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The Newport Jazz Festival

Newport Jazz Festival is a grand musical occasion held every summer in Rhode Island. It was initially established as the first annual American jazz festival starting to attract notable jazz musicians, including Billie Holiday, Dave Brubeck, and Ella Fitzgerald. The line-up for the 1998 Newport Jazz Festival included Diana Krall, David Sanborn, and Grammy-winning Michael Brecker. Brecker paved his way in jazz as a talented saxophonist and composer. At the festival, he performed six tracks from two of his most recent albums at the time – “Tales from the Hudson” recorded in 1996 and “Two Blocks from the Edge” released in 1998. The tracks ranged from intense solos to funky rhythms inspired by improvisation techniques definitive of Afro-Cuban jazz arrangements. The concert at Newport included five tracks in total with an intro and outro sessions from Brecker, the drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts, and Joey Calderazzo, an accomplished pianist and composer for Brecker’s “El Nino” and “Cat’s Cradle.”

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Brecker started his performance with a melodic intro, and then went straight into “Madame Toulouse,” an opening track for “Two Blocks from the Edge” having a New Orleans flavor. The effortless groove and forceful lines served as an excellent opening to the concert. “Slings and Arrows” from Grammy-winning “Tales from the Hudson” followed to engage the audience with a straight-ahead jazz session. The piece was full of the drums’ unpredictable accents and hard swinging and eventually settled into “El Nino.” It was apparent Brecker took inspiration from Afro-Cuban motives demonstrating a mix of funk and fusion. The audience seemed relaxed, bathing in the August sun listening to the pianist Joey Calderazzo’s masterful solo with him swinging as hard as ever. The bassist James Genus teased the audience with changes in rhythm and intensity, speeding up and gradually slowing down the melody only to pick up the pace again. “El Nino” naturally flowed into a lovely ballad “Cat’s Cradle,” filled with imaginative solo lines and skillful harmonics. It took a unique approach in terms of phrasing, which was definitive of Brecker’s style.

The concert closed with “Delta City Blues,” the most incredible track in “Two Blocks from the Edge” from a technical standpoint. It opened with Brecker’s a cappella intro and continued with bouncing, funky lines through a mixture of soul, jazz, and blues motives. The piece became an example of the stunning interplay between Calderazzo and Watts. “Delta City Blues” was filled with the series of overtones that Brecker proved to be an expert at. The jazz player got a higher tone by overblowing a low note creating an incredible harmonic groove. His unceasingly exploratory techniques pushed stylistic boundaries to an edge. “Delta City Blues” became a showcase of his skill and fluency. The final track managed to demonstrate the strength and dexterity of Brecker’s playing and conversational flow.

The concert was reflective of Brecker’s raw talent and skill. Other musicians, including Watts, Calderazzo, and Genus, gave an outstanding performance and managed to capture the music’s emotion and special groove, which was noticeable on stage and in the audience. Noteworthy pieces composed by Calderazzo filled the air with almost tangible energy one could feel through the screen, remaining approachable for listeners. Primary influences, including African, Cuban, and New Orleans flavors and small accents, interacted with remarkable solos and stylistic combinations of jazz and blues. Overall, the ensemble led by Brecker created an auditory stimulating experience inspired by swinging and grooving of numerous jazz forms.

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