Utah Jazz Festival with Alvino Rey, Marian McPartland, Herbie Mann and Jasil Brazz and Montreux, Saturday at Snowbird.Utah's first jazz festival offered six hours of jazz as erratic in its diversity as it was consistent in its excellence.
The music was enriched by the inimitable ambience of a canyon storm and the most eclectic group of fans a people watcher could wish for.
The sponsors - KUER radio - brought in mainstream artists, hoping to draw their audience from the largest possible pool of jazz fans. It worked.
Despite competition that night from Natalie Cole, the Utah Symphony and the Park City Arts Festival - offerings likely to lure jazz fans - the festival pulled in a hearty crowd.
The concert was staged on the third level of the Snowbird Resort Center. The gentle melancholy of summer rain melded with the melancholy in the music, bringing notes and environment together in concert. Safely ensconced under a tent, fans listened to some of the nation's most prominent jazz artists amidst distant thunder, the pungent perfume of a wet canyon and low-slung clouds sending fingers of fog through the pines on the mountainside. With the arrival of night, there was rain.
The lineup of artists was intended to build to a crescendo, with the last group - Montreux - offering the evening's peak performance. But it didn't work that way. Montreux was not at its best, while Herbie Mann was. Mann's lively concert, which included a generous nod to New Age jazz, was the hit of the evening. After Mann left the stage, scores of fans began thinking it was cold, late and time for bed. Montreux's sluggish start convinced them.
Mann, not Montreux, deserved top-billing in the festival.
But aside from that awkward faux pas, the festival went from strength to strength.
Jazz fans who believe the cancellation of the Lawrence Welk show was the biggest mistake this country ever made would have thrilled to Alvino Rey and Bob Bailey. Not that they were ever on the Lawrence Welk show (I am regretfully vague about who was or wasn't on the Lawrence Welk show) but their music evokes that same reassuring, the-world-is-a-safe-and-snuggly-place feeling that Welk's music evoked.
Marian McPartland's internationally renowned keyboard work moved the piano from its typical jazz role as accompaniment to solo status. Enhanced only with a bank of microphones, she brought the bass end of the keyboard alive with such power and clarity fans were peering past the piano to see if she was backed up by a synthesizer.
Mann's new band of lively young artists was the show stopper. Saturday's concert was not typical Mann fare. The exotic, foreign flavor was less pronounced. The beat less wild. Instead, the music explored New Age trends, marked by a lilting, airy flavor. If one wanted to go sailing on a brilliant summer morning under the push of a strong eastern breeze, Mann's music would be the music to take along.
The highlight of the Montreux concert was the superb bass solo work by Michael Manring. The band's music seemed deliberately matched to the pelter of the rain on the plaza bricks. Manring evoked wild applause with his powerful bass solo called "Thunder Tactics." It was inspired by a Washington, D.C., thunderstorm. Barbara Higgins sang a haunting number about walking in a warm, summer rain.
Pleased by the unexpected turn-out, KUER repeatedly promised Saturday's fans that next year's festival would run two full days.