Saturday, March 15, 2014

Preview: Harrell, Lovano, Cohen, Jensens Head 2014 Iowa City Jazz Festival

Jazz and Fireworks! The Iowa City Jazz Festival July 3-5
© Andrea Canter

Perennial favorites - North Corridor Big Band
It's one of my favorite jazz festivals, and not just because it's in my home town, and not just because it is free and only a 5-hour drive from the Twin Cities. The Iowa City Jazz Festival happens to be one of the gems of summer jazz -- a small-town feel, an historic college-campus venue, and some of the world's top artists converging over the Fourth of July weekend. And one of my favorite elements of the ICJF is that I don't need to fret over which band to hear -- there is one main stage with no competing music; in-between main stage acts, there are three small stages within a block, hosting high school, college and community ensembles while the Culinary Row, Beverage Garden, Artist Booths and FUN Zone are available for fun and fuel. (And of course there's the adjacent campus hangs offering additional options for air conditioned respites.)

The famed Pentacrest and main stage
The festival moves back a day this year, starting late afternoon Thursday (July 3), continuing mid-afternoon Friday (July 4) and culminating in Saturday's 8-hour finale and one of the best fireworks displays you'll see in this region. Coming the weekend following the (also free) Twin Cities Jazz Festival (June 26-28), this makes the Upper Midwest the early summer Mecca of Jazz.  

So who will you hear in Iowa City? There's a decided brass bias this year, with three amazing trumpeters and 4 outstanding saxophonists in a mix that also highlights some of the genre's top women bandleaders. Among the 10 main-stage bands:

·         Jared Gold Trio (7/3)- One of New York's most talked-about B-3 specialists, Gold's Trio usually includes acclaimed guitarist Dave Stryker and young upstart drummer McClenty Hunter

·         Pedrito Martinez Group (7/3). One of the most exciting Afro-Cuban ensembles of the past decade, the Pedrito Martinez Group has its roots planted firmly in the Afro-Cuban rumba tradition and in the bata rhythms and vocal chants of the music of Yoruba and Santeria.

Ingrid Jensen
·         Nordic Connect (7/34). Based on compositions she wrote for her work with Maria Schneider, trumpeter Ingrid Jensen now joins forces with sister saxophonist Christine Jensen to explore their Nordi Connection. For this tour, Geoffrey Keezer handles the piano. Cool music for a hot festival.

·         Etienne Charles (7/4). Trinidad native trumpeter Etienne Charles brings us "Creole Soul," his special amalgam of jazz, blues, soul, hip-hop, and gospel in a sextet format.

Joe Lovano
Joe Lovano Us Five (7/4). One of the giants of modern jazz, Joe Lovano struck gold when he formed the two-drum quintet, Us Five. Esperanza Spalding brought the band a lot of attention early on, but now --usually with Peter Slavov on bass--the attention rightfully falls on the music, original compositions and blistering arrangements, with Francisco Mela and Otis Brown III doubling the fun on drums and pianist James Weidman.

·         Melissa Aldana and Crash Trio (7/5). Winner of the 2013 Thelonious Monk International Saxophone Competition at 24, Chilean native Melissa Aldana is already an accomplished bandleader and touring artist. She's the first female instrumental artist to take top honors in the history of the Monk competition.

Anat Cohen
Anat Cohen Quartet (7/5). Since emigrating to the U.S. from Israel, clarinetist/saxophonist Anat Cohen has become one of the most lauded artists of her generation, from gracing the cover of Jazz Times to topping readers and critics polls repeatedly as "top clarinet". Her quartet has covered a wide swath of music from swing to tango to choro to original works.

Tom Harrell
Tom Harrell's Colors of a Dream (7/5). Long considered one of the singular geniuses of modern jazz, trumpeter Tom Harrell closes the festival with his new sextet, Colors of a Dream, a horn-heavy outfit with Jaleel Shaw, Wayne Escoffery, Ugonna Okegwo, and Johnathan Blake. Consider this Fireworks, Part One.

Yes, this is all free. Think of it as the Chicago or Detroit Jazz Festival downsized to one stage. About a five-hour drive from the Twin Cities, Chicago, Omaha or St. Louis. Where Interstate 80 intersects Jazz. Full line-up and more information at

Jazz on a Summer Day