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A Review of 2011 Freihofer’s Jazz Fest at SPAC

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Freihofer’s Jazz Festival 2011 at SPAC, Review

George Wein and the Newport All Stars. Photo Dave BowerThis year’s Freihofer’s Jazz Festival at SPAC, was a well-rounded celebration of improvisation. For the two days of the festival (June 25-26, 2011), concertgoers, fans and the curious were treated to nonstop entertainment that showcased legends from the world of jazz.

Highlights on the first day featured the Jack DeJohnette Group, who pounded the skins with a relentless fervor while delivering a hard hitting fusion of jazz and funk.

George Wein, the legendary Jazz promoter and founder of the Newport Jazz Festival, was honored with a star dedication ceremony prior to his taking the stage with the Newport All Stars. Featuring artists such as Randy Brecker and Anat Cohen in the group, they performed a fine bunch of standards, including a riveting interpretation of “Take the A Train.”

A Young Man Blows Bubbles at the Saratoga Jazz Fest. Photo Dave BowerWhile more of a soul and pop performer (he was in the Doobie Brothers for years), Michael McDonald served as the headliner for the first day, performing a variety of Doobie songs, as well as his solo work.

Day two featured diverse performances by the Cuban percussionist Pedrito Martinez and his group (who performed at both the main and gazebo stages during the festival), followed by the exceptional, and quite leggy, alto saxophonist Tia Fuller.

The unfathomably feisty Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings tore the roof off the joint as they performed a powerfully funky set, including intense renditions of “She Ain’t a Child No More,” and “When I Come Home.”

Other performers during the day included The Brian Mitchell Band, who successfully fused elements of soul with the New Orleans sound, and The David Binney Quartet, who ventured into the experimental vein. Actually New Orleans was sort of a recurring theme throughout the day as the Donald Harrison Quintet offered their Night in Treme set, complete with a Mardi Gras vibe.

The Sing the Truth! homage to late vocalists Abbey Lincoln, Miriam Makeba and Odetta, was interesting, yet a bit off in that it included songs by other artists such as Joni Mitchell and Ani DiFranco.

Dee Dee Bridgewater. Photo Monica SirignanoThe highlight of the festival was, without question, the great Dee Dee Bridgewater, whose steamy and sexually-infused performance (on the first day) lit the stage with a sultry scat interpretation of “A Foggy Day,” featuring a lengthy drum solo by Chas Davis. Bridgewater offered a tribute to the legendary Billie Holiday, with her incredibly sensual take on “Fine and Mellow,” a steamy duet with bassist Kenny Davis on “Your Mother’s Son in Law” and a rousing version of “God Bless the Child,” with exuberant saxophony by Greg Handy.

The first day was more crowded than the second, yet those who missed the festival altogether were denied some incredible music…did I mention how great Dee Dee Bridgewater was?

Dave Bower is Co-Publisher of The Free George. Photos by Dave Bower.

The Free George is the online magazine and visitors’ guide of Upstate NY, covering things from Albany to Lake Placid, including Saratoga, the Lake George region and the Adirondacks. Check out our City Blogs section for our extended coverage areas as well.

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