The final two Santa Fe concerts of the 2010 New Mexico Jazz Festival were both double features and both excellently played and tremendously dynamic.
On July 23, the Miguel Zenón Quintet featured music from the alto saxophonist’s album Esta Plena. The long opener indoctrinated the audience into the hot polyrhythms of Puerto Rico’s plena music. Héctor “Tito” Matos played pandereta, plena’s traditional hand drum, and Zenón wailed on alto — it was easy to see his old love for Jimi Hendrix.
After a hand-drum duet by Matos and the leader, pianist Luis Perdomo took off and just flew! In Zenón’s long, out-there solo, I sensed what was perhaps the anger-energy from the barrio, where plena music arose, but also joy. Then came one of the coolest bass solos ever from Hans Glawischnig. It had a dry edge but very cool rhythmic components; he was very athletic but also knew when to let air in. Overall, Zenón’s band worked up some complex, transcendent music.
The stage was full for part two, a percussionfest featuring the 12member New York band Los Pleneros de la 21. One number began with exuberant call-and-response vocals and a solo by the dreadlocked pianist Elio Villafranca. Then Nellie Tanco started singing with a shout, jolting a few drowsy audience members. Colorful dancing by Tanco and Julia Gutiérrez-Rivera punctuated the happening.
The party vibe jumped up still higher when Zenón and Perdomo joined the group for the final songs. What a show.
The festival’s headliner, and its last act this year, was pianist/composer Toshiko Akiyoshi, whose quartet started things off with “Afternoon in Paris” by Albuquerque native John Lewis. The song boasted superb treatment by Akiyoshi’s husband, saxophonist Lew Tabackin, playing rich-toned tenor. The pianist herself played amazing, swinging music, including bundled clusters of notes delivered at odd times.
It turns out that Tabackin is the standout in this quartet. He was all over the range of the tenor saxophone and very melodic. On his wife’s beautiful “Sumi-E,” he was equally stellar on flute, switching to piccolo for the ending.
Akiyoshi waxed virtuosic on Bud Powell’s “Tempus Fugit.” It was difficult to hear everything she was doing — the piano was mixed a little low at the Lensic — but her playing was intense.
Tabackin took over again with “Studio F,” which he informed the audience was in the “freebop” genre. This guy is just about the most entertaining saxophonist I’ve ever witnessed, both musically and visually. He took this tune into outer space, while the engaging bassist Boris Kozlov repeatedly hit his lowest string as he tuned it down, down, down to a buzz.
This double feature wrapped up with Akiyoshi leading the Albuquerque Jazz Orchestra. Bobby Shew, who for years played first trumpet in Akiyoshi’s big band and normally leads this orchestra, told the audience, “She’s an image maker, like an Impressionist painter. ... This stuff is hard. ... This is some real ear food. This’ll be good for you.” The applause meter hit high with Shew’s gorgeous treatment, on fluegelhorn, of the ballad “Memories.”
The stars of this segment were soloist Tabackin and his wife, for her arrangements that highlighted the wonderful sound of three soprano saxes playing in unison, four trombones, and four muted trumpets playing in unison. She closed the night with “Hope” from her 2001 album Hiroshima: Rising from the Abyss.
— Paul Weideman