Once again Earshot is spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of jazz. For its 10th annual festival, Seattle's premier jazz presenter has put together two weeks of intriguing, diverse music, with something to excite all tastes—confirming that jazz embraces a "multiculturalism" that lefty politicians and professors can only drool over. The festival has a strong Afro-Caribbean influence this year, with visits from two of the giants of Cuban piano, Rubén González and Chucho Valdés. The Paramount Theater Ballroom will be the site for their must-see performance, showcasing pristine tradition and half-mad innovation (Sunday, November 1). González, 79, who gained fame in the US with his appearance on Ry Cooder's Buena Vista Social Club, plays a classical style: stately, clean, and restrained, a lid always on the musical boil like the impassive expressions worn by expert Latin dancers, his percussionists occasionally letting out a sharp comment then returning to the stripped-down grooves of danzón and cha cha cha. He will be joined by the Social Club's vocalist Ibrahim Ferrer and a nine-piece orchestra.
Earshot Jazz Festival
various clubs citywide
October 24November 7
Valdés, best known as the founder of the Cuban supergroup Irakere, has absorbed more of modern jazz harmony (and some of the showmanship of Liberace). His spectacular solos are breathless, baroque, and over-the-top, pushing the rhythmic complexity to an almost untraceable point, then abruptly landing back in unison with his trio. He will leave the audience panting. Another Cuban-born pianist, Omar Sosa, whose approach is more meditative, will play at the Nippon Kan Theater in a duo with one of the deans of California's Latin jazz scene, percussionist John Santos (Sunday, October 25).
The festival also highlights the strong Semitic strain in contemporary jazz—once again offering up the conservative and the forward-thinking. John Zorn's gripping quartet, Masada, sounds like
early-'60s Ornette wandering the Holy Land. Zorn, on alto, and trumpet titan Dave Douglas sketch the sinuous lines of Jewish-inspired melodies, weaving in shades of blue and shrieks of panic, while bassist Greg Cohen and the brilliant drummer Joey Baron swing and stutter. This is an essential show for every serious music lover (Friday, November 6).
On Mercer Island at the Jewish Community Center, the clarinet and mandolin virtuoso Andy Statman will bring listeners back to the shtetl with his sweet renditions of Hassidic and cantorial songs (Thursday, November 5). Statman is a masterful musician, and he occasionally stretches out into Coltrane-like free sections. Other times he seems to recall only the sentimentality in Jewish music and not the earthiness, sounding a bit like Kenny G might if Kenny decided to play the music of his own faith instead of Christmas carols.
The festival will also feature some longtime jazz iconoclasts who've been quietly revered for decades. Seventy-two-year-old Lee Konitz offers none of the "burning" licks that every sax player since Bird has cultivated—his tone is reflective and subdued, swinging without digging in. For this aficionados-only show, Konitz will be paying homage to Lennie Tristano, the cerebral 1950s pianist with whom Konitz came of age. Joining him will be pianist Wayne Horvitz, who has been lately doing Tristano projects of his own, and violinist Eyvind Kang (Tuesday, October 27). Seventy-seven-year-old Yusef Lateef played with Cannonball in the '60s and made a hit version of "See See Rider" on oboe, but his Eastern influences and unconventional approach drove him into the jazz shadows. "Yusef hasn't been [in Seattle] since the late '60s, I think," says Earshot director John Gilbreath. "He's been living and teaching in New England and doesn't go to great lengths to draw attention to himself." He will play duo with percussionist Alan Rudolph (Friday, October 30).
Anyone skeptical about trendy jazz/spoken-word concepts will have their head straightened, and their heart wrung out, by the powerful versifying of Kamau Daáood (Wednesday, November 4). One of the leaders of a new black culture emerging from the rubble of LA rap, Daáood celebrates love and hope with a hard ghetto realism, in cadences that beautifully ride the Afro-jazz motifs from his sextet. Also on the bill with Daáood is the bard of Newark: poet/essayist/activist Amiri Baraka. What will Mr. Baraka be performing? "Whatever he wants," replies Earshot's Gilbreath. "And I said that in the contract: '60 to 70 minutes—your choice.'" Take your chances.
While past Earshot festivals have been heavy on free-form improvised music, this year offers larger helpings of bop, including groups led by the alto saxophonists Charles McPherson and Bobby Watson. Maybe the most exciting, and certainly the hardest swinging, will be the festival-closing Monk masters Sphere (Saturday, November 7). Anchored by the thick-stringed bass giant Buster Williams, Sphere tears through the music of Thelonious with a joy and lightness of touch that contrasts markedly with the dense and deliberate Monk "tributes" of people like pianist Fred Hersch (who performs solo at the festival on October 28 and 30). Sphere's rhythm unit—with always-crisp pianist Kenny Baron and the ingenious drum veteran Ben Riley—will provide dynamic support for Gary Bartz on alto, the killing-est horn player on the block.