At the Portland Jazz Festival, scheduling is tight and overlapping. Sullivan Fortner at Classic Pianos (see the previous post) opened the festival simultaneously with the Spanish Harlem Orchestra at the Newmark Theatre and alto saxophonist Sonny Fortune at Jimmy Mak’s club.
Fortune, 75, has lost none of the force that he took from Philadelphia to New York when he joined drummer Elvin Jones in 1967. Opening his late set at Mak’s he launched into Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints” with volume and intensity that surprised a man at a ringside table into yelling, “Whoa.” Whoaing was the last thing on Fortune’s mind. For the rest of the evening, he poured energy into every note, abetted by a rhythm section locked onto his wavelength. Following Fortune’s “Footprints” explosion, pianist Theo Saunders eased off before invigorating his solo in a series of keyboard flurries and parallel chords.
In Fortune’s “Waynish,” dedicated to Shorter, he played a series of repetitions that amounted to a rhythmic composition within a composition. Tenor saxophonist Azar Lawrence, who had introduced the band, sat in on the tune for a busy solo. Following John Coltrane’s death, Lawrence worked with Coltrane’s pianist McCoy Tyner. He was to be featured later in the festival in a concert dedicated to Coltrane.
Fortune filled the room with his cavernous flute sound in his “Awakening,” opening it unaccompanied and exploring harmonic relationships. After the rhythm section joined him, he played a long solo that worked into another affair with rhythmic displacement. Saunders’ solo developed a pattern that seemed to draw on “A Love Supreme.” Bassist Henry Franklin made attractive use of sliding notes in his solo. The ballad highlight of the set was “A Tribute to Billie Holiday,” a Fortune composition with intriguing harmonies of which Saunders and Franklin took advantage.
Throughout the set, Franklin, a contemporary of Fortune, frequently smiled at Saunders in reaction to a felicitous phrase or chord change. The rhythm section listened keenly to one another. Drummer Marvin “Smitty” Smith—at 55 the youngster in the quartet—has been valuable over the years to Art Farmer, Dave Holland, Steve Coleman and Archie Shepp, among dozens of others. A sympathetic accompanist and an imaginative improviser, he was fast and resourceful in a solo on “Caravan” that to great effect incorporated brushes, then mallets. In Fortune’s solo on the Juan Tizol piece, he vamped at length with the rhythm section before arriving at a paraphrase of parts of the melody, vamped again and busied himself with riffing whose resemblance to “Flight of the Bumblebee” may have been a coincidence. Amused, Franklin bestowed beatific smiles on the saxophonist, who didn’t notice. Fortune’s solo went on for chorus after chorus. When he finally wrapped it up and ended the tune, the audience applauded, cheered and rose to its feet for an ovation. Fortune bowed and smiled vaguely, as if he knew something they didn’t.
To come: Reports on Charles Lloyd, Gary Peacock and Gary Bartz, among others. I’m about to hop on the Max light rail system—a splendid Portland feature—and head to more music.