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JazzFest Denver - March 8th, 2008 - The Winard Harper Sextet & Sean Jones Group
Jazz Fest Denver 2008 was a two night affair with four acts per night. Because I continually fail in my perpetual quest to “do it all,” I only made it to the last two bands the second night. The Sean Jones Group followed the Winard Harper Sextet.
Winard Harper is drummer/band leader, and if his on-stage persona is indicative of his real personality, a pretty happy guy. His enthusiasm showed in both his playing and his stage banter. He has a flamboyant and unique drumming style. About half the time he looks like he’s about ready to fall off his stool because of all the body English. His arms don’t reflect an economy of movement; or maybe they do. It’s just an unusual, but graceful style. And it’s fun to watch. And listen to.
As you’d expect of a band leader with this much talent, Harper has surrounded himself with top flight players. A real highlight is the newest member of the band, Jon Notar on piano. He had a chance to play several solos, and each was exciting, inventive and usually blues-saturated. Alioune Faye, from
The band began and ended with Ellington tunes and threw in a couple more jazz standards among band originals and other lesser known tunes. Bobby Timmons’ Moanin’ was a highlight with the band swinging the blues hard. The second to last piece of the evening featured Harper on the Balaphon, an African version of a marimba. He played part of the piece as a duet with Faye on African talking drum yielding some of the most interesting and inventive sounds of the evening.
In a Sentimental Mood
Untitled drum piece
Segment (Charlie Parker)
Morning Glow (Onaje Allan Gums)
Percussion piece with Balaphon and Talking Drum
Things Ain’t What They Used to Be
Winard Harper, drums
Ameen Saleem, bass
Alioune Faye, percussion
Jon Notar, piano
Lummie Spann, alto sax
Josh Evans, trumpet
Whereas the Winard Harper Sextet is a swingin’ unit, the Sean Jones group is more cerebral, more straight ahead bebop. Of the four horn players I heard Saturday night, Jones was by far the best. He played with the most passion. He could visit the high register and maintain control. He could convey anguish, poignancy, joy, soulfulness and grace; all with a full and not piercing trumpet tone. He has the chops and the technique and the discretion to know when to put the hammer down and when to let up. And he’s not yet 30.
Of course Jones brought along another crackerjack band. Here, again, the piano playing was a highlight. Zachi Curtis had a significantly different style than Notar in Harper’s band. Curtis seems to be more a disciple of people like McCoy Tyner with a perpetual flow of chords from the left hand while the right continually invented new melodies. Ali Jackson on the drums is much more subdued than Harper; at least visually. His playing was always interesting and he and Williams on bass laid down the steady bebop groove.
Jones made a plea for peace and understanding throughout the world both verbally and with his playing. Songs like Divine Inspiration and BJ’s Tune were sometimes introspective, most times beautiful. And, as if to insure that everybody would know the cats can play, the band ended the night with a lick trading frenzy, a la Charlie Parker.
Bird-like lick-trading sprint
Sean Jones, trumpet
Zachi Curtis, piano
Ben Williams, bass
Brian Hogan, alto sax
Ali Jackson, drums