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July 27, 2013 at 10:52 AM

Cool first night at Jazz Port Townsend

     The Anat Cohen Quartet (Jim Levitt)

The Anat Cohen Quartet (Jim Levitt)

A wind was blowing up on the parade ground at Fort Worden when I started toward McCurdy Pavilion Friday night but it wasn’t strong enough to blot out the sound of a very strong trumpet player on the other side of the trees I was headed for. Who could that be? A power player like that, blowing through bop changes like they were nursery rhymes? Gotta be either Jay Thomas or Thomas Marriott.

But no, when I got there I discovered it was Max Boiko, an 18-year-old kid from Florida who was part of baritone saxophonist Gary Smulyan’s combo at the workshop that had been going all week. Boiko just graduated from Dillard High School, in Ft. Lauderdale. Yes, that Dillard, the one that beat out our Seattle bands at Essentially Ellington. Whew! This boy can blow! He’s going to the Brubeck Institute next year, down in California. I’m sure they’ll be delighted to have him.

That’s the way it always is at this festival, where a week-long workshop with the best jazz kids in the country study with masters like drummer Jeff Hamilton and festival artistic director John Clayton. Seeing the mix in the audience of older jazz fans and the kids, checking each other out, giving each other encouragement, is always a refreshing part of the atmosphere here.

The opening concert featuring multi-reed player Anat Cohen on B flat clarinet, with Hamilton and Seattle’s Dawn Clement (piano) and Chuck Deardorf” (bass). Cohen’s version of Fats Waller’s “Jitterbug Waltz” showed she has moved beyond mere mastery — she was all over that licorice stick! — to a level of relaxation that is loose, expressive and full of textural surprises. She seemed to be having a hell of a lot of fun, glancing off the chord changes and melody of Fats’ classic in a way that was both oblique and accessible.

Her version of Jimmy Rowles’ “The Peacocks” illuminated that mysterious tune in a way that made me hear its logic in a whole new way. She then added a virtuoso cadenza that brought the crowd to its feet. She closed with a lively Brazilian choro by Pixiguinha that had Hamilton rapping his floor tom with an open hand as he played snare with a stick, evoking the bata drums of carnival in Rio. Lovely.

The first band on stage was a mashup of players teaching at the workshop The new face in the crowd — Canadian trumpet player and vocalist Bria Skonberg — had a charming persona but her trumpet solos and breathy vocals felt ordinary. But then she was encased by some pretty extraordinary folks. Drummer Matt Wilson sang on his instrument, following the form of each tune as he soloed, melodically and rhythmically and inventively, like a latter-day Joe Morello. Trombonist Wycliffe Gordon tore up the place, blasting, wailing, blatting and yowling, then leading the crowd in a sing-a-long on Dizzy Gillespie’s “Ow!” that he dedicated to Louis Armstrong. He also took a spin on the trumpet, sputtering out valve tricks and zig-zagging through the changes, a la Dizzy.

Skonberg brought their set to a cute close with a gospeled-up version of Janis Joplin’s “Mercedes Benz.”

Stefon Harris, left, and Obed Calvaire play Friday night at the Public House. (Photo by Paul de Barros / The Seattle Times)

Stefon Harris, left, and Obed Calvaire play Friday night at the Public House. (Photo by Paul de Barros / The Seattle Times)

Out in the clubs Friday, another all-star band was rattling the roof of the Public House, as vibraphonist Stefon Harris, alto saxophonist Jeff Clayton, drummer Obed Calvaire, pianist Gerlad Clayton, bassist Joe Sanders and trumpeter Terrell Stafford jammed on “If I Were A Bell” for nearly half an hour — without a boring minute. Oddly and coincidentally, they launched into Benny Golson’s “Whisper Not,” which also wound up in the set list of pianist Dave Peck, later, over at Khu Larb, the Thai restaurant. Peck and bassist Jeff Johnson were in an after-hours mood and played off each other with graceful, sweet romance, while drummer Byron Vannoy seemed content to watch them interact.

All in all, a lovely first night for Jazz PT. More to come this afternoon, with the all-star band playing Quincy Jones’ music and a premiere of a new work by John Clayton.

0 Comments | More in Jazz | Topics: Jazz Port Townsend

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