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Sunday night MJF: Miles by Blanchard; Sonny Rollins, the Spirit

Sunday night was my night for listening, not thinking about what I was hearing or writing so I’d remember… so this way I heard the most exquisite performance of the music arising from the collaboration of Miles Davis and Gil Evans as an all-star (really!) orchestra played music from Miles Ahead, Porgy and Bess and Sketches of Spain. Breathtaking. Vince Mendoza led the orchestra like summoning up spirits, Terence Blanchard taking the horn and channeling. Gil Evans son Miles Evans stepped in to perform “Miles Ahead” written by his father and Davis.

It was thrilling. Then it was Blanchard and “Sketches of Spain.”  Goosebumps. He followed the master so close, we all know the piece by heart, so when he chose to bend an extra note or two, we knew, we knew he was putting his mark on it just so’s we’d know. And we did.  I remember Terence Blanchard as a little bookwormy-looking boy. Now the master of his oeuvre, with his distinctive clarity and connectivity with his thinking.

That’s something I noticed in Sketches this time around, after listening to it for decades, a passage—I forget the name of the movement—after an introspective, melancholy passage, when it begins to swing unexpectedly, as if the composer or performer just caught themselves and think better of thinking so deeply…

For the “Carnival in Naranjes” movement the audience was delighted to have a cadre of young trumpeters from the Next Generation orchestra march into position behind the orchestra onstage to play the familiar fanfare passage, a real crowd-pleaser. But when it all came down to it, Blanchard had balls to perform that piece in that context to a jazz audience. It brought down the house.

After this ecstatic experience I ran to catch the Robert Glasper Experiment with rapper/spoken word artist Bilal because I wanted to hear the new thing.

Glasper was the only artist in the festival I heard complain or fuss, start late and drone on. But when they got moving it was cool and I loved his frontman’s colorful “do” and Bilal’s poetry. But I left them to pay my respects to Sonny Rollins.

Rollins hobbled onto the Arena Stage in a blazing scarlet silk shirt, dark glasses and an aura of silver ‘fro and beard, maybe the coolest guy in the festival. He began blowing that great big tenor sax and kept up a striding pace. He jammed with the congas, he jammed with the guitar, they mustered a carribean rhythm, he took it all outside, he wept in his beer, he shouted with triumph, he powered it on for a full hour and never stopped, feet planted like a bull ready to charge. Rollins at 81.

2011 Monterey Jazz Festival, the music lives.