You might think you know what you're going to get as you wander the Monterey Jazz Festival side stages—they publish a nicely annotated program, after all—but the best moments are often surprises. This was demonstrated by a delightfully varied ramble around the grounds Sunday.
Youn Sun Nah and Ulf Wakenius
This year's award for Wonderfully Eclectic Discovery goes to South Korean vocalist Youn Sun Nah, who in her short set managed to range from Manhattan Transfer-style vocalese to operatic high-notes to a kind of Johnny Cash-via-Metallica rumble. And she did so with a set of material that ran from obscure Swedish folk songs to cowboy anthem "Ghost Riders in the Sky" while periodically toying with electronic effects and an amplified thumb piano.
Accompanying guitarist Ulf Wakenius was no slouch on the invention side, either, at one point hammering the strings with a plastic water bottle (hard enough to bust a speaker, too). That it all came together to such powerful effect was a tribute to the duo's rarefied level of musicianship.
Brian Blade Fellowship
Yes, he has a crackerjack band that mines a fertile groove between straight-ahead jazz and fusion. But in-demand drummer Brian Blade is clearly the main draw. Not only is he a consistently inventive rhythmic explorer, but he's also more fun to watch than just about anyone in contemporary jazz. Didn't it used to be illegal to have this much fun doing your job?
Daniel Rosenboom Quintet
It's been a long time since jazz had a clear, unifying direction, but the young 'uns have come up with a new and increasingly influential sound. Think mellow, carefully layered melodic passages for the ensemble playing, punctuated with increasingly wigged-out solos, subtle-to-overt fusion influences and an overall elegiac tone. Christian Scott seems like one of the earliest and most obvious purveyors, but your associations may vary.
At least a half-dozen acts at this year's MJF were cooking some flavor of this recipe, none more vigorously than trumpeter Daniel Rosenboom, whose carefully sculpted solo lines made effective counterpoints to the raucous electric squalls unleashed by guitarist Alexander Noice. And the MJF "What Is That Thing, And Does The Supportive Truss Come With It?" award goes to bassist Kai Kurosawa, playing an electric thing that had two necks, a gazillion strings and a design that screamed "mad scientist meets luthier."
Delfeayo and Ellis Marsalis
Capping the festival's New Orleans vibe were two members of the city's most distinguished musical family. Ellis Marsalis is the father of Wynton and Branford, a legendary pianist with a deceptively light touch and maybe the most prolific and influential jazz educator ever. Son Delfeayo is a trombonist with a tremendous feel for street music tradition and charisma to spare.
Together, and backed by a tight rhythm section, the Marsalises jumped from one joyful slice of Big Easy bounce to another, with the elder Marsalis' penchant for a more restrained, bluesy style of New Orleans music balancing delightfully with Delfeayo's more energetic street-march vibe.