Tanya Batson-Savage, Freelance Writer
AT 'OPENING Day Jazz', Sunday, June 11, it felt as though the Jamaica Ocho Rios Jazz festival was on its last legs, panting for breath to make it through another year. At 'Closing Day Jazz', at the Almond Tree Gardens, Hibiscus Lodge, Ocho Rios, that spectre of death was resoundingly shaken off.
It was most effectively done through the performances of Kathy Brown and Friends and the Eric Alexander Quartet, which performed at the two ends of the day. The festival held nine days of performance in its 15th staging.
Kathy Brown and Friends came quite early in the performance.
REPUTATION IN JAZZ CIRCLES
The doctor Brown, who has been steadily crafting out a sterling reputation in jazz circles as a good pianist and writer, was accompanied by an energetic Denver Smith on percussions, Dale Brown on bass guitar and Dillion 'Juba' White on trap set.
The quartet began with an easy celebration of the sweltering heat with the standard Summertime. From there they swung to South Africa with Mountain Shade. Brown then turned to one of her own pieces, Mission. "I wrote it about four years ago," she said, "with no hope of ever playing it in public - until I met a bass player who believed."
The highlight of what was a very good set, however, was their rendition of The Flintstones theme song, which was given a genre breaking treatment that combined swing, reggae, dancehall and more. "I don't know what else was in there," Brown laughingly said. Alas, by then they were moving toward the end of their performance.
"Actually we're down to our last song already," Brown told the audience.
"No man!" a man called back in response. So after they delivered Afro Blue, the audience demanded more.
"Would you like us to do a Bob Marley?" Brown queried.
"You tek di words outa mi mout'," one man called back. The quartet delivered a groovy version of Get Up Stand Up.
The Antelope Valley Big Band had opened the show, which also featured Errol Lee and the Bare Essentials with the Ska Revival, Barbara Walker Blues, and Black Zebra. By the time The Eric Alexander Quartet was making its way to the stage, the concert was racing with the sun, which seemed to be hurrying toward the horizon. Its leaving would signal the end to the event, as the garden was not lit for such purposes. But while the sun remained, the evening was being warmed by four very talented musicians.
Alexander was on sax, accompanied by Nat Reeves on bass, Joe Farnsworth on drums and David Hazeltine on piano. Fabulous barely struggles to describe their performances, which included drum solos from Farnsworth which threatened to unhinge the jaw. The quartet performed Alexander's Nemisis, Hazeltine's Blues Like, as well as Triste and Didn't We.
As they moved towards the end of their performance, the audience demanded more. By then, the sun had kissed the horizon and darkness was setting in over the garden.
"Eric! Eric!" one man called. "In Jamaica we call it brawta. One More! Brawta! Brawta!" his wish was granted, bringing a wonderful close to another staging of the festival.