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Jazz from All Corners


by Josef Woodard PONCHO3.jpgSCREEN TEST: Even given the presence of jazz-phobia in America, it’s strange to reflect on how rarely jazz and Hollywood interact in this era. The genre boasts lofty, clichéd, and perfectly valid badges — Greatest American Art Form, the Great American Music, the Greatest Musical Invention of the 20th Century. Jazz was born around the same time as cinema and has many of the same claims to both popular and artistic life. They should go on meeting like they only occasionally have.

When jazz does sneak into our multiplexes, jazz fans’ pulses tend to race. It was disarming, for example, to find tenor sax vet Benny Golson not only playing “Killer Joe” in Steven Spielberg’s The Terminal, but also as part of the premise. Collateral placed Tom Cruise in an inner city Los Angeles jazz club where the band was cooking (although, in a bizarre gaffe, the band is only mimicking an actual Miles Davis track. Did director Michael Mann think we wouldn’t notice?).

The most recent jazz-on-film coup came when singer Dianne Reeves showed up, all dressed up and with something to say, in George Clooney’s masterful Good Night, and Good Luck. Thanks to Clooney’s insight — and he had plenty here — Reeves gets screen time as a singer in a club, circa the ’50s, and also provides righteous ambient coating for the film. Reeves also turned the film soundtrack CD into a marvel on its own terms. Perhaps other filmmakers will take note of the symbiotic sight/sound marriage. Or not.

In any case, Reeves deserves the spotlight, as a versatile singer who has covered the idiomatic waterfront and come back home to a deeper, more mature jazz voice. Reeves will perform in the outdoor splendor of the Gainey Vineyard on Friday, after playing at Campbell Hall little more than a year ago, shortly before her public dance with Clooney.

Gainey’s summer season ends Saturday with the arrival of the Latin-jazz titan Poncho Sanchez and band. It should be a perfect, wine-lined setting for the band’s taut Afro-Cuban, bop-soul and undulant rhythmic ferocity.

ACID TEST: Acid jazz seeped out of some laboratory or another in the ’90s, from the mouths and fingers of musicians bowing to the groove and interested in creating a latter-day variation of ’60s soul-jazz. Snooty jazz people dislike the stuff a lot less than the dreaded smooth jazz, and jamband fans like its driving energy and lack of the more cerebral aspects of more serious jazz. Charlie Hunter was one of the genre’s early stars, and saxist Karl Denson is another.

Denson, whose band Tiny Universe opened for the Allman Brothers Band at the Bowl a few years ago, returns to town in humbler form, next Thursday at SOhO. Denson’s trio features keyboardist Anthony Smith and drummer Brett Saunders. Expect a groove imperative in the house.

FRINGE PRODUCT: The ongoing adventure of Joe Lovano’s discography on Blue Note is one of modern jazz’s healthier bodies of work. Each new release finds the tenor saxist — or should we call him the tenor saxist? — exploring different material, different contexts, different attitudes. Generally, he takes the “creative” aspect of his job seriously.

Lovano’s latest project, well worth hearing, is his ensemble album Streams of Expression. Its Lovano-penned title is a tribute to his ally Gunther Schuller, whose “third stream” concept was an idealistic (if not very successful) idea for blending jazz and classical influences. Schuller’s hand as arranger surfaces in a redressing of the Gil Evans/Miles Davis classic in “The Birth of the Cool Suite,” originally commissioned for the 2001 Monterey Jazz Festival, but canceled due to 9/11.

With this enterprising recording, Lovano gets his supple licks in as a player, but also works with a broad conceptual brush. Artfully interweaving echoes of Miles and Gil, and Schuller, an important veteran jazz thinker, Lovano pays respects to history while suggesting a new wrinkle for the day after tomorrow. (Got e? fringebeat@aol.com.)



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