Music keeps you young. One didn’t have to look further than 92-year old George Wein introducing 80 year-old Charles Lloyd on Saturday to figure that out. Wein, co-founder and patriarch of all things Newport Jazz, was delighted when Lloyd wanted to kick off his ninth decade at Newport and Wein bestowed him the honor of 2018’s artist in residence, with Lloyd performing in strikingly different musical settings over the festival’s three days.
Count myself lucky this year to cover both the Folk and Jazz weekends at the Fort and still had the glow from the Folk Festival as the town pivoted with ease from one to the other. Monday night was a table setter at the 5th Element for trumpeter Doug Woolverton and Joshua Hill, an up and coming pianist who sat in, and I would get to know better as the week went on (and so will you in the years ahead).
As with Folk the previous weekend, discoveries are at the heart of Newport Jazz. And while I consider myself pretty steeped in the stuff, I was familiar with, perhaps, a quarter of the acts coming into Friday. While Still Dreaming featuring Joshua Redman and Brian Blade was big on my radar later in the day, I was really taken by the Rudresh Mahanthappa Indo-Pak Coalition, a sax/guitar/percussion trio that soared and explored, with Mahanthappa’s alto reminiscent of Jan Garbarek’s steeliness basked in heat. The Matthew Shipp Trio was in the pocket for me and Cory Henry & the Funk Apostles, well, lived up to their name. BadBadNoGood didn’t move my needle much, but I must have been missing something, as so many in my orbit had been talking them up. Sangam was an absolute joy, with Lloyd, drummer Eric Harland and tabla master Zakir Hussain. The early part of the set found Lloyd behind the piano and Harland’s kit, before picking up his flute, the musical conversations on high, the plane between earth and sky falling away under Hussain’s fingertips and Lloyd’s breath. Heard just a little of Marquis Hill’s Blacktet, and could have heard a lot more. Living Colour, well, nowhere near jazz (as Corey Glover winked from the stage), but one of those annual nods to a larger audience, and I was thoroughly entertained. Until I left for Still Dreaming, an ensemble that carries the spirit of Joshua Redman’s father Dewey. The day closed with R + R = Now, with Robert Glasper, Christian Scott Atunde Adjuah and Derrick Hodge, the kind of new direction mashup that Newport does so well.
A deluge was in the forecast for Saturday and by the time Pat Metheny took to the Fort Stage the spigots were open, more New Orleans, than Newport. Metheny played admirably to the soaked and attentive crowd, though us photographers were pushed to the sound board to shoot (the only artist to do so). Clarinetist Anat Cohen and guitarist Marcello Goncalves were a fine shelter from the storm, their dancing counterpoint accompanied by another downpour before the skies relented. Louis Cole is described by the Fest as “one of the world’s most celebrated future-sonic-funk drummers”. Didn’t stay long enough to get that, but his “Big Band Blowout” was a hoot. Charles Lloyd’s New Quartet (11 years new) returned to the Fort (they last played there in 2016) and you got to be kidding me that he’s 80. Jason Moran a multiple Downbeat poll topper behind the keys, Eric Harland at the kit and bassist Reuben Rogers. Jon Batiste went solo at the Quad Stage (not counting the dozens of Jazz House Workshop kids ringing the stage), before one of the more unusual parings of the weekend (or was it?) of Christian McBride and Laurie Anderson, with a cello accompaniment. Anderson leading the crowd in an extended primal scream for the times that bled into unscripted chaos and beauty from the Fort Stage. While my head often flees from the deep fringe, this was captivating and memorable. Pianist Harold Mabern and tenor player Eric Alexander were smokin’ from the intimate Harbor Stage. Bill Withers was in the room at Newport for a second year in a row. Last year, “Grandmas Hands”, a Folk Festival tribute that closed Saturday, reminded all of us how deep and wonderful the Withers catalogue is. This year, Jose James led his band through the beloved tunes with his “Lean on Me” tribute (memo, I’m all in for some Newport magic that lures the reclusive songwriter back to the stage). Singer Andra Day’s closing set was deeply soulful and a highlight to shoot.
Flautist Nicole Mitchell and vocalist Jazzmeia Horn were a fine way to start Sunday, but Artemis, the large band that kicked some serious ass from the Fort Stage (and featuring vocalist Cécile McLorin Salvant, whose “Dream and Daggers” just got the Best Jazz Album nod from Downbeat), raised the bar on the rest of the day. My fave Sunday surprise was GoGoPenguin, and their self-described “acoustic electronica”. I went to Bad Plus places with a hypnotic left turn, and could not take my ears off of Nick Blacka’s bass tone. Charles Lloyd’s Sunday turn with Lucinda Williams was almost as good as this year’s Jazz Fest set. I’m repeating myself, but hearing the raw edges of Williams “Joy” meld with Lloyd’s roundness is, well, you guessed it, a total joy (detect a theme emerging?). Ambrose Akinsimure Origami Harvest with a string quartet didn’t work so much for me, but the Jennifer Hartswick-Nick Cassarino duo (trio, since Christian McBride joined for most of the set) really did. Gregory Porter’s charcoal smooth vocals and serene and grateful presence on the Fort Stage was a counterpoint to the powerhouse James Carter Organ Trio pumping from the Harbor Stage. The Fest closed with the psychedelic funk of George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic, and, yes, the mothership landed.
Yeah, we’re all kind of young at the Fort. From the incredibly talented musicians, to the lean on every note Berklee brethren, to the generations wise masters. They all come together at Newport Jazz, and that my friends, is a little magic.