In its fifth iteration, the Richmond Jazz Festival at Maymont has become a major event.
With acts on three dispersed stages there were more choices than ever. If the early set crowds seemed a bit sparser than last year they swelled throughout the day, widely scattered folding chairs transforming to dense, standing-room crowds.
There was a lot of buzz about the big acts -- Boz Scaggs! Boney James! Cameo! -- and enough smooth jazz and R&B acts to satisfy the tamest tastes as well as two first-rate James Brown veteran bands.
Best of all, the MWV stage was dedicated to serious improvisational music. It was not necessarily the most popular spot in every time slot, but given the fact that this was, after all, a jazz festival, a bit of pure, unfiltered jazz did not go amiss.(One mystery to some: Why was the great drummer Terri Lynn Carrington “banished” to one of the larger stages?)
As many national musicians performed on that stage in two afternoons as might appear in Richmond in two years. Some of the performers -- Christian McBride, Regina Carter, Dianne Reeves -- have been frequent guests at the Modlin Center. Cassandra Wilson headlined at the Carpenter Center in the late '90s. Others, like the great American jazz guitarist Bill Frisell or trumpeter Sean Jones, have not played Richmond.
Victor X. Haskins, opening both days, delivered concise trio sets that made a strong case for local talent.
Sean Jones, on his first independent tour after leaving the Lincoln Center (and just named the head of the brass department at Berklee School of Music) played an impressive and varied set.
Christian McBride’s pianist, Christian Sands. That McBride was as masterful leading a set; blending straight-ahead jazz with '70s bass funk was no surprise, but young keyboard player was a revelation.
The MVP may have been drummer Rudy Royston, who supplied crisp, imaginative support to both Jones and Frisell’ s bands.
Legendary saxophonist Lou Donaldson, one of the last surviving stalwarts of the Blue Note hard bop era, delivered a thoroughly musical, charmingly humorous set.
There were no disappointments. The headliners delivered solid sets, the sidemen were a 'who’s who' for those who follow the music. A festival is not a listening room; some of the quieter sections -- the acoustic complexities of Regina Carter’s “Southern Comfort” or the delicate moments in Tierney Sutton’s intimate artistry -- were invaded by the distant howl of synthesizers, or haunted by funk guitar chicken-scratching on the breeze.
The distant sounds were a reminder that there was a lot going on somewhere nearby. With something so diverse, any individual experience is by definition incomplete.
Feel free to add your experience in the comment section below.