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Newport Jaz: I

Newport, last Thursday and Friday

By Jerald R. Gerst

I JUST received a letter from a Cliffe in Paris, who says that she does, indeed, love it "in the summer, when it sizzles." I'm glad for her. In Newport on Thursday night it wasn't sizzling; it wasn't even drizzling, it was more of a slow drip (and I began to think I knew what it was like for my coffee grounds every morning.) I swear the girl who sold me a raincoat for 50c looked just like an angel. Still, I didn't like it much. Neither did the crowd. They retreated to the woods, returning only near the end of the concert, when the weather had cleared. All except a few dedicated nuts.

Those nuts were well rewarded. The evening had been billed as one of "jazz for the connoiseur." It was actually more of a jazz potpourri. It began a bit slowly with George Benson and Sunny Murray (or so I was told; the rain and the traffic on Route 128 kept me from getting there on time), but picked up with Freddie Hubbard and his group (unfortunately, so did the rain). It's hard to classify Hubbard's sound; maybe "slight futuristic soul-jazz" comes closest. Two of his pieces--the best two--called "Space Drive" and "Eclipse," are on the group's new album, Black Pearl. It should be worth looking for.

Anita O'Day come on next, singing "Let's fall in love--in the rain." I did. This is the sort of woman you want to hear in a smoky, grimy club when you've got some serious drinking to do. Full voice, swinging sound, a sexy dame. A classic of her genre.

Then you were lifted out of the smoke and grime--and memories better left in the ashtray--and propelled into the sub-ether by Sun Ra and the Space Arkestra. If you grew up devouring Heinlein, Asimov, del Rev, Sturgeon, Bradbury and all the rest, you can't help resenting Sun Ra a little. You think to yourself that this guy just said to himself, "Outer space, yeah, that's what's happening; I think I'll make some outer space music." The lyrics, when they occur and when you can make them out, are so simple and naive that you know nobody up there has any idea of the implications of special relativity. But that's just a purist hating to see his favorite fantasies commercialized. It's still a good sound; it tingles, it shrieks from some point 'way back in your consciousness, it makes you feel distance and time. A steady diet of it might wear thin, but a single set was just great.

After Sun Ra, the program returned to more conventional jazz. Phil Woods' European Rhythm Machine seems to be the frame for his alto virtuosity that he has been looking for. Woods by no means carries the group, as several bass, piano, and drum solos demonstrated. Bassist Eddie Young of Young-Holt Unlimited has a good time on stage, too--so did we. The Bill Evans group by itself is a good jazz combo; it becomes great when Jeremy Steig walks on stage to add his lyrical flute. And the guitar of Kenny Burrell was--as it always has been--very fine.

THE SURPRISE of Friday afternoon was the insertion of a group called The Lighthouse before the usual jam session, and a very pleasant surprise it was.

The Lighthouse seemed to be Festival director Wein's way of teasing us all and reminding us what was to come that night. And it seemed to pacify, for a while at least, the crowd on the hill behind Festival Field. But as the afternoon wore on into evening (and the traffic backed up for miles and it took two hours to drive four blocks) the crowd on the hill grew and the tension kept building. During the show, small groups did, in fact, continue to rush the gates, the wall was broken in several places, and the crowd inside kept pushing forward (a girl from Englewood N.J. somehow managed to make it from the back of the field all the way up to the photographer's pit to stand beside me). Wein, who earned whatever amount of money he's making on this with a down payment on an ulcer, kept asking everybody to "keep it cool," and he was pretty much successful. At any rate, the ugly scene never happened--thank God (or somebody).

The magnet, of course, was Blood, Sweat, and Tears. Everything before them--Steve Marcus, who bombed with "Wild Thing"; Jethro Tull, with Ian Anderson strutting, kicking, and striking a Panlike pose with his flute; and the frenetic sound of Ten Years Yater--was prologue. And from the moment they walked on, you said to yourself that everything that came after would be anticlimax. (In fact, Jeff Beck was worse; a real down.)

But Roland Kirk, who came just after BS&T, had a surprise in store. Kirk had an impossible job cut out for him, and he knew it. So he pulled a Cassius Clay, a Broadway Joe: he stood there telling you that he was going to "pull you in," that he was going to blow your head. And he filled the spaces in his monologue with music that did.

No matter how far out BS&T could send the crowd, there would always be the sneaking suspicion that the people liked them because they were Supposed to like them. With Kirk there could be no doubt; he shocked the crowd and they loved him for it.

There is something different about Blood, Sweat, and Tears when they walk on and set up. Maybe it's that you know that so many of them have their degrees from Julliard tucked away in the hip pockets of their bell-bottoms. But I don't think so. It's an air about them, a feeling they give you, a funny thing to define. You just know that they're not up there to drown you with decibels; they know what they're doing--exactly what they're doing.

And they like doing it. Whether it's Bobby Columbo grinning like an idiot and driving into his drums the same way, Loy Solow with a trumpet soliloquy, or David Clavton Thomas making love to his microphone, they're happy up there. It's too simple an explanation of their sound to say that they're the first jazz-rock group to use brass really well-their sound brings it all, rock, jazz, blues and soul, together--but it's still true. When they laugh at each other, When they laugh at each other, when they laugh at you, you know the humor isn't something they're staging; it's real. And because it is, so it the passion: "If I ever hurt you, may I hurt myself as well...."

When, at the crowd's insistence, Wein brought them back for their encore, there was only one thing they could sing, only one thing that fit, "You made me so very happy--I'm so glad you came into my life."


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