibrant realizations of the originals. EWF drummer Sonny Emory proved his chops on drums as well, twirling his sticks while simultaneous creating a heart-thumping solo.

Latin soul stalwart Poncho Sanchez delivered a solid set of salsa, cha cha cha, and funk favorites, including selections from his excellent current album Do It!, as he led into Al Green's show on Sunday. And saxophonist Kenny Garrett, playing the Saturday stage ahead of Babyface, delivered a much-needed shot of bebop and loose-limbed fusion, with selections from his 2003 Standard Of Language set as well as the previous 2002 Happy People. In fact, the funky strains of "Happy People" ignited the crowd as he played an extended stop and start version.

The more pop and R&B contingent acquitted themselves with aplomb. R&B pop star Ciara closed out Friday evening's lineup with a high energy set of hip-hop inspired grooves and dance steps. She ran through a selection of her hits, including "Lose Control," "Goodies," "Looking At U," "Pick Up The Phone" (with a Jones Girls All Night Long groove) and a version of "So What" featuring the Field Mob, among others. Dressed in a chain-mail bra top and baggy white pants, her look brought to mind the late and much-missed Aaliyah. While Ciara is clearly talented, the industry's emphasis on having its young stars perform choreographed dance moves while singing to pre-recorded tracks only undercuts their skills. It's never easy to both dance and sing well, particularly on a humid night in the Caribbean with few breezes. But the audience of screaming teens and preteens didn't seem to mind as their enthusiasm closed out the evening on a high if shrill note.

Barbadian teen Rihanna opened Saturday afternoon's show with her first Caribbean performance since becoming a chart-topper, and was greeted like a homecoming queen by the crowd. She also ran through a selection of tunes from her albums Music of The Sun and A Girl Like Me, including the dancefloor burner "Pon De Replay," and the impossibly catchy "S.O.S." She also tried an acoustic version of Bob Marley's "Redemption Song" that showed off the textures in her still-developing but impressive voice.

British pop star Seal was the festival's closer on Sunday night. Bounding on stage after a terse charge to the press of no interviews or photographs and with no introduction, Seal was faced with maintaining the interest of a crowd who had just been blown away by the sheer stage artistry and double-o-soul attack of Al Green. While I have been a Seal fan in the past, his cerebral brand of electro-pop rock just couldn't measure up to the powerful mojo worked by Brother Green, so I confess to escaping the scene without my dose of "A Kiss From A Rose," "Prayer For The Dying," or "Crazy" in favor of beating the one-lane-out pileup that had caused a two-hour traffic jam the night before. Sorry, Seal. In a world full of people, some do want to fly, especially when there is a lovely suite at the Rex Royal Hotel on the island's resort-studded Rodney Bay awaiting them."
Karen for
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