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5 Unique Acts To Catch At Newport Jazz Festival This Year

Musician Kamasi Washington plays the Newport Jazz Festival Friday and Sunday, July 29 and 30. (Courtesy Mike Park)
Musician Kamasi Washington plays the Newport Jazz Festival Friday and Sunday, July 29 and 30. (Courtesy Mike Park)
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A glance over the schedule of the Newport Jazz Festival — the "First Annual American Jazz Festival," founded by George Wein in 1954 — might have some seasoned jazz fans commenting: “It’s not jazz anymore.” Despite concerts by jazz legends like Chick Corea and contemporary, straight-ahead players like Anat Cohen and Joey Alexander, these devotees still have a point.

Newport’s lineup features many artists who don’t play jazz standards, bebop or other forms of traditional jazz, but they remain an exciting part of the festival because they honor jazz while incorporating their own unique angles of world music, hip-hop and songwriting.

Here are five artists to see at Newport who might not play “Giant Steps” or “Autumn Leaves,” but will salute the rich musical culture that has grown around jazz, while stretching limits and pushing boundaries.


1. Gregory Porter | Friday, July 29, at International Hall of Fame | Saturday, July 30, at Fort Adams State Park

After playing college football and working as a chef, vocalist Porter got a Grammy nomination for his first album in his late 30s. Since then, he has topped DownBeat and JazzTimes reader polls, collaborated with the likes of artists Common and Disclosure, and has been welcomed multiple times in Newport. Throughout his most recent, largely self-composed album “Take Me To The Alley,” his rich vocal quality propels high energy into multiple renditions of the inspiring “Holding On” and gentle storytelling into songs like the title track, which he wrote for his family.


2. Yosvany Terry Quintet | Sunday, July 31 at Fort Adams State Park

It’s hard to say what Yosvany Terry does best. His Grammy-nominated album “New Throned King” showcases his abilities as a saxophonist, a composer, a bandleader and a connoisseur of claves and percussion. His Afro-Cuban and jazz influences blend together in unique ways, as on the title track, in which a traditional Cuban singing section backed by multi-layered stick work by the drummer precedes an angular and contemporary horn melody and what sounds like a mostly modal solo section. Terry returns to the festival after a 2012 appearance and it will be exciting to see what musical roles he will play this time with the rest of his band: Michael Rodriguez, Osmany Paredes, Yunior Terry and Obed Calvaire.


3. Angelique Kidjo | Sunday, July 31 at Fort Adams State Park

Angelique Kidjo’s world music angle might be the most surprising pick for a jazz festival, but not if you take into account her emphasis on performer-audience reciprocation and using her voice as an instrument. Singing “Pata Pata” in an Austin City Limits performance, Kidjo plays with call and response while her band jams and the crowd dances. A drum solo inspires footwork from Kidjo followed by more call and response and during a whispered chant section Kidjo invites the audience to join in and build up to an exuberant finish filled with more traditional African dance. It’s likely that Kidjo will bring dancing and musical spontaneity to Newport.


4. José James | Sunday, July 31 at Fort Adams State Park

On his 2010 album “Blackmagic,” James took the standard “Save Your Love For Me” — famously recorded by Nancy Wilson and Cannonball Adderley — and blended his soulful but understated voice with a hip-hop groove, reminiscent of D’Angelo. James has recorded several albums of original compositions and standards since then, most recently a tribute album to Billie Holiday, and this recording is analogous to his treatment of jazz. His treatment of Holiday is particularly bluesy, and there’s sure to be plenty of blues, hip-hop and who knows what else in his performance at Newport.


5. Kamasi Washington | Friday, July 29, and Sunday, July 31, at Fort Adams State Park

Kamasi Washington’s most recent album isn’t called “The Epic” for nothing. Besides the three discs and long track times, which hover around 12 minutes, Washington’s extended solos are majestically accompanied by an echoing choir and buoyed by political messages as in “Malcolm’s Theme,” dedicated to Malcolm X. The power of the sound reflects the impact Washington believes music can deliver. He told Tom Watson of Crack Magazine, “Politics are policies that govern people. Music is the expression of thoughts that govern ourselves. It should go hand in hand, because one definitely affects the other.” Washington won’t have a choir backing him at Newport, but his sextet including vocalist Patrice Quinn is sure to deliver an epic performance.

Related:

Claire Dickson Contributor, The ARTery
Claire Dickson is a jazz vocalist and writer studying at Harvard College.

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