Pittsfield CityJazz Festival: Happy reunion at the Colonial

Posted
Tuesday October 18, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- The veteran and the wunderkind enjoyed a happy reunion as one of the highlights of the seventh annual Pittsfield CityJazz Festival Saturday evening at the Colonial Theatre.

Actually, Phil Woods, the NEA jazz master, and Grace Kelly, his favorite protégé, have made an album and been frequent stage companions since he invited her and her saxophone up to the festival stage at the Colonial in 2006, to join him and his sax.

Woods, at 80, remains a superb musician, and Kelly, now 19, has matured significantly into a smooth and imaginative jazz player and has developed remarkable poise on the stage.

The two, who appear supremely in sync, offered an engaging nine-minute reprise of their initial collaboration, "I'll Remember April," often transferring solo duties mid-phrase.

Among the compositions by Kelly was her powerful and thoughtful tribute to Woods, the title tune from their album, "Man with the Hat," ably assisted by the members of her trio, Doug Johnson, a fine pianist; Evan Cooper, her versatile bassist, and Bill Goodwin, a most talented drummer.

Goodwin yielded at one point to another special guest, Greg Caputo who issued a dazzling display of myriad possibilities in percussion, with an interpretation of "How High the Moon" dedicated to his late father, Ralph Caputo, the pianist and leader of The Music Machine.

As a singer, Kelly's vocal production is a work-in-progress as she ponders styles: sweet lyrical or torch and scat. But she appears game for amything and led the audience in a merry antiphonal scat contest with her rendition of "Bye-Bye Blackbird."

Earlier, Kelly, who had conducted a Berkshire Jazz Youth Ensemble workshop and rehearsal, joined the group under Ron Lively's direction for a number during a short set that invited solo work from many of the enthusiastic young instrumentalists.

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Those who still believe that jazz is a down-and-dirty genre of music must cast their ears toward Armen Donelian, who, with his original music and arrangements of the scores of others, brings a serene sense of dignity and elegance to every measure. Donelian, presiding at a parlor-size Yamaha grand Friday evening at Baba Louie's music room with the other members of his trio - bassist David Clark and percussionist George Schuller -- displayed a synergy suggesting that they can read each other's thoughts.

In their hands, the Latin standard, "Besame Mucho," became a mini-concerto with luxurious cadenzas from each, and "Mexico," a tune Donelian said he composed in Arizona, bore an enticing Debussy sheen, touches of Rachmaninoff and shades of Falla, while still retaining a fresh originality that offered evidence of a solid education in classical music.

Clark often gathered melodic riches normally expected of a guitar, pushing his instrument to its pizzicato limits. One wished occasionally that he would apply his bow to lyrical passages such as those in "Kani Vor Jan," Sayat Nova's lovely Armenian ballad, or Donelian's arrangement of "Sunrise, Sunset," embellished with a repeated bracing four-note motif in contrast to its otherwise balladic thrust.

Schuller is a restrained, subtle and sensitive drummer, a team player still capable when the moment comes, of erupting with consummate power, as he demonstrated in a solo during Donelian's "Scattered Brotherhood."

The Armen Donelian Trio travels in unexpected directions. It's a delight to be along for the ride, which, with two sets Friday evening, was far too short.

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One of the festival's best ideas resides in the new Jazz Prodigy Series, and Alma Macbride, the first participant, displayed surprisingly stunning maturity and poise at the keyboard Wednesdayevening at the Berkshire Music School.

Joined by the other members of her trio, bassist Matt Dwonszyck, drummer James Macbride, her brother, and, for one number, trumpeter Kyle Athayde, Alma Macbride, only 16, explored standards and original repertory with digital strength and dexterity reminiscent of Gina Bachauer. One hesitates to say she plays like a man, but certainly like a seasoned artist.

The Oct. 7 "jazz crawl" turned up some appealing music-making from Sonny and Perley, the Noah Weiss and John Kozinski quartets and a quartet assembled by Mark Pappas.


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