Kenny Kirkland remembered...
A varied assemblage of jazz, pop and rock personalities gathered for a gala JVC festival penultimate show to celebrate the life and music of Kenny Kirkland, the adventurous and innovative pianist who died last November at the age of 43.
Laced with filmed comments by the musician's colleagues and admirers, the program, which focused, for the most part, on Kirkland's own compositions, was a hard-driving all-star event dominated by some fiercely forceful musicianship and a great deal of energy.
Branford Marsalis opened and closed the concert with aggressive performances, switching from tenor to soprano sax with inspired fluency and keenly balanced by Joey Calderazzo's dazzling piano. The latter created a veritable mosaic of intricate and unconventional chordal patterns. Marsalis praised Kirkland, who was part of television's Tonight Show Band for two years, as a musical genius and friend, who boasted a special warm and humorous quality that made every one love him.
Piano interludes included a pastoral Mulgrew Miller and Harry Connick Jr. playing a dark and solemn chordal innovation, with a kind of reverent hesitancy. Tenorman David Sanchez heightened the first-half finale with Thelonious Monk's 'Criss Cross' and Bud Powell's 'Celia', both from Kirkland arrangements heard on the pianist's self-titled GRP CD, and fired by a expansive percussive finale.
Assessing the unique force and powerful individuality of the late pianist, Sanchez used a metaphoric appreciation of Kirkland in his filmed comments: "Kenny could be a hurricane or the Indy 500."
A brief appearance by Sting in a reflective, autumnal mood was clearly the moment the capacity audience was waiting for. Set to Wayne Shorter's 'Anna Maria', Sting wove the wistful pattern of a sad melody with "harmony singing with the promise of spring, and sad winters on a Brooklyn street." Calderazzo again complemented the performance with some racing invention.
Kirkland toured for four years with Sting, who praised the musician's humour, natty dress style and profound talent. "He could have played Brahms or country," Sting noted. "He chose jazz!"
Presented by JVC Jazz Festival. Performers: Branford Marsalis, Harry Connick Jr., Sting, David Sanchez, Jeff "Tain" Watts, Joey Calderazzo, Mulgrew Miller and Eric Revis, Don Alias, Rodney Jones, Edsel Gomez, Adam Cruz, Pernell Saturnino, Hans Glawichnig.
(c) Reuters/Variety by Robert L Daniels