Annual JazzLive International Festival showcases diverse sounds
Chick Corea and Vijay Iyer prove how difficult it is to define the word jazz.
Composer of jazz classics such as “Spain” and “Tones for Joan's Bones,” Corea produces music that drives with an irresistible rhythmic force.
Fellow pianist Iyer takes his own intense look at music built around the moment rather than songs. The sound seems to be from a chamber concert rather than a jazz club.
“Jazz is more of a business term than an artistic one,” Iyer says. “Jazz really doesn't say anything about the music. It refers to time and situation more than music.”
They provide the kind of range that is at the heart of the sixth JazzLive International Festival, which runs from June 24 to 26, Downtown. They'll play back-to-back shows on June 25 on the Penn Avenue main stage.
In its three-day run, the festival will offer everything from multitasking big bands to singers who reach from the 1920s to this decade for their sounds.
They will be doing this mostly in free concerts in the Cultural District. But there will be ticketed events at the August Wilson Center and a soul and dance kickoff June 24. That first evening will be topped by a jazz crawl through Downtown clubs and restaurants.
Corea, 74, will be in a trio on June 25 with bassist Christian McBride and drummer Brian Blade, a group that recorded a three-CD “Trilogy” released in 2014.
Corea's ensemble creates music through its own sense of cohesion.
“We've been doing it long enough to have gotten pretty good at adapting to different venues, environments and audiences, from the intimacy of a club to the large audiences at a festival,” Corea says.
“With all the musicians I work with, it's the spiritual chemistry that makes the difference,” he says. “Christian and Brian are so special.”
Corea never stops exploring the worlds of music. He recently performed a Mozart double concerto with Mokoto Ozone in Japan and says he is “putting together a brand-new ensemble with my old buddy,” drummer Steve Gadd.
“I'm lucky and fortunate and also honored to continue to be invited to play my music,” he says. “It's what I live for.”
Iyer, 44, will perform in a duo June 25 with Wadada Leo Smith, a trumpeter who takes the stage with the same intensity as the pianist — and with a remarkable rich tone to his horn. Iyer says the music he and Smith create in concert is unpredictable and depends on the site and audience as much as themselves.
On their current album, “A Cosmic Rhythm With Each Stroke,” the two create music that hovers in a kind of formless way. It is not based on the shape of composition but never wanders from a shared understanding.
“All we have is each other,” Iyer says.
DAVINA AND THE VAGABONDS
Davina Sowers says teachers “like Fats Waller and Dr. John” are responsible for the direction she and her Vagabonds go with their music.
On June 25, Davina and the Vagabonds will get a chance to show off a mix of boogie-woogie, New Orleans blues, jazz and pop.
“I just love the festival atmosphere and can't wait to get there,” the pianist says.
The group includes Zack Lozier on trumpet, Stephen Rogness on trombone, Matt Blake on bass and Connor McRae on drums.
They perform what she calls “100 years of American roots music and originals.” Sowers' snarly voice takes on the tone of Billie Holiday at times but can drift into more contemporary phrasing.
JEFF “TAIN” WATTS
Hill District native Jeff “Tain” Watts knows a bit about improvising — and not just when performing.
Watts, one of the hottest drummers in jazz, was going to perform with his new group, Blue3, a trio with guitarist Mark Whitfield and bassist Robert Hurst. But Hurst got tied up in an extended tour with singer Diane Krall, Watts says.
Troy Roberts, a saxophonist who frequently performs with the drummer, is in town with the Revive Big Band, so Watts and Whitfield grabbed him and added pianist David Kikoski and bassist Hongu Hwang to round out a quintet, which will play June 25.
Watts has an album with Blue3 on the way along with appearances on two others.
He is intense on the importance of every job but has a special plan when he returns home. “I like to make concerts here kind of Burgh-centric,” he says.
Band leader Eddie Palmieri, 79, will be bringing his 12-piece big band. He is thrilled his June 26 gig is on the street, perfect for dancing.
“If you don't want to get up and dance to our music, you must be dead,” he says with a laugh.
Palmieri, a New York City native of Puerto Rican lineage, is a salsa giant who has won 10 Grammy Awards and many other accolades for his energetic work.
In his second appearance at the JazzLive festival, he is happy to be back with the big band.
“That band is such concentrated power,” he says, “It is the maximum potency of my music.” The five-horn group is driven by Palmieri's piano and conga-fueled rhythm section.
As he nears 80, Palmieri has two new albums on the way, “Sugma” and “Mi Luz Major,” which features a guest appearance by Carlos Santana. “Life is better than ever,” he says.
Singer Kenia is having a bit of a reunion June 26. She will be performing with two musicians — pianist Mark Soskin and bassist Paul Socolow — who were part of her musical life when she first came to the United States in the '80s. She will be joined by composer-pianist Antonio Adolfo, a fellow Brazilian she has worked with many times.
“It is a musical collaboration that will be just awesome,” she says.
They will be joined by drummer Adrian Santos. Kenia, who lives in Fox Chapel, has been a big part of the area musical scene since she came here 24 years ago. But she keeps up a busy touring schedule and has a new album, “On We Go,” coming out in August.
Chicago-born guitarist Jean-Paul Bourelly doesn't want to be “limited by music,” he says. “In the jazz market, you have to be able to experience all kinds of music.”
Bourelly, 55, will be at the festival June 25 with one of his current explorations of music, NuGrid, a quartet including fellow guitarist Vernon Reid, cornetist-trumpeter Graham Haynes and turntable wiz DJ Logic.
Bourelly has performed with drummer Roy Haynes, the father of his current sideman, was part of Miles Davis' “Amandla” album, and has worked with singer Cassandra Wilson. His diverse approach to music can be found in groups, such as Stone Raiders, Boom Bop and NuFuse.
With the work of players such as Reid, known for his work with Living Colour, Bourelly has tried to create music that has a “social critique,” he says, and one that can “come across to the mass of people.”
REVIVE BIG BAND
Whether it is hip-hop, funk or the music of Count Basie, all music is related, says trumpeter Igmar Thomas.
Revive Big Band explores it all, he says. “We are open to all possibilities and don't want to block any creativity,” says the New York City-based band leader and arranger.
The band — named after his production company — plays tunes that seem shaped by the big band era, but it is not trying to be a retro group. Rather, it is trying to see what new thoughts its players can add to that style.
Revive Big Band has played some of the classics of Wayne Shorter and OIiver Nelson, as well as the music of Bilal and J Dilla. The bands members have included Ku-uumba Frank Lacy, Tia Fuller and Marcus Strickland.
Thomas sees the band as part of a movement rather than simply being a performing group. “I want people to be able to look at all improvised music being related, not something that the purists say it should be,” he says. “That is why we see people at our shows of all ages, genders, ethnicities.”
MUSIC FOR THE KIDS
Vocalist Anqwenique Wingfield and drummer James Johnson III are trying to make sure jazz has a role with everybody — even those ages 3 to 5. They were commissioned by the Pittsburgh JazzLive International and PNC Grow Up Great to do a new work for that young audience.
They will present the free show at 1 p.m. June 25 at the Trust Arts Education Center, 805-807 Liberty Ave. No registration required.
Bob Karlovits is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.