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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, July 21, 2001

Concert review
Stan Kenton alumni band makes night's tribute sizzle

 •  Review of Thursday's Jazz Festival concert

By Dave Bellino
Special to The Advertiser

Music is a grand art form. And all too often, people don't realize the level of skill required to deliver it flawlessly.

Hawaii International Jazz Festival
 •  Tribute to Stan Kenton, Part 2, at 7 tonight, Blaisdell Concert Hall
 •  Parade of Big Bands, 4 p.m. tomorrow, McKinley High School auditorium
 •  Tickets: $40, $35, $20. Four-day pass: $120. Call: 591-2211 (Blaisdell), 526-4400 (Ticket Plus) The Advertiser is a sponsor of the jazz festival.
Seemingly without effort, an artist manipulates energy and emotion only after years of burning the chaff away in order that the gloriously stimulating excitement of the music within can rise from the ashes.

Rising from those ashes last night, the artists playing at the second night of the eighth annual Hawaii International Jazz Festival were glorious and stimulating and exciting.

This was the first of two tribute nights to the renowned band leader Stan Kenton. The Kenton band alumni on hand were directed by Hawai'i's own Gabe Baltazar and included Marvin Stamm, Buddy Childers, Slyde Hyde, Eddie Bert.

The surprise of the night? The University of Southern California's Thornton Jazz Orchestra under the direction of Shelly Berg. USC also played for Carmen Bradford and Nestor Torres.

The Stan Kenton Alumni Band played serious big band arrangements. There were no aloha shirts here; it was jacket and tie only. Their sound was symphonic and sophisticated.

Berg playing keys for them was one of the bright spots as he played two intros in solo improvisational form, taking the audience for a ride with each brilliantly genteel phrase.

"Stairway to the Stars" was Baltazar's signature piece when he played with Kenton. In this tune, the band supported the spiraling glissandos (sliding notes) in his solos with grace in soft yet powerful crescendos and decrescendos. In the uptempo section the band hit its mark, while Baltazar was center stage milking his horn for every sweet-sounding note he went for. Great tune, great arrangement, great soloist.

The only disappointment here, and not the band's fault, was the lack of risers. With a band that large, the trombones and trumpets who sit behind the sax section were largely lost. Hopefully next year they can be heard (and seen) as they should. Also lacking in this set was volume from the kick drum and stand-up bass.

Puerto Rican flutist Torres, backed by parts of the USC Orchestra in each song, opened offering the audience "Hi'ilawe" in a duet with the piano.

Through segue after segue, we were taken in and out of different rhythms from the simplest duet to lush changes with synthesizer.

The unsung hero in these concerts so far has been Noel Okimoto. The bands simply snap and sizzle when he's playing. You could see Torres depending on Okimoto to pick up on and translate his visual signals into music, which he did time and again as they played unrehearsed. At one point, he was playing percussively and you could hear the ambiance inside the tube of the flute. Great technique. His originals were engaging and his Afro-Cuban sounds magnetic.

USC now had a chance to show its own stuff. The orchestra is tight, punctuated and aggressive. Its charts were exemplary. Every tune drew the audience in, whether the section was spacey or the piece uptempo. It would have been nice if we'd had more of a chance to hear Berg's brilliance on piano.

Appearing for the first time at this festival was Bradford, a 10-year Count Basie vocal alum who delivered with gusto. Her phrasing was a bit like Ella Fitzgerald's with a thicker, slightly raspy timbre to her voice. She was another high spot of the night, taking us from ballads to blues with grandeur.

Early in the evening we were treated to the tight and brassy Texas Christian University Jazz Band in a pre-concert performance on the lawn. Each night there are free pre-concert performances there, along with free performances at both Ala Moana Center and the Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center. There are two more nights to the festival, and some tickets may still be available.

More information can be found at www.hawaiijazz.com.

Dave Bellino is a songwriter and arranger.