First thing we checked out when we arrived at Bear Creek was Dr. Lonnie Smith, the venerable B3 organist known for sporting a turban. His sidemen were very heavy hitters themselves, with Johnathan Kreisburg on guitar and Jamire Williams on drums. I had heard Kreisburg’s jazz albums before, but I had never heard him play in a loud, rockin setting like this. The man is anything but a one trick pony, it turns out. He had winding odd-scale riffs a la Scofield, reached into some hard-edged territory that sounded like prog-rock, and dialed it all the way back into some space-out territory with this cool sounding short-time reverse effect. I would like to know how he did that exactly, and I would also like to know what else this dude is capable of. For all the heaping amounts of praise that people lavish upon John Scofield (and rightfully so), I have to say, seeing Kreisburg here in this role… he provides similar kinds of heady, weaving lines with a greater stylistic breadth than I’ve heard from Scofield (whom I saw twice at BC). Next time I get the chance to see Kreisburg do his thing again I will definitely not be missing it. Superlative musicianship.
Will Bernard played a nice role as artist at large, sitting in with too many groups to even recall here. Each time he got on stage and started playing I leaned over and said to Bill, who is this guy? “Will Bernard.” That happened at least three times. I’ve kind of glossed over his music in the past. After this fest, I need to go back and give him another listen. Apparently his set was off the hook too, which is too bad because I missed it while watching this next thing:
This year I made it a point to catch a fascinating group whom I missed last year but heard excellent things about: Snarky Puppy. It’s an amusing name, for a group with some very, very tight horns. Being a trumpeter myself, I was delighted to see two trumpets on stage with flugelhorns on stands below them which they swapped back and forth on. I wish there were more groups with horn sections as tight as this. The typical instrumentation was two trumpets and tenor sax, although they brought in a trombone player for a few tunes and Jen Hartswick (trumpet) also sat in with them. For a trumpet player, this was the group not to miss. I set up my Zoom H4 recorder in the back and taped the show as well, which is totally available for your listening RIGHT HERE! If you want to dive right into it, I’d advise hitting the “forward” button to advance the track twice. That’s where the real hotness begins, I think.
It figures that a group like this would hail from Brooklyn, a place where the extreme density and competitiveness of musicians yields an overabundance of monstrously gifted players in a small area. Their arrangements of fast-moving harmonized lines where the horn section provided the leading melody of the ensemble were really inspiring to me personally. It’s been a while since I’ve heard a group that places the horn section front and center, both on the stage and musically. I would really love to get a project like this started for myself. Although these guys were all top-level horn talent, I think you could achieve a reasonable facsimile of this sound with maybe two good soloists and talented section players who were maybe classical guys with chops. (daydreaming out loud here)
I also saw the Jennifer Hartswick Band for the first time at this Bear Creek. Jen plays trumpet in the Trey Anastasio Band so I was interested to see her solo thing. The woman can definitely belt. A lot of her show centered around the vocals, which I found entertaining although I was consistently wishing she’d just pick up the horn and blow. (Of course I’m very biased toward instrumental music and I play trumpet, so I’m hardly an impartial opinion here.) When she did, her sound was bright and powerful, and her lines were well-composed and confident. I was maybe hoping she’d break out some trickier manoeuvres but never did I feel dissatisfied with her style. A solid player and a good show.