The Monterey Jazz Festival got off to a sizzling start Friday at the outdoor main arena, the Jimmy Lyons Stage, with an upbeat show that included the dulcet baritone of new jazz singing star Gregory Porter and — surprisingly, after all these years — the Buena Vista Social Club, the great Cuban touring group.
Porter, dressed in a white sport jacket andtrademark tight cap with earflaps, joshed with the crowd about his Bakersfield, Calif. background — like being from Tacoma, in Wash. — and told them they’d all driven through that hot central valley town on their way to L.A., so just get over their snobbery. Then he showed his keen facility for language — which comes out so sweetly in his songs — with an off-the-cuff remark: “But that’s neither here nor there,” he added, “Actually, it’s both here and there!”
Porter sang exquisitely, dipping into the repertoire on his excellent new album, “Liquid Spirit,” offering the title track, “Hey Laura” and “No Love Dying.” Though he’s only recently been”discovered,” Porter showed himself to be a veteran, with his relaxed yet commanding stage presence.
Bassist John Clayton, who curates the Port Townsend and Lionel Hampton jazz festivals in our neck of the woods, brought his Clayton-Hamilton big band to the stage for a tribute to Dave Brubeck, who died last year. The show included a piece Clayton conducted energetically, as a recording of Louis Armstrong played. Armstrong sang at the Monterey jazz Festival in Brubeck’s operetta “The Real Ambassadors,” years ago.
I thought I — and the jazz crowd generally — had had enough of the Buena Vista Social Club to last a lifetime, but in fact, their gently percolating Cuban traditional music was scintillating. The group featured the great, black-hatted singer Eliades Ochoa, vocalist Omara Portuondo (whose voice was somewhat the worse for wear) and (guitar-like) laud master Barbarito Torres.
When the group, 14-strong, launched into its hit, “Chan Chan,” the audience went wild, dancing in the aisles and brought the band back for an encore.
More when I get home. Monterey Bay is silky blue this morning below the sky and I’m taking a walk past Lover’s Point to get some coffee.