Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Busy Week of Live Music in CT (Part 2)

The 2014 Greater Hartford Festival of Jazz takes place this weekend (Friday through Sunday) in Bushnell Park, downtown Hartford. The music starts Friday night at 7 p.m. with Cuban-born pianist/composer Manuel Valera & The New Cuban Express. One of the more progressive Latin-Jazz bands on the scene, the group finds Valera playing alongside Yosvany Terry (tenor saxophone), Tom Guarna (guitars), Hans Glawischnig (bass), Ludwig Alfonso (drums) and Mauricio Herrera (percussion). The sextet has issued 2 CDs on the pianist's Mavo label, both with strong compositions and playing.

The headliner for the Opening Night is alto saxophone great David Sanborn (pictured left).  He came out of St. Louis in the late 1960s, where he had backed touring blues players, and began performing with the Paul Butterfield Band. He soon moved on to work with Stevie Wonder, played with the Rolling Stones and David Bowie, and providing solos for records by Paul Simon and James Taylor. He has such a recognizable tone, tart, loud, often with a blues "cry".   In the late 1980s, he hosted "Night Music", a early-in-the-a.m. television show that featured many great jazz and blues artists. Over his career, he's recorded 24 CDs as a leader, his most recent being 2010's "Only Everything" on Decca Records.

Saturday is the day to bring your dancing shoes as a good number of the performers will have you up on your feet.  The music starts at 4:30 p.m with saxophonist David Davis followed at 6 by La Orquestra Espada.  At 7:30, the smooth sounds of the Urban Jazz Coalition will set the stage for the 9 p.m show of the Jazz All-Stars, a group led by soprano saxophonist Marion Meadows (pictured left), keyboard artist Brian Simpson and alto saxophonist Kim Waters.

After that "smooth jazz" triumvirate leaves the stage, the Park becomes a big dance floor with music provided by Jus...Us and moves by Side Street; New England's Premier Dance Crew.

Sunday's Festival Day begins with a 10 a.m. Jazz Mass at Christ Cathedral Church, 995 Main Street featuring the great sounds of Ross Tucker's Hot Cat Jazz Band.  Bushnell Park revs back up at 4:30 p.m. with flutist Sherry Winston and her group. At 6 p.m., the current chair of the Jackie McLean Institute of Jazz at the Hartt School, Javon Jackson performs along with his band. The tenor saxophonist is well-schooled in the fundamentals of jazz having graduated from the Art Blakey school of The Jazz Messengers.  The Festival comes to a rousing close with the Azar Lawrence Quintet.  Lawrence (pictured above), who first came to critical as a member of the McCoy Tyner Quartet in the mid-1970s and went on to play in drummer Elvin Jones group. He has performed with artists as diverse as Frank Zappa and Busta Rhymes. He spent time with Miles Davis and, more recently, appeared on the debut CD of The Cookers and with the Headhunters.  He is in the midst of a CD release, celebrating his new Sunnysde CD "The Seeker."  Joining him in the Capital City will be pianist Benito Gonzalez, trumpeter Dr. Eddie Henderson, bassist Essiet Okon Essiet, and drummer Brandon Lewis.

Every performance is free and open to the public.  For more information, go to

The UMOJA Music Series of free concerts comes to its conclusion this Friday with an appearance by the Kris Allen Quintet featuring trumpeter Duane Eubanks. Allen, who studied Jackie McLean at both the Artists Collective and the University of Hartford, has been active musician over the past decade-plus, working with saxophone great Illinois Jacquet and in the Gerald Wilson Big Band as well as with bassist Mario Pavone and with the Mingus Dynasty Band.

His top-notch Quintet not only features the afore-mentioned Eubanks (of the famous Eubanks family including Kevin and Robin) but also Allen's wife Jen (piano) and the dynamic rhythm section of Dezron Douglas (bass) and Jonathan Barber (drums).  The show actually takes place in the Pump House Gallery at the other end of Bushnell Park from the Jazz Fest.  Opening the show at 6 p.m will be the Alex Tremblay Quartet.  In case of rain, the concert moves indoors to the Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts Recital Hall, 15 Vernon Street. For more information, go to

The Buttonwood Tree, 605 Main Street in Middletown, presents the Mike Augeri Quintet in concert Saturday at 8 p.m. The Middletown native, who is about to go on the road with The Drifters (yes, the singing group from the 1950s and 60s who had hits with "Up On The Roof" and "On Broadway"), is a fine jazz drummer who's been playing since his early teens.  Joining him will be the fine young pianist and vocalist Orice Jenkins, bassist Matt Dwonszyk, saxophonist Jim Bosco and percussionist Rich Tortorigi. Expect any style from jazz to funk to Latin and beyond when the Band hits the Buttonwood stage (such as it is).
For more information, go to

The first time I saw drummer Ralph Peterson Jr. (pictured left) was in Hartford at an indoor concert sponsored by the Hartford Jazz Society, perhaps 20+ years ago.  He's been back to the state numerous times as a leader or a sideman.  His latest 2 CDs are a product of 2 gigs in New Haven at Firehouse 12, the latest "Vol 2: Fo' n Mo'" (Onyx Productions) recorded in December 2013.  The knockout band for that date included the "Fo'" - Peterson, Felix Peikli (clarinet, bass clarinet), Joseph Doubleday (vibraphone) and Alexander Claffey (bass) - and the "Mo'" - Steve Wilson (soprano saxophone) and Eguie Castrillo (percussion).

On Monday July 21, the Hartford Jazz Society continues its 2014 Monday Night Jazz Series with an appearance by the Ralph Peterson Jr. Fo' n Mo', hopefully in Bushnell Park.  The band for the live show includes Messrs. Doubleday, Wilson, and Castrillo - joining them will be Alex Toth (bass) and Todd Marcus (clarinets).   Expect to be on your feet a lot during the show as Peterson's music can really shake the earth! Yet, he can also caress a ballad from the drum set and, with Wilson in the lineup, there should be a good amount of fine sounds.

Opening the show at 6 p.m. will be the quartet of Frank Kozyra (saxophones), Andrew Renfroe (guitar), Matt Dwonszyk (bass) and Curtis Torian (drums).  The concert is free and open to the public.  If you can't get to the Park, WWUH-FM91.3 broadcasts the show in its entirety over the airwaves and online (

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