The Long Beach Jazz Festival, always a highlight of Southern California's summer music calendar, convened for the 19th time over the weekend of August 18th. For three days, the ocean adjacent Rainbow Lagoon park was taken over by thousands of jazz fans who were treated to a diverse line up of artists. While the festival is mainly on smooth jazz and R&B, participants and highlights came from all across the spectrum of jazz. These included a funky and freewheeling set from fusion veterans George Duke and Stanley Clarke, a dynamic performance from contemporary artist Brian Cubertson, a classy Sunday brunch of straight-ahead jazz and blues from Al Williams' Jazz Society with Barbara Morrison, and rousing Latin Jazz from Poncho Sanchez to close the festivities.
For sheer musical virtuosity, not much could top the electric outing from Stanley Clarke, George Duke and a full band on Saturday night. They turned the volume up...at times just a little too loudly for the festival's sound system to properly handle...to play a bit of everything. There were some cosmic jams with Duke at a variety of electric keyboards, and there was nice traditional sounding jazz with Duke at the good old piano. Clarke got a wide range of sounds out of his bass, using both the pickup settings on his bass as well as the occasional use of foot pedals. The exited on a funky note, getting the crowd up with a lively medley of Parliament-Funkadelic and Sly and the Family Stone tunes. It was a hard act to follow, but Brian Culbertson did an able job of it, the multi-instrumentalist displaying an enthusiasm that was contagious as he traded instruments. Particularly impressive were his turns at the trombone, as he headed a horn section that included his father on trumpet.
Sunday's program featured a little bit of everything. Al Williams, the festival's impresario and an accomplished drummer in his own right, led his group the Jazz Society through a nice set of standards and blues in what has become the event's traditional Sunday matinée. Heading the group on this occasion was the classy Southern California blues diva Barbara Morrison. Musical high points included an entertaining reading of "Guess Who I Saw Today" and a barn-burning rendition of Morrison's signature "They Call Me Sundown." Also impressive were the efforts of the super group Guitars and Saxes, whose set was split between songs made famous by its individual members and jams on R&B classics from the likes of James Brown and the Temptations featuring stars Gerald Albright, Peter White, Jeff Golub and Richard Elliot. Particularly impressive were Albright, whose sound on saxophone was soulful and full, and Golub, whose bluesy leads were inventive and convincing.
Poncho Sanchez is a name virtually synonymous with the Long Beach Jazz Festival. The conga player performed at the event's inaugural running, and he has performed at all but one of the subsequent edition. Sanchez was the natural choice to close the curtain on the 19th Long Beach Jazz Festival, and his band's sharp performance put a nice exclamation point on the event. Selections included a winning interpretation of Mongo Santamaria's "Afro Blue" with a stunning percussion interlude, as well as a grooving take of "Watermelon Man." In keeping with what had been something of the festival's motif, he also weighed in with some R&B from his charming Out of Sight collection of a couple years back.