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All You Can Eat

A music festival is the Las Vegas Buffet of concerts. Even though you are full, you're still going to waddle your overstuffed face back over to the steam table to get another slice of prime rib. Common sense be damned, I'm getting my money's worth.

With five stages, the Monterey Jazz Festival is a marvel of excess, but unlike croissants, no one has yet died from an overdose of jazz. Rushing to catch JOHN SCOFIELD'S set with the ÜBERJAM band, I had to run past no less than three performances already in progress. No offense to JOHN HANDY, but some funk was medically necessary.

Once safely inside the venue, which on weekdays goes by the name of the MONTEREY ROOM and for the festival was renamed DIZZY'S DEN, my jaw quickly hit the floor as drummer ADAM DEITCH started to play. Possessed with a nearly diabolical sense of rhythm, this young drummer is able to play all those electronic music presets on the 808, but unlike the venerable drum machine, he can react and improvise to the insane textural effects that Scofield was dashing off on his guitar. This display of talent was only matched by AVI BORTNICK'S masterful sampling work, which put Gameboy sounds, Nigerian rhythms and odd electronic noises artfully into the mix.

After I was thoroughly blown away by the Über-ness, MIKE WATT'S BANYAN came out onstage. Actually led by ex–Jane's Addiction drummer STEVEN PERKINS, Banyan's sound is part tribal rhythms, part distorted dub bass and part Chicago-style free improv. Joining the group were some old-school Memphis musicians, HERMAN GREEN and CALVIN NEWBORN. TORTOISE'S JEFF PARKER clearly copped some licks from Newborn, and Green's interplay with trumpeter MEMPHIS WILLIE was a joy to behold.

Skipping out halfway through their particularly fine set, I rushed over to the arena to catch the very exuberant tail end of the SPANISH HARLEM ORCHESTRA's set. Minutes later, SONNY ROLLINS took the stage. At 75, the man is still powering though the choruses and he masterfully led his band though a series of tunes that made no concessions to either age or infirmity. He played with authority, exploring the whole of the horn, and repeatedly fooled with listeners' rhythmic and harmonic expectations. Musicians such as Rollins aren't minted anymore and his commitment to sonic exploration and continual improvement is inspiring in a time when many musicians are succumbing to mediocrity and midcareer ennui.

Saturday's banquet began with the DAP KINGS taking the main stage at 1pm, but their Soul Review was much more enjoyable later in the day at the more intimate and infinitely less stuffy Garden Stage. There they were able to more fully work the crowd, getting dancers up onstage and exhorting the audience to shout along with their neo–James Brown shout choruses. Following the Daps, MAVIS STAPLES took the stage. Her long years on the gospel and soul circuit have made her a consummate performer, but she is also unafraid to shed a genuine tear, as she did when singing about the Gulf Coast during "God Is Watching." POP (nee ROEBUCK) STAPLES taught Mavis well; her vocal power definitely comes from above. She also let the world in on a much more worldly secret: "You can make any gospel song an R&B song. It's easy, all you gotta do is put 'baby' wherever it says Jesus."

After a break for some Ghanaian food, it was back into the fray by catching East Bay neosoul diva LEDESI and Latin hip-hop orchestra O-MAYA in between excursions to see the LOUNGE ART ENSEMBLE and TONY BENNETT.

Seeing Bennett was a truly surreal trip. Although it's unlikely the set list has been updated since the '70s, he still exudes more class and sophistication than almost any other musician alive. It was a joy to catch one of the last of the old-school crooners live and in the flesh. Besides, CLINT EASTWOOD introduced him to the arena.

The evening finished off with Scofield and Mavis Staples doing a set of Ray Charles songs. By then, after 10 hours of listening to live music, my ears were crammed to the gills with altered chords. However, it must be noted that GARY VERSACE, besides having a smooth name, is a goddamn genius on the B3. I can't wait to see these tunes again at the Kuumbwa in late October. I am going to go let my belt out and get some sleep now; after this weekend, I am definitely in a jazz coma.

Peter Koht

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From the September 21-28, 2005 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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