Sunday was the day when the Playboy Jazz Festival made its Silver Anniversary edition something to remember. It was a day when one of the festival’s famous energy streaks surfaced and ran through several afternoon acts, when a 13-year-old singer and an 82-year-old pianist provided two of the high points, when what Jelly Roll Morton once called the “Spanish tinge” and acoustic combo jazz alternately fired up the crowd.
A portent of some of the heat to come was provided by the young Brubeck Institute Jazz Quintet from the University of the Pacific in Stockton — burning in a brash, bold post-bop style. While the name New Orleans Klezmer All-Stars would seem to suggest an invigorating fusion of several traditions, one heard hardly anything of New Orleans and a lot of clarinet-driven klezmer, whose characteristic scales wore out their welcome quickly.
The 2003 edition of Bill Cosby’s Cos of Good Music got the streak rolling, with the emcee/conductor doing his usual kibitzing on percussion and a duplicate set of trap drums. This edition seemed less quirky and more tightly welded to the bop mainstream than some of Cosby’s past bands, with the welcome return of Eddie Henderson’s cool, muted trumpet on “Star Dust,” Bobby Hutcherson in splendid form on vibes, and Keischa Potter and Pete Christlieb blowing fluidly on alto and tenor respectively. Yet it was the 13-year-old singer, Renee Olstead — a surprise guest — who scored the hit of the set, astonishing the audience with her poise and soulfully mature delivery (turns out she’s a showbiz veteran already, with three CDs and several TV and film credits).
A long front line of horns elbowing each other on the crowded turntable stage delivered a busy Cubop big band backdrop for the showboating Bobby Rodriguez, who was loaded for bear in a flashy American flag suit. He wasn’t kidding, either, for his set was filled with homilies advertising his up-from-East L.A. background. Ultimately, that was a bit much, but one could still enjoy watching him dancing and strutting happily in front of the band, blowing some blistering trumpet.
Piano buffs had a field day watching Dave Brubeck that afternoon, for the overhead camera projected terrific shots of his gnarled fingers on the twin big screens, turning the set into a masterclass on how the still-vital 82-year-old pianist voices his big polytonal chords. Alto saxophonist Bobby Militello roared through “On The Sunny Side of the Street” and “Yesterdays,” and Brubeck unveiled some inventive new material. Yet the peak of the set — and the historic high point of the festival — came when Al Jarreau joined the Brubeck quartet in an electrifying performance of its signature tune “Take Five” (also a longtime Jarreau specialty), with the irrepressibly scatting singer lighting brushfires under the audience and Brubeck alike.
Following a strong mainstream set from the acoustic quartet of another hardy survivor of over a half-century of jazz, drummer Roy Haynes, the festival turned to two Latin-grounded eclectic outfits who defy categorization. Over the course of four albums, Los Hombres Calientes has evolved into a percolating mix of Caribbean styles running jaggedly from New Orleans through the island nations south to Trinidad. They seem to be more of a salad bowl than a melting pot, where the individual flavors still come through. In a rough-and-tumble “A Night in Tunisia,” they even threw in an African percussion jam and trumpeter Irvin Mayfield’s rip through “The Flight of the Bumble Bee.”
We know the Ozomatli method from previous experiences at the Bowl — making their political point by emerging from within the crowd, the deafening opening percussion jam, the frantic hip-hop outbreaks and crazed strumming on Latin hybrids of the guitar, the in-your-face energy that doesn’t let up for a second.
Both bands were substitutes for acts (King Sunny Ade and Isaac Delgado) who couldn’t make the gig — and both, ironically, set off the biggest demonstrations of dancing, handkerchief-waving and general mischief of the day.
In his own set, Jarreau followed Ozomatli’s onslaught by gradually steering the energy toward a lower cruising altitude, his rubbery voice in unusually elastic form even for him. Yet he seemed to be getting careless as the set evolved, rambling aimlessly as music passed into mannerism. “He’s in his own little world,” a spectator sagely observed.
Finally the entertainers of Guitars and Saxes — saxophonists Richard Elliot and Steve Cole, guitarists Peter White and Jeff Golub — did what smooth jazz entertainers usually do; they played strings of cliched riffs, they plugged their albums, they strutted their physical shtick. And that put the festival to bed — a bit early actually.