The Mount Hood Jazz Festival kicks off its 23rd season with one of its most appealing straight-ahead jazz lineups ever. In recent years the festival was spooked in the direction of smooth jazz (the aural equivalent of "pleather") and a more vocal-heavy lineup. This year, if organizers are haunted by anything it would appear to be the luminous spirits of Billie Holiday (Abbey Lincoln, Madeleine Peyroux), big-city bebop (James Carter B-3 Organ Trio, The Heath Brothers, Frank Morgan, Scheps/Evans/Caliman/Faehnle) and--God rest ye in peace, Ray Charles--the gospel/soul influence in jazz (Marianne Mayfield tribute, Disciples in Song, Cyrus Chestnut). Along the way we also have a smattering of local usual suspects and college jazz ensembles as well as pan-groovistics from Charlie Hunter and Bill Summers' Los Hombres Calientes.
Turning 74 this week, Lincoln has maintained an amazing career as a singer, actor, auteur, poet and activist, and nearly any other hyphenated tag you'd like to muster up. She is one of the last links to such jazz giants as Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, Mabel Mercer and Dinah Washington. A regal presence, Lincoln is a singer of deep character who favors storytelling, phrasing and a distinctive emotional gravity. Never anyone's hood ornament or band mascot, Lincoln has been, from her first recordings in 1955, an artist adept at navigating the bittersweet joy, living colors and sounds that light up the marquee of jazz and American popular song.
As has been said about Holiday (and fest-mate Peyroux), Lincoln is "someone who knows about music, or heartbreak, or both." Like Holiday, she tends to phrase behind the beat, giving lyrics a matter-of-factness that is equally wry, forthright and sensual in its delivery. Throughout the 1950s, the singer worked with an A-list of jazz frontrunners, including Sonny Rollins, Coleman Hawkins, Paul Chambers, Wynton Kelly, Stan Getz and future husband Max Roach. Lincoln's sophisticated jazz elegance acquired an incendiary dose of urgency and rawness from the late '50s on, as she found herself collaborating with Roach, Oscar Brown Jr. and others on Civil Rights-era manifestos like We Insist! Freedom Now Suite.
Lincoln continued recording through the '70s and '80s but didn't receive deserved notice until the '90s with the exceptional release The World Is Falling Down. This phoenixlike rebirth showcased a mature, emotive artist deeply connected to the stories and melodies of the songs that inspired her--a rich, vibrant weave of Holiday, Ethel Waters and other empresses of blues, ballads and beyond. She should not be missed.
Mount Hood Jazz Fest Picks
BY MUSIC STAFF
saturday, aug. 7
James Carter B-3 Organ Trio
Cocteau must have had Detroit saxophonist James Carter in mind when he said, "An artist must swallow a locomotive." But surely he didn't realize that, when it happened to Carter, Adrian Rollini, Chu Berry, Don Byas, Roscoe Mitchell, Arnett Cobb and every sax player in between would be on board. Simply put, Carter plays every horn (sopranino to bass sax) in every style (ragtime to no time) with a naughty ease, seismic aplomb and demonic drive that will give new meaning to "splendor in the grass." Having worked with everyone from Julius Hemphill and Lester Bowie to Wynton M., played music of Django, walked the plank at a fashion show and been in the movies, the thirtysomething Carter is now sporting a fuel-injected Motor City organ trio. 6:30 pm
The Heath Brothers
The Heath Brothers (Jimmy, Percy and Albert "Tootie") are one of the first families of jazz. Active collectively since the '40s with a definitive who's who of bop--Art Taylor, Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, Kenny Drew and Jackie McLean, Dizzy Gillespie Big Band, among others--the brothers have more than 150 years of experience between them. Jimmy (saxophone) is one jazz's most under-huzzahed composer-arrangers, bassist Percy spent 43 years with the tuxedo-clad Modern Jazz Quartet, and drummer Tootie's elevated sense of taste, dynamics, and taut swing (with J.J. Johnson, Johnny Griffin and Herbie Hancock) makes him the heir apparent to the great Kenny Clarke. These three are pure magic and delight on the stand. 8:15 pm
sunday, aug. 8
Cyrus Chestnut with Frank Morgan
Whether wading in the water of Baptist-drenched hymns, throwing down Art Tatum style, or tipping it à la Sonny Clark, pianist Cyrus Chestnut is a performer of soulful dimensions. He's worked with Betty Carter, Nicholas Payton, James Carter and with his own solo and trio projects. He has found in Frank Morgan an affable partner, as rollicking as he is romantic. Morgan resurfaced in the mid-'80s from jazz outlawdom to rebuild a life stunted by decades of addiction and prison. Originally a Charlie Parker disciple, Morgan tends more toward open-ended crying melodies somewhere between pain and pleasure, fleet airy bop, and tender ballads. This is a duo playing in the spirit of Armstrong and Hines. 6 pm
GET YOUR JAZZERCISE!
MOUNT HOOD JAZZ FESTIVAL SCHEDULE
Saturday, Aug. 7
1:00 pm Arts and Communication Magnet Academy Jazz Orchestra
2:15 pm The Mount Hood Community College Jazz Band
3:30 pm Madeleine Peyroux
5 pm Los Hombres Calientes
6:30 pm James Carter B-3 Organ Trio
8:15 pm The Heath Brothers
Sunday, Aug. 8
Noon Mount Hood Jazz Festival Student Big Band
1 pm Portland's Greatest Jazz Stars
*Vocal Tribute to Marianne Mayfield
*3 Tenors featuring Dan Faehnle
*Disciples in Song
4:30 pm Charlie Hunter
6 pm Cyrus Chestnut with Frank Morgan
7:30 pm Abbey Lincoln