Here are some of the noteworthy performers taking the stage this year as part of the Houston International Jazz Festival, August 4 through August 6.
Tenor sax player Stanley Turrentine's trademark "sugar" sound consists of a precise, huge-toned bluesy feel that's delivered seemingly without effort. By the time Turrentine was making his first albums as a leader on Blue Note in the early 1960s, his style was pretty much set. Looking back on Turrentine's classic rendition of "Willow Weep for Me," from the Blue Hour album, you can hear a completely lyrical player who uses parts of the conventional jazz vocabulary as improvisational jumping-off points. Unlike many of the young players of the day who were experimenting with dissonance, Turrentine always played the exact note that was supposed to be played. Turrentine's latest release, Do You Have Any Sugar (Concord), is equally divided between straight-ahead and smooth jazz. Although his attack is slightly breathier than it used to be, Turrentine still reaches a shimmering level of beauty in his solos. Turrentine performs Sunday, August 6, with the Texas Southern University Summer Jazz Workshop band at the Mayor's Jazz Brunch at 11 a.m. at the Hyatt Regency Downtown, 1200 Louisiana. Admission is $75 per seat. For tickets, call (713)839-7000. Turrentine also performs later that day at the Family Jam, beginning at 4 p.m., in front of the City Hall Reflection Pool, 900 Bagby.
Tenor saxophonist Gato Barbieri is one of those musicians who has achieved a sound so recognizable that you can identify him from the first line. The Argentina native's tone is bright, throaty, passionate and physically big. It seems like every line comes from a force-ten gale. Unfortunately, having achieved this unique signature early in his career, Barbieri tends not to be concerned about the larger gestures of change. In the 1960s, playing with Don Cherry, Barbieri was part of the avant-garde. Yet his first few albums as a leader in the late '60s followed a mainstream vibe, and he began writing film scores (winning a Grammy for Last Tango in Paris). Beginning with Caliente in 1976, Barbieri recorded a series of five albums for Herb Alpert's A&M label, which crystallized his sound: a bright, danceable Latin-based groove on top of which Barbieri laid a smoothed-out version of his passionate sax. Barbieri's most recent album, Che Corazon (Columbia), is maddening because, while the arrangements are nothing more than comfortable Latin-tinged dance grooves, the sax lines are as grainy and hot-blooded as ever. This is probably why Barbieri has such an appeal to a generation of listeners who never heard him the first time around. Barbieri performs Sunday, August 6, at the Family Jam at the City Hall Reflection Pool.
It's been quite a year for El Conguero, Poncho Sanchez. The Texas-born conga player won a Best Latin Jazz Grammy for his live album Latin Soul (Concord) and a Los Angeles music award in the Latin jazz category. With 19 albums under his belt and years as the leader of an eight-piece band whose personnel has remained remarkably consistent, Sanchez is at the top of his game. A lot of the credit should go to David Torres, the band's pianist, musical director and chief arranger for the past 12 years. It's Torres who arranges the fiery three-piece brass section. The rhythm section, of course, is the most. This is definitely the high point of the festival. Sanchez performs Saturday, August 5, at the Family Jam, beginning at 5 p.m., at the City Hall Reflection Pool.
Houston guitarist and HPD officer Joe Carmouche has a new CD out, A Touch of Jazz, so expect to hear some of that along with a mixture of R&B, blues and funk tunes. Carmouche has been gigging around town for more than 20 years; he played with Bubbha Thomas, president of Houston Jazz Inc., the festival's organizer, back when Kirk Whalum was with the group. Carmouche performs Friday, August 4, at the Lunch Time Jam, beginning at 11 a.m., at the City Hall Reflection Pool.
Houston's Norma Zenteno Band recently captured the Houston Press music award for Best Latin act. Her band features one of the city's spiciest rhythm sections. If we're lucky, Zenteno's dad, trumpeter Roberto Zenteno, will make an appearance. He's a superb Latin jazz soloist, capable of turning the rhythm around on a dime. The Norma Zenteno Band performs Friday, August 4, at the Lunch Time Jam at the City Hall Reflection Pool.
Vocalist Regina Belle began as a gospel singer, evolved through early R&B and adult-contemporary incarnations, and has emerged as a smooth-jazz chanteuse, especially on her latest CD, Believe In Me (MCA). Belle performs Saturday, August 5, at the Family Jam at the City Hall Reflection Pool. And Swedish drummer Fredrik Noren is a straight-ahead player who keeps a good group of Scandinavian musicians around. Noren and his band perform Saturday, August 5, at the Family Jam.
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