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Jazz in the Streets

[whitespace] Arturo Sandoval Come Blow Your Horn: Arturo Sandoval is a full-tilt improvisor and true original.

This weekend's TCI SJ Jazz Festival fills downtown with improvisational delights

Arturo Sandoval
IT'S NOT surprising that many consider Arturo Sandoval to be the finest trumpeter Cuba has produced. As adept at playing bop as he is at blowing boleros, Sandoval is a master improviser and a true original. His full-tilt, dazzling playing and eclectic background have made him a sought-after performer.

Sandoval (who performs Saturday at 4pm on the Main Stage at the TCI San Jose Jazz Festival) first made his mark as a founding member of the internationally acclaimed act Irakere. More than any other ensemble, Irakere successfully meshed Cuban son and other folkloric forms with jazz--and, to a lesser degree, rock. Heavily influenced by continental African culture, Irakere's album Misa Negra (Black Mass) used a big-band approach to recreate Yoruban ceremonial music.

Since graduating with honors from Havana's National Arts School, Sandoval has performed with the Cuban Orchestra of Modern Music, the Leningrad Symphony in Russia and other prestigious institutions. His work in improvisational music is equally impressive; he has played and recorded with mentor Dizzy Gillespie, drummer Billy Cobham, pianist Herbie Hancock and Woody Shaw.

Ironically, Sandoval's solo endeavors have been somewhat less than spectacular--specifically, his recent forays into radio-ready Adult Contemporary have been frustratingly uneven. However, the Milan Latino collection Best of Arturo Sandoval reveals a musician who appears as comfortable circumnavigating bebop's complex soundfields as he is delivering danceable postfusion fare. The album's eight compositions emphasize the latter quality, an obvious marketing ploy yielding mixed results.

One thing is clear: Sandoval is an unreconstructed romantic. On Bernstein's and Stephen Sondheim's "Maria," he plays, no, caresses the tune as one would a lover. Against a mildly overwrought orchestral backdrop, Sandoval summons up some impassioned trumpet, spritzing vertically into the instrument's upper register without any perceptible strain before settling into the tune's comely melody. In Sandoval's hands, "Maria" assumes such a lyrical quality, the words practically articulate themselves.

Sandoval's own "Red Moon" is nearly as pretty. A cross between an uptown blues and pre-rock R&B, "Red Moon" simmers on "low" with Sandoval extracting every possible nuance while avoiding bluesier-than-thou preciousness. In addition to showcasing a riveting Sandoval solo that dances from short guttural emissions to smooth sustained lines that soar and swoop, the track also contains some superb, if low-keyed fretwork.

While one might quibble about this collection's overtly commercial leanings, Best of Arturo Sandoval is still a nifty instrumental pop/jazz package. Afri-Latin music aficionados preferring a more adventurous Sandoval might check out Hot House.
Nicky Baxter

Bob Berg Bob Berg
FOR A JAZZ MUSICIAN, there's no place more fearsome than the midlife doldrums. Too old for young-lion hype and too young for exalted veteran status, most jazz musicians in their 40s and 50s struggle just to keep a band together, even though their music continues to evolve.

Take Bob Berg. The 47-year-old saxophonist is at the top of his game, a commanding improvisor widely respected by critics and peers. Since forsaking free jazz in the late '60s and embracing the bebop, hard-bop and postbop mainstream, Berg has played with many of the best bandleaders in the business, including Horace Silver, Miles Davis and Cedar Walton. Despite his illustrious résumé, Berg has yet to develop his own identity in the jazz marketplace, although he long ago established his own sound: a robust, cutting tone, a powerful sense of swing and daring harmonic ideas executed with flawless technique.

Growing up in New York City, Berg displayed a gift for music early on. He spent much of the late '60s blowing long, furious solos influenced by late-period John Coltrane, but by the end of the decade, he decided to study Miles Davis' classic 1950s quintet. A job with Brother Jack McDuff found Berg getting in touch with his soulful side, a la Gene Ammons. Although some claim to hear the influence of Michael Brecker and Ernie Watts, Berg's playing is marked most deeply by early-'60s Coltrane, Sonny Rollins and Wayne Shorter.

At one time, Berg was something of a purist. When many players of his generation gravitated to fusion (just about the only way to land steady gigs in the '70s), Berg was dedicated to working in acoustic contexts. In the '80s and early '90s, he recorded a series of hard-driving albums for Denon, hit-or-miss affairs that delved into funk and fusion.

Recently, his recordings have been marked by a new sense of purpose. Last year, Berg released his second album for Stretch, Another Standard, one of his strongest recordings to date. As the title implies, the session reworks a set of standard tunes, from the Rodgers and Hart classic "I Could Write a Book" and the Gershwins' "My Man's Gone Now" to the unlikely Lennon/McCartney vehicle "Michelle."

Besides Berg's imaginative tenor work, Another Standard succeeds thanks to the strength of the rhythm section. Featuring inventive pianist Dave Kikoski, fiery drummer Gary Novak and bassist Ed Howard, Berg's working quartet will also accompany him at the San Jose Jazz Festival on Saturday (Saturday at 6:30pm on the Concord Records Stage).

Berg played a one-night stand at Yoshi's with the same band earlier this year to mark the release of Another Standard. As strong as the album is, the Yoshi's gig was better, as Berg and his band found the fresh and unexpected in otherwise familiar material. Even though Berg's music continues to gain depth and insight, the tenor saxophonist could easily spend another decade waiting to be rediscovered. If passion, maturity and intelligence aren't sexy, just what are people looking for in a jazzman?
Al Roberts

Avishai Cohen Avishai Cohen
FOR ISRAELI-BORN BASSIST Avishai Cohen, it must have seemed like waking to a dream. One minute he's scuffling, surviving on construction and moving jobs, and the next he's sitting in a recording studio with piano legend Chick Corea, who's producing his debut album for the Stretch label. Of course, the journey didn't happen over night. Cohen left Israel in 1992 and headed for New York City without knowing a soul in the Big Apple. After what he describes as "one of the hardest years of my life," Cohen began landing gigs with such jazz luminaries as Leon Parker, Paquito D'Rivera, Wynton Marsalis and Danilo Perez.

On the strength of a demo tape, Corea decided to recruit the 27-year-old bassist to his new label. Adama was the resulting recording, an outstanding session that highlights Cohen's gift for crafting complex but engaging melodic lines. The album features a cast largely drawn from the Small's scene, including Linder, soprano saxophonist Wilson, trombonist Steve Davis and drummer Jeff Ballard; Amos Hoffman contributes on oud, lending the music a strong Middle Eastern flavor. Cohen will perform with the same sextet--with Jimmy Green replacing Wilson on soprano sax--at the TCI San Jose Jazz Festival on Saturday (4:30pm on the Concord Records Stage).
Al Roberts

Steve Turre

Steve Turre and Regina Carter
A PAIR OF OTHER festival acts--trombonist/multi-instrumentalist Steve Turre (Saturday at noon on the Main Stage) and violinist Regina Carter (Friday at 5:15pm on the Main Stage)--also merit some attention. Turre is a sublime technician, equally versed in hard bop, mainstream and the Afri-Latin improvisational music tradition. Not only is Turre a gifted trombonist, he has also brought the art of seashell playing (with his Sanctified Shells band) into the music's vocabulary.

Moreover, Turre is now acknowledged as a superlative composer, arranger and bandleader. His recent self-titled release showcases his prodigious gifts to excellent effect. The album draws on jazz, Afri-Cuban and Brazilian sources and features a constellation of improvisational-music giants, most notably trombonist J.J. Johnson and the pioneering singer Cassandra Wilson.

Regina Carter has taken the improvisational-music scene by storm in recent years with her commanding technique and creative thrust. Her style encompasses everything from straight-ahead jazz to contemporary R&B to East Indian and European classical music. She has recorded with hip-hop diva Mary J. Blige and the String Trio of New York. Since her 1995 debut, the violinist has continued to display formidable resoluteness in carving out an ever-expanding repertoire.
Nicky Baxter

The TCI San Jose Jazz Festival runs Aug. 6-11 on 10 stages in downtown San Jose, from San Pedro Square to the San Jose Hilton. The action starts with Sista Monica at Metro's Music in the Park on Thursday at 5:30pm, followed by Lady Bo at the Pavilion. Regina Carter (5:15pm) and Pete Escovedo (7:30pm) perform Friday on the Main Stage. On Saturday, the Main Stage (in Plaza de Cesar Chavez) features the Rejoice Gospel Ensemble, Steve Turre, Fattburger, Arturo Sandoval and Johnny Otis (10:45am-7pm). Sunday's Main Stage acts are Idea of North, Robbie Kwock and Melecio Magdaluyo, the Gene Harris Quartet, Mannhy Oquendo and Libre, and Diane Schuur (10:45am-7pm). Free. For schedule information, call 408/288-7557.

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From the August 6-13, 1998 issue of Metro.

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