Umbria Jazz Festival highlights

Ron Scott | 8/2/2018, 11:38 a.m.
Covering the Umbria Jazz Festival was somewhat of a surreal experience.
Gregory Porter Ron Scott photo

Covering the Umbria Jazz Festival was somewhat of a surreal experience. Hanging out in the old town center of Perugia, watching musicians in real time while strolling by such historical sites as the cathedral, the Etruscan Well (dating back to the third century) and the House Museum Palazzo Sorbello, a palace dating back to the late 16th century that was bought in 1780 by the Marquis Bourbon di Sorbello.

The constant dilemma was whether to stop for gelato, pizza, pasta or Italian beer. No, no. There will be time later. Right now, jazz is in the air and shouting my name, so it’s off to Jazz Goes to the Museum for Dan Kinzelman’s “Ghost,” with multi-instrumentalists Mirco Rubegni on trumpet, French horn and snare drum; Manuele Morbichini on alto saxophone; Rossano Emili on baritone saxophone and bass clarinet; and Kinzelman on flute, clarinet and tenor saxophone.

As with a ghost, you didn’t see what was coming. They looked like a chamber music quartet. Playing all original tunes (by Kinzelman), they started out in a classical zone that swayed into an intuitive improvisational stream that continued to flow with more intensity. Yes, avant-garde lives. Lester Bowie and Eric Dolphy would be pleased.

New York’s favorite Texas son, Roy Hargrove, and his quintet performed at the Teatro Morlacchi ‘Round Midnight concert. Despite the late hour, the hall was packed. His group included alto saxophonist Justin Robinson, pianist Tadataka Unno, bassist Ameen Saleen and drummer Quincy Phillips.

Hargrove, never one for categorization, grooved through jazz traditions to R&B to hip-hop beats. His arrangement of Sam Cooke’s “Bring It on Home to Me” was all jazzed up. Hargrove was in rare form as he danced and sang on the tunes “Never Let Me Go” and “Soothe Me.” During his flugelhorn solos on ballads such as “I’m Glad There Is You,” one doesn’t know whether to cry or sigh. His abled band was a high rising force throughout.

Who would have thought Take 6, the youngers, who organized the original a capella group in 1980 while attending Oakwood College in Huntsville, Ala., would still be going strong.

For this festival, the sextet paid tribute to one of their mentors Al Jarreau. They stated that, aside from Jarreau’s advice, he took them on their first tour in 1989. They opened with his hit “We’re in This World Together.” It was trumpet vocalese on Miles Davis’ “Seven Steps to Heaven.” At times the sextet transformed into a duo, solo or trio and moved over to play various instruments.

The members of Take 6 are Claude McKnight, Mark Kibble, David Thomas, Alvin Chea, Joey Kibble and Christian Dentley. For an encore, they harmonized on the word “Hallelujah.” Molto bene! Just one word in six-part harmony. Their performance was a spirited sermon enriched with power, hope and courage. As they noted, “This is dedicated to Uncle Al, to say thanks.”

The pianist, composer, producer and bandleader Vijay Iyer lit up the concert hall with his sextet as they played music from his latest CD, “Far From Over” (ECM). The only member not present from the recording was drummer Tyshawn Sorey, replaced by 23-year-old Jeremy Dutton, who was very impressive.