Wallace Roney Plays Wayne Shorter at Parker Jazz Festival
CreditTina Fineberg for The New York Times
The proposition that jazz is a continuum, with elders passing down knowledge, guildlike, to their successors, can be found almost anywhere the music manages to thrive. But it finds a special traction at the Charlie Parker Jazz Festival in Marcus Garvey Park in Harlem, where the audience comes with judicious expectations, implicitly on guard against posturing or pandering — but eager to be reached and to respond in turn.
Nearing dusk on Saturday, on a piece titled “Universe,” Wallace Roney struck the proper nerve, hunching his shoulders and playing a trumpet solo that elicited cheers. Against a crashing iteration of 4/4 swing, he focused his plangent tone in a high-pressure stream of eighth notes, placing them on the forward edge of the beat. As those notes flew by, the mind had just enough time to parse them into phrases, each one a little hornet’s nest of chromatic tension.
Moments later, Mr. Roney paused to explain the provenance of the music he was playing, with a 19-piece chamber orchestra. Written in the late 1960s by Wayne Shorter at the behest of Miles Davis, in whose quintet he was working at the time, it was never recorded and for decades had been effectively forgotten. When Mr. Shorter recently rediscovered the sheet music, he entrusted it to Mr. Roney, the only trumpeter with a credible claim as Davis’s anointed heir.
The imprimatur of elders was a theme running just as clearly through the rest of the day’s program, presented by City Parks Foundation and SummerStage. (As usual, there was a separate lineup on Sunday in Tompkins Square Park, in the East Village.)
Before Mr. Roney, there had been strong and varied sets by the pianist Kris Bowers and the tenor saxophonist Melissa Aldana — recent winners of the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition, judged by a panel of accomplished musicians — and the guitarist Lionel Loueke, a product of the Monk Institute’s postgraduate program and a protégé of both Mr. Shorter and his former Davis band mate Herbie Hancock.
Ms. Aldana led her Crash Trio, with the agile bassist Pablo Menares and the cheerfully charismatic drummer Francisco Mela. And she brought an intense introspection to her solos, occasionally falling into schematic pattern work, but more often slipping free, with a malleable tone and a tangled-vine sense of phrase.
Mr. Bowers, leading his own high-test band, showed what jazz has picked up along the edge of alternative hip-hop and R&B: grooves that feel tight but out of kilter, chord progressions of brooding cinematic effect. Much of his set featured Chris Turner, who embellished his singing with gospel swoops and stamped an anthemic song called “#TheProtestor” with an anguished ad-lib about the situation in Ferguson, Mo. The crowd hollered its approval, but later sounded just as enthusiastic about a version of the standard “Smile,” with just voice, piano and a firm foothold in tradition.
The most slippery and structurally advanced music of the set belonged to Mr. Loueke, who, with his longtime trio, also captured the afternoon’s purest spirit of play. His style remains sui generis more than a decade after his emergence: He tosses off lines that seem impossibly graceful in their arc, even when the individual notes land with a stubby staccato. Together with the bassist Massimo Biolcati and the drummer Ferenc Nemeth, he created a sleek, flowing feeling out of a range of complex meters.
Most of the complexities in Mr. Roney’s closing set — attributable to Mr. Shorter — had more to do with timbre and harmonic voicing than with rhythm. The ensemble, a hybrid sort of big band featuring not only brass and reeds but also flutes, French horn, violin, oboe and bassoon, illuminated how closely Mr. Shorter had studied Davis’s prior work with the composer-arranger Gil Evans. (One untitled piece in 5/4 meter had been tellingly identified as “Miles/Gil 5/4.”)
But there was also a legible trace of Mr. Shorter’s signature as a composer in the billowing fanfare of a piece called “The Legend,” which faintly evoked the dramatic mood of his “Masqualero,” and in the exploratory counterpoint of “Twin Dragons,” which pointed toward some of his music for Weather Report. The ensemble, skillfully conducted by Bob Belden, addressed the challenges of the music with clear focus.
And the rhythm section, spearheaded by the drummer Lenny White, another Davis alum, gave Mr. Roney all the slashing elasticity he needed. When the agglomeration of woodwinds and brass started to feel muddled and unwieldy in “Universe,” redemption came in the form of Mr. Roney’s solo and his assertive backup, along with the masters’ blessing.
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