A sum­mer­time pic­nic and party

The Play­boy Jazz Fes­ti­val gets things mov­ing on the right note at the Bowl.

Los Angeles Times - - CALENDAR - By Chris Bar­ton chris.bar­ton@la­times.com

“We’d like to play a piece for Or­nette Cole­man,” Ja­son Mo­ran told the Play­boy Jazz Fes­ti­val crowd.

Mo­ran was mid­way though a ram­bunc­tious set Satur­day with his R&Bsoaked trib­ute to Fats Waller, and the Hol­ly­wood Bowl crowd, per­haps a lit­tle dis­tracted by the ap­proach­ing din­ner hour and oc­ca­sional low-f ly­ing beach ball, didn’t re­spond to the men­tion of the ground­break­ing sax­o­phon­ist, who died Thurs­day at age 85. So Mo­ran re­peated him­self — and the proper ova­tion never came.

Un­daunted, the pi­anist donned his cig­a­rette-chomp­ing Waller mask and swayed with a tam­bourine amid his band’s woozy de­con­struc­tion of Cole­man’s “Lonely Woman,” trans­lat­ing the 1959 clas­sic and its sigh­ing melody into a per­co­lat­ing trance aug­mented by loop­ing elec­tron­ics and an in­sis­tent groove framed by Mo­ran’s key­boards and Jeff Parker’s f linty gui­tar. The song mas­ter­fully bridged the gap be­tween Cole­man’s rev­o­lu­tion­ary early work and the idio­syn­cratic funk-rock of his group Prime Time, which played the fes­ti­val in 1982.

It was the only time Cole­man’s name came up dur­ing the fes­ti­val’s first day.

That the death of a gi­ant like Cole­man wouldn’t rip­ple though a fes­ti­val with “jazz” in its name felt like a shock, but Play­boy isn’t like other jazz fes­ti­vals. Nei­ther of­fer­ing an an­nual snap­shot of the genre like the coastal pil­lars in Mon­terey or New­port, nor di­verg­ing into pop and rock for its big­gest head­lin­ers at sim­i­lar such gath­er­ings around the coun­try, Play­boy is more of a cel­e­bra­tion, a com­bi­na­tion pic­nic and party de­signed to start the L.A. sum­mer on a high note.

And, given that the fes­ti­val’s first day was sold out, it’s hard to ar­gue with its meth­ods. The fes­ti­val — co­p­re­sented for the sec­ond year by the L.A. Phil­har­monic — set aside its longheld fond­ness for the topselling but sleepy smooth jazz side of the mu­sic for an event that re­mains com­mit­ted to hon­or­ing its name. A hold on au­di­ence

Though he’s the cre­ative chair for jazz at the L.A. Phil­har­monic, Her­bie Han­cock has of­ten spo­ken of the fes­ti­val’s chal­lenges for per­form­ers to hold a 17,000-plus au­di­ence’s at­ten­tion. Maybe that’s why nei­ther he nor his long­time part­ner Wayne Shorter men­tioned Cole- man dur­ing their set, which in­cluded stu­dents from the Th­elo­nious Monk In­sti­tute of Jazz at UCLA.

But Cole­man’s un­fet­tered voice could be heard in the odd-an­gled im­pro­vi­sa­tions of young pi­anist Car­men Staaf, and an ex­tended free-form duet be­tween Han­cock and Shorter, who chased each other through a web of elec­tron­ics and im­pro­vi­sa­tion that made room for the sax­o­phon­ist to slyly ref­er­ence the “Close En­coun­ters” theme, which earned a rip­ple of cheers. Their far-reach­ing ven­tures didn’t al­ways hold to­gether, but they cer­tainly didn’t stand still ei­ther.

Less for­tu­nate in fight­ing dis­trac­tion was Chilean­born sax­o­phon­ist Melissa Al­dana, a ris­ing star who per­formed as the sun was at its hottest af­ter an open­ing set by the Los An­ge­les County High School for the Arts Vo­cal Jazz En­sem­ble. Last year’s win­ner of the Monk In­sti­tute’s sax­o­phone com­pe­ti­tion, Al­dana had a twist­ing, soft-handed tone; her nim­ble trio de­served bet­ter than a crowd still find­ing its seats.

Gui­tar group the Camp­bell Broth­ers paid trib­ute to one of the most sa­cred works of jazz in John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” by feed­ing it through the lens of Sa­cred Steel, a Pen­te­costal tra­di­tion of sub­sti­tut­ing steel gui­tars in place of a church or­gan that’s been around since the ’30s. The con­nec­tion be­tween Coltrane’s work of spir­i­tual ex­plo­ration merged beau­ti­fully with the Camp­bells’ gospel-fu­eled runs for a set that burned with a surg­ing in­ten­sity, peak­ing with an ex­ul­tant, dou­ble-time run through “Pur­suance” that turned the whole Bowl into believ­ers.

Mo­ran’s in­side-out trib­ute to one of jazz’s ear­li­est stars cap­ti­vated from the start with the surg­ing Afrobeat of Ba­batunde Olatunji’s “Jin-Go-Ba-La” (pop­u­lar­ized by San­tana), and re­con­structed takes on Waller’s clas­sics such as “Honey­suckle Rose” and “Ain’t Mis­be­hav­ing,” led by vo­cal­ist Lisa Har­ris. Set­ting aside his over­size mask of Waller’s grin­ning head, Mo­ran broke into a stand­out duet with drum­mer Charles Haynes that com­bined a f lick­er­ing, del­i­cate beauty with a sledge­ham­mer swung dis­so­nance that even­tu­ally locked into a rol­lick­ing groove that evoked the cut-and-paste com­po­si­tions of hip-hop as the song re­built around him.

R&B hit­maker Aloe Blacc carved out room be­tween ir­re­sistible hits “I Need a Dollar” and “Wake Me Up” to pay re­spect to Michael Jack­son with a bluesy re­cast of “Bil­lie Jean” that kept the glow­ing bunny ear mer­chan­dise bob­bing through the crowd at night. Later, band­leader Ed­die Palmieri in­voked the late Cal Tjader be­fore his band surged into a piece marked by zigzag­ging runs from guest vi­bra­phon­ist Joe Locke.

But maybe the fes­ti­val’s most in­deli­ble nod to his­tory came with the ap­pear­ance of the Gerald Wil­son Orches­tra. Wil­son, a bril­liant com­poser and ed­u­ca­tor who es­sen­tially embodied Los An­ge­les jazz his­tory un­til his death last year at age 96, was brought to life in a set con­ducted by his son, gui­tarist An­thony Wil­son. Fiery state­ment

With “Triple Chase,” the orches­tra of­fered a fiery open­ing state­ment marked by an early solo from sax­o­phon­ist Ka­masi Wash­ing­ton, who joined Gerald Wil­son’s band years ago when he was still a stu­dent at UCLA. Now 34, Wash­ing­ton has been one of the most talked about jazz artists of 2015 with his three-disc new al­bum “The Epic,” but here he was again part of Wil­son’s ex­pertly tuned ma­chine, which surged through the late band­leader’s in­deli­ble song­book, in­clud­ing “Blues for Yna Yna,” “Per­dido” and “Viva Ti­rado,” which was marked by a lovely turn on vi­o­lin by Yvette Dev­ereaux.

As the sun fell on the Bowl, Wil­son seemed at a loss for words in ex­press­ing grat­i­tude for bring­ing his fa­ther’s com­po­si­tions and ar­range­ments to the fes­ti­val. With mul­ti­ple gen­er­a­tions com­ing to­gether to keep the mu­sic mov­ing for­ward, not much more needed to be said.

Pho­tog raphs by Rick Loomis Los An­ge­les Times

ALOE BLACC en­ter­tains a sold-out crowd at the Play­boy Jazz Fes­ti­val at the Bowl. The R&B hit­maker carved out room in his ir­re­sistible set to pay re­spect to Michael Jack­son with a bluesy re­cast of “Bil­lie Jean.”

JA­SON MO­RAN, with his Fats Waller mask rest­ing on his pi­ano, salutes the leg­end at fes­ti­val Satur­day.

STYLISH AT­TEN­DEES en­joy the mu­sic, ca­ma­raderie and their sur­round­ings at the Hol­ly­wood Bowl.

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