Feb. 28, 2010 – For a couple of hours on Sunday afternoon, we got to hang out with some very cool people and hear some very cool music. The occasion was the arrival of the Monterey Jazz Festival All-Stars at the Alys Robinson Stephens Perfoming Arts Center in Birmingham, Alabama.
The feature artists were recent Grammy Award winner, Kurt Elling, MacArthur Genius Grant Winner, violinist Regina Carter, master pianist Kenny Barron, guitar virtuoso Russell Malone, bassist Kiyoshi Kitagawa, and drummer Johnathan Blake. The result of this collaboration of talent and venue was pure aural art.
Opening with a ensemble jam session that included a vocal/scat rendition of Thelonius Monk’s “Rhythm-A-Ning” and “When I Grow Too Old To Dream”, the program was a shifting showcase that gave each artist his–or her–moment to shine. Malone’s segment was the rendering version of the song “Like a Lover” in his trademark fingerworked guitar style. Elling offered a lovely version of his “And We Will Fly” and later, “You Are Too Beautiful”, which he introduced as a song from a Hartman/Coltrane tribute that he recorded, never mentioning that it had won him his first Grammy earlier this month.
Carter’s moment to shine, and shine she did, was on the Billie Holiday classic “Don’t Explain” with Barron accompanying her. In addtion to some tremendous piano solo, Barron’s nicest contribution to the set came in the form of “Theme Number One”, a tune he wrote for opening of small indie film called “Another Harvest Moon”, which he proclaimed in its introduction, “You’ll probably never see”.
Elling who was humble, witty and funny throughout, returned afterwards to remark, “That is a very cool tune for a Sunday afternoon, or Sunday morning, or anytime. I’m just sayin'”. When he added, “It might not be good NASCAR”, there was a roar of laughter from the house. The show closed with a rousing ovation and an encore of “Ok, Alright,You Win (I’m In Love With You)”.
Some critics of the show have been quick to say that the show is problematic, in that it doesn’t take chances, but given that these are shows for an audience that does not attend get to hear jazz artists of this calibur on a regular basis, it gets the job done (though Blake’s drum solos could be a little shorter).
The show proves that there’s something special about seeing a stage full of real music professionals at work that is inspiring and this is a more than solid lineup of players more than fits the bill in that regard.