The Brubeck Quartet, with the grand patriarch on grand piano, Bobby Militello on saxophone, Michael Moore on bass and Randy Jones on drums, is the headliner Friday at 7:45 p.m. for opening night at The Springs Center and grounds of Kent School, 1 Macedonia Road (Rt. 341), Kent.
As has been customary with festival founder and CEO Vita Muir's all-star lineups, international variety abounds right alongside due recognition afforded to great, homegrown, Connecticut talent. Brubeck lives in Darien.
This summer's Nutmeg native special features one of the state's finest jazz practitioners, the innovative composer/bassist/bandleader, Mario Pavone. A Waterbury native, Pavone is a much-respected figure on the national and international avant-garde jazz scene.
Muir's musical menu ranges from the Peruvian trumpeter Gabriel Alegria with his Afro-Peruvian Sextet and pianist/composer Arturo O'Farrill with his Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra to Jane Bunnett & the Spirits of Havana and banjo wizard and multi- Grammy Award winner, Béla Fleck. Fleck, who's fluent in all genres, grooves as the festival's grand finale Sunday at 7 p.m. with his wide-ranging trio featuring Indian tabla player Zakir Hussain and bassist/composer Edgar Meyer.
Among other top-shelf features are Israeli clarinetist Anat Cohen's Quartet, bassist Avery Sharpe's Trio, the All-Star Cannonball Adderley Tribute, Dave Samuels and his Caribbean Jazz Project, with a variety of sidemen stints by such noted performers as pianist Benny Green and drummer Matt Wilson.
Wilson, a premier contemporary drummer who has appeared more often at the Litchfield Jazz Festival than any other performer, was recently named the festival's first artist-in-residence. More than just an honorific, the job makes Wilson a felt presence throughout the year as he presents clinics around the state and a Christmas concert in Kent celebrating the release of a new album.
Pavone's Suite Thunder
One of festival's artistic highlights will be Pavone and his power-packed sextet, Orange Double Tenor, presenting the Connecticut premiere of the double bass maestro's new, five-part suite, "Arc Suite T/Pi T/Po."
Pavone, who has collaborated with an A-list of cutting-edge innovators from Paul Bley to Anthony Braxton, has always selected the finest sidemen for his own exciting, exploratory ensembles, which consistently strike an exquisite balance between the cerebral and the visceral, between freedom and cohesion.
Orange Double Tenor, which features the explosive and powerfully expressive Jimmy Greene as one of two tenors on the front line, is absolutely no exception to Pavone's stress on excellence and artistic compatibility.
One of the late, great Jackie McLean's premier protégés, Greene, a summa cum laude graduate of The Hartt School (class of 1997), brings intelligence, high musicianship and evocative feeling to his playing, whether on his own acclaimed albums or as a versatile sideman for luminaries ranging from Horace Silver to Harry Connick Jr.
A Hartford native who grew up in Bloomfield (high honors graduate of Bloomfield High School, class of 1993), Greene has won wide acclaim for his compositions, works ranging from spiritual and serene to subtle and swinging. His instrumental brilliance and keen ear for composition make him a natural, totally empathetic ally for Pavone's open-minded philosophy.
Pavone, who gave up a career in industrial engineering to embrace jazz full-time, believes in letting freedom ring. At the same time, this master engineer of aesthetic balance allows structure to reign but never restrain his own or his collaborators' surging spontaneous creativity.
Pavone, who earned his engineering degree from the University of Connecticut, thinks in imaginative, mathematical terms that are open-ended and poetic and never merely formulaic. His conceptions seem inspired by a liberating form of musical calculus that is all about change and motion, range and emotion.
Greene is much at home with Pavone's precepts and, in particular, with this band, since his free-flowing tenor is matched with the also adventurous tenor saxophonist Tony Malaby.
Pavone's empathetic, interactive ensemble also features trumpeter Dave Ballou, pianist Peter Madsen and the razor-sharp, cutting-edge drummer, Gerald Cleaver.
Pavone's jazz festival concert Saturday at 5:15 will mark only the third live performance of his new suite. It had been performed live two nights in June at New York's Cornelia Street Cafe.
Commissioned by Chamber Music America's 2009 "New Jazz Works: Commissioning and Ensemble Development" program, the suite was funded through the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.
The performance at the Litchfield Jazz Festival will be recorded for broadcast on NPR's "JazzSet with Dee Dee Bridgewater." Pavone and the band already have recorded a studio version of the suite, which will be released by Playscape Recordings, the noted Indie label, in November to coincide with the Connecticut maestro's 70th birthday.
The festival kicks off with the pre-concert "Friends of the Festival Gala" Friday at 5:45 p.m. at the Morrison Gallery, 8 Old Barn Road, Kent. Party-goers will be served hors d'oeuvres, small plates, a micro-brew, premium wines and music by students of the Litchfield Jazz Camp. Proceeds from the gala support scholarships for the camp.
Opening night performances follow at the Springs Center at Kent School with Brubeck and his longtime working band stomping off at 7:45 p.m.
The Old Master will be followed at 9:15 p.m. by vocalist Denise Thimes (pronounced Times), a rising star in the classic jazz diva mold of Ella Fitzgerald and Carmen McRae.
Her backup includes Matt Wilson on drums. Wilson also sits in Saturday at 7 p.m. with the All-Star Cannonball Adderley Tribute, along other high-caliber players, including pianist Benny Green and trumpeter Terell Stafford.
An after-party and open jam session, led by the Andrew Hadro Quartet, will be held opening night Friday at 10 at Doc's Trattoria, 9 Maple St., Kent. On Saturday at 10 p.m., another after party and jam session, featuring saxophonist Albert Rivera, will be held at The Fife 'n Drum, 53 N. Main St., Kent.
As part of a series of clinics, Wilson will moderate "Artist Talks" with Brubeck, a longtime Wilton resident, Saturday at 1 p.m., and with Pavone, the Waterbury Wizard, at 8 p.m. at the second stage tent.
Describing his style as a moderator, Wilson says: "Think Jon Stewart meets Charlie Rose meets David Letterman."
Advance tickets for the lawn are $29 per day. Children 12 and under with an adult are free on the lawn. Advance tickets for inside the air-conditioned Springs Center range from $43 to $83, with VIP tickets at $150. Information and tickets: http://www.litchfieldjazzfest.com or 860-361-6285.
Owen McNally for the Hartford Courant - August 4, 2010.