Newport festival tribute delightfully lacks surprises

| Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014, 9:36 p.m.

With a lineup that includes trumpeter Randy Brecker and singer Karrin Allyson, it was no surprise the Newport: Now 60 show at the Manchester Craftsmen's Guild was more than simply a tribute.

It also was a concert filled with a similar — and delightful — lack of surprises.

It was no surprise, for instance, that Allyson could do a lovely version of “Round Midnight.” Or that Brecker could roam through Thelonious Monk's “Brakes Sake.” Or that Anat Cohen could get the hall cheering after her blistering solo on “La Vie en Rose.”

Doing two shows at the guild Feb. 15, the all-star band offered a tribute to the 60 years of the Newport Jazz Festival. But it did that by showing off its own strengths.

Brecker has been a force in jazz for decades, while Cohen has established herself only in the past 10 years as perhaps the leading clarinetist in the genre. Put them together and surround them with Allyson, pianist Bruce Barth, guitarist Mark Whitfied, drummer Clarence Penn and bassist Larry Grenadier and you get a group whose talents override any difference in age.

Their music roamed through the adventurous sounds of Ornette Coleman on “Blues Connotation” to “Never Let Me Go,” dominated by Allyson's voice.

But the manner in which they presented the music was almost as important at the variety or their skills. “Round Midnight” was a duo of Allyson and Grenadier. Whitfield did “Midnight Sun” solo. Grenadier led a trio verison of “Pettiford” with Barth and Penn.

The most powerful moments of the night, of course, were when they played as a septet. In those numbers, Allyson often joined in almost as a third horn. That was obviously true in the wordless “Blues Connotation” and, on “Can't We Be Friends,” she joined Cohen on tenor saxophone in a riff behind Barth's solo.

Easily the best instrumental moment of the night was Cohen on “La Vie en Rose.” She is a clarinetist with speed, tone and seemingly endless improvisational thought, all of which showed on her long outing.

The band ended the first show with a rousing version of “Yeah, Yeah” and then came back to the stage for a gentle version of “Squeeze Me.”

Sometimes encores are just a little too much. Even with this band.

Bob Karlovits is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at or 412-320-7852.

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