Concert Reviews

Jazz Fest Denver at Dazzle

Jazz Fest Denver
Dazzle Restaurant & Lounge
Friday, March 20 through Sunday March, 22

Dazzle is home to some of the finest local and national jazz acts that swing through Denver on a nightly basis, but this week Dazzle graciously lent its doors and transformed the club into a three-day awkward romp known as Jazz Fest Denver. Sterling Kaminsky and his crew have brought in some of the finest acts in jazz to our town. This year's lineup was spectacular despite the festival's ups and downs. Knowing the success of previous years, Kaminsky should have known how to draw in the local and national jazz community rather than pushing it away.

Although Dazzle was not the ideal location for this festival, the food and staff, as usual, were stellar. But if you wanted to enjoy food and drinks during one of the evening acts, you had to  learn how to scarf it down. It's just not healthy to do that -- you'll choke. Audiences were cleared out from the listening room between sets so that the artists could tear down equipment and open the stage up for the next act. When you have attendees who would like to linger and visit (after all, jazz is social music) and you're shooing them out, you have a problem. In addition, those who treat Dazzle as their local haunt were not only deterred from showing up at the festival to see their favorite artists, but were turned away at the door at times when there were plenty of seats available to the naked eye due to the claim that all shows were sold out. When you're staying in someone's house (or borrowing their venue), it's respectful to treat them and their extended family the same way you would want to be treated. Need I say more? Let's get on to the good stuff. Redeeming all things negative, the music was really what this festival was all about. 

WHO: Janine Santana-Conga/Percussion
Accompanied by local greats such as Jeff Jenkins on piano and Brad Goode on trumpet, Santana had the poor luck of being first on stage for the festival. Her music was brilliantly laid out, though, as she turned up the heat on the stage for those to come after her. Offering a blend of Afro-cuban/Latino jazz, Santana has arms of steel that blend the rhythms into the underbelly of melody created by her sidemen.    

WHO: Jazz Arts Messengers (Colorado Conservatory of Jazz Arts)
Under the direction of Paul Romaine, this group of students from the CCJA has a great start to the jazz life. Interpreting standards in front of any crowd, especially one that is formed of discerning jazz fans, is difficult no matter what age you are. But these kids are fearless. Like pros, they transitioned from one tune to the next without any noticeable issues and made the crowd stand up and take notice of the future of jazz. Paul and Chris Romaine are really doing a great service for the Denver jazz community by ensuring the success and education of these kids through jazz education.  
WHO: The B3 Trio: Pat Bianchi-Hammond B3, Jim White-drums, Steve Kovalcheck-guitar
Pat Bianchi is fast climbing the ladder as one of the very best voices in jazz today. His virtuosic hands accompanied by two of the top rhythm-section players in the industry, Bianchi's soul was bared through his two sets on Friday night. Revisiting an array of standards while introducing the crowd to originals that are sure to be recognized as standards in the future, Bianchi stirred up the musical pot with his strength at the keyboard. Tirelessly, White and Kovalcheck kept the Bianchi burn going throughout both sets as a semi-packed crowd cheered them on.

WHO: Brad Goode Quartet: Brad Goode-trumpet, Ken Walker-bass, Todd Reid-drums, Jeff Jenkins-piano
Known as one of the greater local acts, the men of the Brad Goode Quartet are all of national-act caliber and have played with some of the very best in the business. Following their latest release,
WHO: Terell Stafford-trumpet, Pat Bianchi-Hammond B3, Jim White-drums
One of the best trumpet players in modern jazz history graced Denver with his presence on Saturday afternoon.  Unfortunately, this, despite its advertisement on the website, was NOT sold out.  To a somewhat empty room for his first set, Stafford, Bianichi and White put on an amazing lineup of tunes. Stafford brought out his usual charm and grace on the horn and in his quips with the audience. What I like about his shtick is that he ties the listener into his music before he even plays one note. By the end of a set or concert, Stafford has brought the audience into his world through personal anecdotes, tunes written for the loves in his life and, most of all, his soul-wrenching music. The combination of Bianchi and White with Stafford was over-the-top. Stafford's golden lines and sound were complemented by Bianchi's in tune ears and heart. Their ability to communicate these messages of comfort and warmth through each tune brought a glowing quality to each tune. I hope this will not be the last we hear of this particular arrangement of masters.   

WHO: Eliane Elias-vocalist
Refused to be reviewed and wouldn't allow any photography.  

WHO: CCJA Jazz Arts Messengers
Another winning combo from the CCJA. These kids are on fire. Despite the early hour, plenty of great folks turned out to hear them groove through the hour on stage. Although these are technically kids, you can hear very adult musical ideas simmering their way to the top of their solos. What an opportunity to hear what the best and brightest of our young community have to say in one place.    

WHO: Convergence: Paul Romaine-drums, John Gunther-saxophone, Greg Gisbert-trumpet, Eric Gunnison-piano, Mark Patterson-trombone
Denver has been blessed for over a decade to have this stellar group play on its turf on a monthly basis. As one of the most modern and original all-instrumental groups in jazz today, Convergence always has great things to say. Gearing up for a live recording at Dazzle this coming Friday, the players have honed their sets and it shows. As a group, their impeccable time and insatiable appetite for the cutting edge of sound continues to amaze audiences and leave them audience wanting more. Why this group isn't touring nationally continues to baffle me, as I think the very essence of what it does is what jazz needs to draw a larger audience into its grasp.

WHO: Kurt Elling-vocals, Laurence Hobgood-piano, Clark Sommers-bass, Marko Marcinko-drums
 Kurt Elling has been stealing songs from the hearts of jazz fans for decades. His lustrous sound combined with witty banter is more than a winning combination; it's what keeps audiences coming to him from all over the world.  Elling definitely brought panache and grace to a unseasonably warm Sunday afternoon. Laurence Hobgood, his arranger and pianist, has helped Elling recast the Coltrane album with Johnny Hartman; it will be released sometime this summer. Doing great justice to these timeless classics, Hobgood adds his signature to Elling's voice by tossing an unexpected turn and twist into each beat and chord played. Once you become predictable as a musician, you lose your audience, and this is probably why this group, in its entirety, has survived the ups and downs of jazz. They're also - intentionally or not - leading and educating the audience on the art of listening for the next moment and paying attention to the importance of this music.

Further suspending ears with musical mastery, Marcinko and Sommers waltzed through tunes, supporting Elling with their unprecedented skill and ability to take greatness and push it to the place where words, even when they're sung by Elling, are not sufficient enough to describe the human experience of styled sound. Elling had the last, timeless and beautiful words of the weekend and I can't think of a better way to end an event.   

Regardless of the blatant problems throughout the festival, this did some good for the community. Exposure for the kids at the CCJA, national touring artists who may not have been able to come here otherwise and fundraising for jazz are things I'm definitely in favor of.  But when it comes to doing it right, especially on this scale, let's learn a lesson from this and get it not only better, but right next year.

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Cicily Janus

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