Cool jazz on the green

Cool jazz on the green

Sunday, May 06, 2018

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The sounds of jazz filled the East Lawns of the historic Devon House in St Andrew last Monday as Jamaica joined the rest of the world in observing International Jazz Day.

A project of the School of Music at the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts, the local celebration was headlined by renowned American jazz artiste Randy Weston on piano, accompanied by Neil Clarke on percussion and Alex Blake on bass.

Heavily influenced by the music of the African continent, Weston delivers a distinctively percussive style of piano playing that transports right to his source. At age 92, Weston has only mellowed with time and is able to effortlessly connect with his audience though his craft.

The early afternoon showers created the right temperature for lovers of the music to enjoy in cool comfort. This was made even better thanks to the picturesque setting of the manicured grounds of the centuries-old mansion and a full moon illuminating the night sky. Africa Cookbook, African Sunrise and Blue Moses were some of the tracks on offer to the appreciative audience by the lanky Weston, whose knees reach way past the keyboard.

Weston's style and influence is carried through by his accompanying musicians. Blake on the upright bass is a treat to watch. His beautiful attack on the instrument left his audience transfixed as he journeyed with Weston and Clarke. One patron was heard remarking: “I would not loan him my bass.” The slap style reminiscent of 70s and 80s funk added texture and layering to the music.

The trio was so captivating in their solos that they could have easily been three individual acts delivering masterfully on their own but still a effective cohesive musical unit.

The faculty and students of the School of Music did well to warm the audience ahead of Weston's performance. Special mention must be made of alumna Jamila Falak.

This vocalist and bass player is Jamaica's very own version of Grammy award-winning Esperanza Spalding. Talented and versatile, Falak was able to hold the gaze of her audience as she sang and played — even dropping a little singjay performance into the mix. She was particularly impressive with her take on Meghan Trainor's All About The Bass.

Faculty member Ibo Cooper, Orville Hammond, Ruth Brown, Gerd Beynes, David Aarons, Rafael Salazar and June Lawson all gave good accounts of themselves, While the student body, represented by the Vocal Jazz Ensemble and flautist Zoe Brown, showcased the talents that with training and development will form our next cadre of performers.

— Richard Johnson

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