The Seasons Festival’s Final Four

Let’s wrap up the Fall Festival at The Seasons. Here are brief reports about the final four events.
Africa: The Power of Drum and Dance: Michael Wimberly, a percussionist and composer from New York, performed with scores of sidemen and sidewomen. They were professional drummers, dancers and singers from his troupe;Wimberly_Michael9.jpg students from several middle schools and high schools; a contingent from the Yakima Valley Community College jazz ensemble; and a band of marimbists, if that’s the term, who played marimbas of all sizes from small to preposterously large. Building on traditional African rhythms, Wimberly morphed his flexible supporting cast into several percussion and dance combinations delivering aural and visual excitement that had the audience in a packed house grooving in their seats. It was a spectacle that had the added impact of opening up a hundred or so youngsters to roots music that can enrich their lives. The joy on their faces seemed to show that the process was underway.
The Matt Wilson Quartet. Wilson alone can be a spectacle. Fresh from the cover of Down Beat magazine, the drummer brought to the festival saxophonist Jeff Lederer, trumpeter Kirk Knuffke and bassist Chris Lightcap. Six of their ten pieces were from his most recent CD, That’s Gonna Leave a Mark. Their intensity was enhanced by the energy Wilson generates matt_wilson-biopic-400.jpgin live performance and transmits to musicians and audience. He kicked off a furious tempo for John Lewis’s “Two Bass Hit,” a staple of Dizzy Gillespie’s 1940s big band. Lederer soloed with essence of Coltrane, Knuffke with impressive thematic development, Lightcap with lyricism, the true wood sound of the bass and (hooray) little volume on his amplifier. Through the evening, Wilson surged, roared and crackled beneath the ensemble and the soloists, a continuously renewable source of power. Other highlights of the set: Lederer coming out of an abstracted arrangement of “Don’t Blame Me” into a gorgeous tenor saxophone solo on the tune’s changes, then a pure statement of the melody; his wild clarinet solo on “Rear Control;” Knuffke’s ability to produce a sound like Chet Baker’s one minute and Wadada Leo Smith’s the next; The contrast between Wilson’s manic shenanigans in a spoof of heavy metal called “Schoolboy Thug” and the peacefulness of the encore, a prayerful ensemble reading of the Scottish Presbyterian hymn “Come and Find the Quiet Center.”
Yakima Symphony Chamber Orchestra. In addition to percussionist Wimberly’s work with young musicians, the primary educational activity of The Seasons Fall Festival was the development of emerging composers and conductors from all regions of the United States. The composers studied under the guidance of Daron Hagen, Chris Brubeck, Gilda Lyons and Robert Frankenberry. The emergingBrookeCreswell.jpg conductors worked with retiring Yakima Symphony Orchestra conductor Brooke Cresswell (pictured) and one of Cresswell’s mentors, Donald Thulean, a veteran conductor of several orchestras. The evening began with the world premiere of Cicadas, Lyons’ atmospheric evocation of a childhood memory of seventeen-year cicadas swarming. It ended with Hagen’s Concerto for Violin, Cello and Orchestra, featuring violinist Simon James and cellist Kevin Krentz. In between, the audience heard the culmination of a week of workshops and rehearsals. Each young conductor led the orchestra in a piece by one of the young composers. The seven new compositions ran about four minutes apeice. They showed enormous potential from a group of musicians, one only 16 years old, whose work should give heart to anyone concerned about the future of serious music in America.
Dena DeRose. On the eve of her return to Graz, Austria, where she is a professor at the University of Music and Dramatic Arts, the pianist and singer demonstrated her qualifications in both areas. Her playing and singing are musical in the extreme and, when she digs into the rhythm with the zeal she displayed Saturday Dena DEROSE.jpgnight, dramatic. Matt Wilson and Chris Lightcap joined DeRose for the festival’s final concert, creating a trio with extraordinary cohesion and singleness of purpose. There were moments when the three were swinging as hard as any piano trio I have heard. The interaction between Wilson and the pianist was remarkable. DeRose’s celebrated improvisation of lines with voice and keyboard in parallel was never a gimmick, the integration so subtle that it took the listener a few seconds to realize what was producing that unique blend of sound. The technique has been used since at least as far back as the great Joe Mooney, but rarely with DeRose’s musicianship and finesse. Whether in a standard like “How Deep is the Ocean?” or the relatively unfamiliar ballad “In the Glow of the Moon,” DeRose’s singing was perfect in pitch, phrasing, interpretation and pleasure in performing. Most of The Seasons audience arrived with little or no previous knowledge of DeRose. They are unlikely to forget the finale that she provided a memorable festival.

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