While the “jazz” tag in the JVC Jazz Festival has always been a point of debate, 1994’s edition — moved up from its normal August post in order to coincide with World Cup Soccer — was a stretch beyond the breaking point. But after putting categories out of mind, one could enjoy some high-flying music-making, particularly from Stanley Jordan (the only jazz act per se on the bill) and Lou Rawls.
Though Jordan’s profile isn’t as high as it was in the mid-’80s, when he was the most hyped young guitarist around, his growth as a musician and a technical innovator has continued at an astounding clip. His playing has become even more graceful and inventive, using conventional and tapping techniques and two guitars at times as if he was playing a keyboard.
Jordan’s range has also broadened, for his repertoire now stretches from his usual one-man-band solos to tasty fatback funk (Herbie Hancock’s “Chameleon”) and credible fuzz-tone rock. However, he still lacks a strong stage presence, and was easily upstaged by his flamboyant bassist T.M. Stevens.
With simmering tension in her voice, Patti Austin front-loaded her segment with her best stuff, leading with a fervent oldie from a Quincy Jones album, “Razzmatazz.” But soon her set became bogged down in slushy balladry (which she had the irreverence to deflate with the comment, “Oh, you big saps!”) and audience participation stunts taken third-hand from Harry Belafonte.
As for Lou Rawls, his painstakingly polished set, generously loaded with hits , was stamped with the words “old pro” in the best sense. His marvelously resonant voice hasn’t changed in decades, and he bends it around the notes with even more elastic, seasoned skill. His cool, run-on monologues over the groove are as mesmerizing in the age of rap as they were in the ’60s, and studio legend David T. Walker’s instantly recognizable staccato guitar gave Rawls’ band an extra kick.
To no one’s surprise, Buddy Guy ended up jumping off stage into the dwindling audience after playing showman for an hour, picking his guitar with his cord, a drumstick and so on. But he also also revealed a talent for mimicry, doing very funny impressions of John Lee Hooker, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Eric Clapton, and he exercised awesome dynamic control over his roaring blues band.