It’s been a decade or so since Harry Connick Jr. was the hottest thing in a well-tailored suit, but you wouldn’t have known that from his reception and performance Sunday night at the Monterey Jazz Festival.
Sticking to a selection of lightly-polished standards and crooner friendly semi-contemporary fare, such as The Beatles “And I Love Her,” Connick commanded the stage as if mere minutes had passed since his “When Harry Met Sally” heyday. Or since the mid-1940s, for that matter.
He still has a supple tone that he doesn’t push too hard, an air of confidence that never quite slides into swagger (although his last-minute decision to try to ban all photography at the show hints at some ego at work) and ample talent as an arranger and pianist. It made you feel as if he hasn’t aged so much as merely expanded his repertoire.
His essential style hasn’t changed a whit. Not that there’s anything necessarily wrong by that, but it made his performance seem merely pleasant, as opposed to the revelatory feeling inspired by some of the festival’s more risk-taking artists.Connick’s biggest contribution at this point may be his arranging and managerial skills. Who else can afford to haul around a 14-piece backing orchestra, including a string section, these days, let alone make it perform like a precision watch?
Also on the festival’s main stage Sunday:
- It might seem strange in theory for a pianist as percussive as festival closer Ahmad Jamal to expand his trio by adding a percussionist. But the unusual casting worked like a charm in practice. One more discursive numbers, such as the newish “Wild is the Wind/Sing”, percussionist Manolo Badrena and ace New Orleans drummer Herlin Riley provided valuable navigational aids to help Jamal ease in and out of the central theme. On more straightahead tunes, such as his classic “Poinciana,” the beat masters combined with Jamal’s forceful playing style to create a sounded that made it impossible for even the most arthritic of butts not to wiggle.
- Even if you weren’t a big fan Afrobeat upon entering the festival Sunday afternoon, it’s hard to believe anyone left without some interest after the commanding performance by Angelique Kidjo. The international star presented a primer of modern African styles, from township jive to soukous, often wrapped around American R&B classics, such as a Fela Kuti-frosted version of James Brown’s “Cold Sweat” and a jive-happy run through Curtis Mayfield’s “Move on Up.” Kidjo’s big personality and spirited delivery made it all irresistible. Whatever jazz element there was came courtesy of A-list bassist Christian McBride, the star utility player for this year’s festival, who seemed surprisingly adept and happy in the kind of straight beat-keeping role he seldom performs.
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