Wednesday, June 3, 2009

2009 Jazz in the Park Highlights

By Evan Rytlewski
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The longstanding knock against Milwaukee’s popular Jazz in the Park concert series is that it rarely books any “real jazz,” which is code for the kind of classic-era Blue Note, hard-bop and cool jazz that the biggest genre enthusiasts love most. Much to the chagrin of these jazz buffs, Jazz in the Park is heavy on funky, Afro-Cuban, salsa-spiked, Blues Hammer-ish, adult-contemporary fusion, but, of course, that’s part of the weekly event’s broad appeal.

This year’s line-up isn’t too different from years past, so jazz purists should enjoy Thursday night’s opening performance from guitarist Bill Bonifas and his quintet, since it’s about as close to “straight-ahead” jazz as they’ll get (though The Jazz Orgy, which plays Jazz in the Park on Sept. 3, also has an admirably frills-free, nightclub-friendly sound, too).  

But even though I tend to be one of those genre purists, I’ve got to give credit where it’s due: There’s a lot of inspired choices on the schedule this year. James Brown’s signature drummer, Clyde Stubblefield (Aug.13) flaunts a must-see show, and De la Buena (Aug. 20) is one of Milwaukee’s best festival bands. Bonerama’s New Orleans brass rock (June 11) goes down easy, while the Chicago Afrobeat Project (Sept. 10) could be the year’s most memorable headliner. And though I can’t muster much enthusiasm for the wanky, genero-jamtronica acts that fill some dates—Pete Carney & Orange Alert (June 25), and in particular The Dixon-Rhyme Project (July 16)—Garaj Mahal’s Middle-Eastern jazz-funk hybrid (Sept. 17) is much more tasteful than it sounds on paper.

Kudos to the organizers on a well-rounded line-up.
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