A Gorgeous Sunday of Music at Clearwater Jazz Holiday

They say: Never miss a Sunday show. That time-honored adage rang true once again October 17 at Clearwater Jazz Holiday, held for the first time away from its perennial home at Coachman Park in Clearwater, Florida. That park is being completely revamped with a 4,000-seat amphitheater, so for this year’s event, the 42nd, music resounded throughout the baseball park of the Clearwater Threshers and the spring home of the Philadelphia Phillies. (2022 will also be at the ball park.) The weather had been extremely warm, but the heat abated a bit Sunday, and a great breeze tempered things even more. 

Down at field level, only VIP patrons were permitted, due to a contract signed before COVID protocols have eased. The organizers will be exploring ways to make this temporary home even more user-friendly for next year’s installment.

Lemon City Trio. 📷: Clearwater Jazz Holiday

Music kicked off (led off?) right on time with Lemon City Trio from Miami. Simply put, this organ trio is as good as any you will hear. Anywhere. Period. LC3 put on a superb set for the crowd just beginning to filter in. “Space Raiders” was a track from their most recent album, Cliffs (2020), followed by a scorching “Spicy Nacho.” Drummer Aaron Glueckauf laid down the groove while Nick Tannura’s guitar danced over it. Keyboard wiz Brian Robertson was handling bass duties as well.

Brian Robertson – Lemon City Trio. 📷: Clearwater Jazz Holiday

New song “Dune” walked that line between fusion and prog rock beautifully before they dialed it back just a bit for the lounge-y Latin feel of “16zz.” Then it was funk time, Robertson all over the clavinet on “Thundercat.”

Nick Tannura – Lemon City Trio. 📷: Clearwater Jazz Holiday

Next they offered two tracks from their 2017 album Welcome to the Neighborhood. Robertson had a great bass solo during the title track and romped on organ during “Jawn.” Tannura stepped up with tremendous guitar work time and again.

Aaron Glueckauf – Lemon City Trio. 📷: Clearwater Jazz Holiday

[LC3: Space Raiders, Spicy Nacho, Dune, 16zz, Thundercat, Welcome to the Neighborhood, Jawn, Kaimans]

 

Lucy Woodward had been in the GroundUP environment for years. She has a great voice and has been a fine backup singer for years in addition to her solo career. She recently paired with guitarist Charlie Hunter for some very exciting music. She brought a talented band with her to CJH.

None of that helped. Sadly, her set was flat as a pancake. It lacked heart. Even the onstage banter with keyboard player Henry Hey seemed scripted. The set featured jazz, pop, rock, and blues, beginning with “Unravel.” Hey and guitarist Chris McQueen offered backing vocals. Next she invited Ulf Bjorlin of Dustbown Revival to play trombone with the band on the uptempo tune.

Lucy Woodward & Ulf Bjorlin. 📷: Clearwater Jazz Holiday

“Lady in Waiting” was a fine song cowritten with drummer Keita Ogawa, almost a bossa nova. Hey soloed on Fender Rhodes and then played duets with Ogawa. Woodward sang John Lennon’s “Jealous Guy,” citing it as one of her favorites, but the song fell flat. Next was “Free Spirit,” co-written by Hey. They dove into bluesy rock with “Your Love Never Leaves My Body,” with McQueen’s guitar out front. 

Lucy Woodward. 📷: Clearwater Jazz Holiday

Woodward mentioned a song never recorded for an album that exists somewhere on video about the fact that love doesn’t always work out; the song’s refrain was, “Please, baby, please break up with me.” She followed that with a favorite Nina Simone song of hers, “Be My Husband.” They turned this into a boogie, Hey and McQueen with solos. Woodward and band closed the set with the plaintive “Put Down the Bottle.”

 

What was an Americana band doing on the Clearwater Jazz Holiday lineup? Somewhere in the middle of the set by Dustbowl Revival, leader Zach Lupetin posed the same question. By that point, the band had abundantly answered the question. This tremendous band would fit right in at a roots fest, a jam fest, a funk fest, or a jazz fest. They were fabulous.

Lashon Halley – Dustbowl Revival. 📷: Clearwater Jazz Holiday

We discovered that right away when the sextet launched into “Must Be Something in Your Past,” truly kickass Americana jazz. They have the groove to begin with, but this is a horn band featuring Ulf Bjorlin (trombone) and Matt Rubin (trumpet). And those two are outstanding. “Dreaming,” from their 2020 album Is It You, Is It Me, was almost ska-like, followed by another new song, “Enemy,” which featured great whistling. 

Matt Rubin & Ulf Bjorlin – Dustbowl Revival. 📷: Clearwater Jazz Holiday

All set long Lashon Halley and guitarist Lupetin sang together, sometimes in incredibly tight harmony. “Mirror” was a great example of that. The other observation was that Halley, Lupetin, and the entire band poured their hearts into the set. It was around this point that Lupetin mentioned that it might be odd seeing an Americana band on a jazz fest. He thanked the organizers for including the band, hoping to play many more jazz festivals.

Lashon Halley & Zach Lupetin – Dustbowl Revival. 📷: Clearwater Jazz Holiday

They offered up an absolutely riveting song about the shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School that captivated the crowd. Stevie Musselman showed his skills all evening but especially on “Let It Go,” which Lupetin later clarified was not from Frozen! They got Latin-y, they ska-ed, and they blew it out with “Sonic Boom.” They traveled to New Orleans for “Is That You” and left us with brand new blues rocker “Set Me Free.” 

You owe it to yourself to check out this superb band.

 

That left it the modern definition of the jazz big band: Snarky Puppy. For the past 18 years, Michael League and his band of merry men have revolutionized how we look at the institution. This was another astonishing performance; it is no coincidence that League loves performing near his family from Tarpon Springs, including his “yiayia,” who at 101 has attended every show the group has played in the Tampa Bay area.

Snarky Puppy. 📷: Clearwater Jazz Holiday

First, here is a look at the band on stage from left to right: Chris Bullock – tenor sax, flute, and alto flute; Bob Reynolds – saxophone; Mike “Maz” Maher – trumpet and flugelhorn; Keita Ogawa – percussion; Justin Stanton – trumpet and keyboards; Michael League – bass; Jamison Ross – drums; Chris McQueen – guitar; Mark Lettieri – guitar; and Shaun Martin – keyboards. And it is necessary to give a shout-out to the Snarky Puppy sound crew; Michael League does, and if you’ve heard them live, you know why: Matt Recchia – engineering and sound (front of house); Michael Harrison – monitors; and Neil Macintosh – mixing.

Jamison Ross – Snarky Puppy. 📷: Clearwater Jazz Holiday

A powerful set-opening “Flood” drenched us all in Snarky Puppy, McQueen on a tight solo and a great percussion vamp between drummer Ross and percussionist Ogawa. “Tarova” assured us this was a Shaun Martin night. League just turned him loose time and again. Martin had that talk box voice tube primed and ready for some deep funk. Lettieri knocked out a great solo. Synths from Stanton and/or Martin introduced “While We’re Young,” which featured some gorgeous twin slide guitar work from Lettieri and McQueen on at least three occasions plus nice flugelhorn from Maher. There was a distinct Zappa-esque feel to the song.

Snarky Puppy. 📷: Clearwater Jazz Holiday

If you’ve seen Snarky Puppy before, you know that League always has a smile a mile wide: he loves his band mates and he loves what he does. This night, that smile was at least a mile and a half wide. We’ve never seen him quite this joyous. Being close to Tarpon Springs doesn’t hurt, but we understood completely when he shared that this was the first U.S. gig since February of 2020. That could do it.

“Bad Kids to the Back” always hits the right spot (that name alone, for those who can relate). Stanton played both keyboards and trumpet here. Reynolds took a superb tenor solo, and Ross had a fine drum feature. Martin on electric piano and Maher on trumpet opened “Even Us,” a ballad. Bullock’s tenor solo was sent through effects making it sound like he was in a cave!

Chris Bullock, Bob Reynolds & Mike “Maz” Maher – Snarky Puppy. 📷: Clearwater Jazz Holiday

Time for Martin on the talk box again with more deep, deep funk, McQueen soloing on “Chonks.” Bullock’s flute and muted trumpet from Maher led to a pulsing take on “Xavi,” sounding like a movie theme. League had a tremendous solo, and Maher’s wah-wah trumpet was killer. Ogawa had a percussion feature. When Bullock returned to flute, that definitive Snarky Puppy sound emerged. At this point, League grabbed some very unusual-looking castanets.

Time was winding down. Ready for a show-stopper. Which “Shofukan” ALWAYS is. The two guitars and Martin on electric piano provided the introduction. With Stanton on trumpet, the four-man horn section sounded incredible; Stanton had a brief solo, then a fine longer one while Martin vamped underneath. Martin then poured on the heavy space synths to help close the set.

Close the set? WHO ARE YOU KIDDING?

To joyous applause and shouts, the ten-man orchestra came back on stage to shut down Clearwater Jazz Festival with “What About Me,” League with another great solo, intros of all the band members, and then Ogawa, Ross, and Martin duking it out.

Snarky Puppy. 📷: Clearwater Jazz Holiday

They are the paragon. Once again, they left no doubt.

[SP: Flood, Tarova, While We’re Young, Bad Kids to the Back, Even Us, Chonk, Xavi, Shofukan; E: What About Me]

 

 

Comments are closed.