Jazz In the Valley Returns to Waryas Park Poughkeepsie, 08/15/2021

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POUGHKEEPSIE — For the first time in two years, the sounds of jazz were heard on the banks of the Hudson from Waryas Park in Poughkeepsie. After not holding a public live concert last August and recording a streamed series of concerts recorded at Woodstock’s Bearsville Theater, Jazz in the Valley (JITV) was held again live on August 15th on an absolutely perfect Sunday afternoon.

The theme was different than that of past festivals, emphasis was placed on the younger players. Those who are now carrying the flame for the music. Included were pianist Julius Rodriguez, alto saxophonist Lakecia Benjamin, vocalist Samara Joy (w/ Javon Jackson quartet), and Afro-Caribbean Jazz Artists, the Curtis Brothers. With the exception of Joy, all of these gifted musicians have graced the stages of greater Nippertown at one point or another as band members rather than leaders.

Julius Rodriquez opened (He accompanied Veronica Swift at A Place for Jazz in 2019) with his quartet. The Surprise substitution was tenor saxophonist Nicole Glover for trumpeter (Giveton Givelin). Nicole is a powerful young player who is also part of the female jazz supergroup Artemis. They opened with Herbie Hancock’s “Butterfly”. The strength of Rodriquez’s piano was matched by Glover’s probing tenor. Bassist Philip Norris and Kush Abadey provided the anchor and the swing. An original dedicated to the late Roy Hargrove, Midnight Sun provided a nice mellow swing. “Blues at the Barn” provided a blues for all to stretch out.

Lakecia Benjamin was the show stopper. This is the 3rd performance of hers I have attended. The first was accompanying Charnee Wade playing the music of Gil Scott Heron right at JITV in 2016. She fronted her own funk-oriented band at Freihofer Jazz Festival in 2018 “Soul Squad”. She has pivoted away from funk/r&b and is now performing the spiritual music of John and Alice Coltrane. Spiritual does not mean low energy especially in the interpretations of Lakecia Benjamin. Her onstage movement, virtuosic start/stop playing was something to hear and behold! After announcing “This is only the 2nd time I have played live since Covid”, she immediately launched in John’s “Liberia”. “I always open with 2 Johns and an Alice” she declared after then quickly followed with Syeeda’s Song and Alice’s “Turiya and Ramakrishna” a deeply moving blues-based spiritual song. She followed with Alice Coltrane’s “ Come Walk with Me”. The end piece was John’s tribute to the little girls murdered by a KKK bombing of a church “Alabama” leading into the opening movement of A Love Supreme “Acknowledgement”. The end of the set had the audience on its feet and many of us in tears. Veterans of the scene EJ Strickland and Lonnie Plaxico were the rhythm section that had the challenge of keeping Lakecia from flying off the stage. Fellow headliner Zaccai Curtis provided the piano work.

Musical director Javon Jackson’s quartet played a short set starting with Art Blakey’s One on One of classic hard bop. Up and coming vocalist Samara Joy was then brought onto the stage. This 2019 winner of the International Vocal Competition clearly displayed her vocal chops and ability by tackling Sarah Vaughan/Frank Sinatra’s classic “ I Don’t Know What Time It Was’ and ending with a blues.

The traditional ending of this one-day festival is a Latin band. This year was no exception. The Curtis Brothers closed. The band consisted of Zaccai Curtis on piano and his brother Luques on bass along with conguero Camilo Molina and Willie Martinez on congas. The music’s complex rhythms were clearly played along with a Latin version of “Minnie the Mooche”, Machito’s “Cuban Fantasy” and Dizzy Gillespie’s “Salt Peanuts”. However, the music seemed to lack high energy. The punch of a horn section and bass were clearly missed at least to this listener.

Lakecia Benjamin described the ending of her set as remembering the past and looking to the answer for the future A Love Supreme. A good takeaway for a beautiful day of music and gathering of old friends.

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