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REVIEW: ART OF COOL FESTIVAL: FIRST-CLASS HIT! by LARRY RENI THOMAS
(Published: May 06, 2014)

If good music, fun, family and smiles is your cup of tea, then the Art Of Cool Music Festival in downtown Durham, North Carolina, on April 25 and 26, 2014 (Friday and Saturday), was the place to be! To say that it made an hip, swinging presence in the city that tobacco built, would be a crystal-clear, huge understatement. Weeks afterwards, the area jazz fans are still talking about how much of a success it was and are already talking about how they can't wait until next year.

"It was designed to resemble the Montreal Jazz Festival, with diverse musical styles, not only jazz, an experience where fans can walk to different venues, and go from place to place."said Dr. Cecily Mitchell, who co-founded The Art of Cool Project, the non-profit which presented the festival. After programming several successful events at clubs, schools, museums and different venues since 2012, Dr. Mitchell along with her partner, musician/educator Al Strong, were convinced that Durham was ready for and would strongly support two days of music with two outdoor stages, six music venues, 30 (thirty) performances, a free festival kick-off party, an exclusive VIP opening party, panel discussions, master classes and art exhibits. They were right and the success of the festival was very evident by happy smiling people.

Friday's highlights included a very classy sophisticated concert featuring the jazz master flute player Hubert Laws, along with the North Carolina Central University (NCCU) Faculty Combo at The PSI theater at The Durham Arts Council building. The audience applauded Mr. Laws several times after his solos which featured his trademark sweet, sensual sound that has yet to be copied by anyone. He also served as the host of the program and introduced each tune with a story that made the selection sound that much better.

The only unfortunate part about this concert was the choice of the master of ceremony, a stocky, nervous-looking, talkative man, who said he was a "hip-hop comedian, who didn't know anything about jazz." He made a major mistake when he introduced Mr. Laws as "Hubert Lewis." He quickly corrected himself and apologized. When Mr. Laws reached the stage, he was cool and gracious, and said that it was the first time somebody called him that. He said he has heard "Herbert." but never "Lewis." Hubert laughed it off and so did the loyal excited audience. Several tunes later, after Hubert's flute work left folks in a trance with Billy Strayhorn's "Lush Life," all was well, forgotten, forgiven. The fans in the theater were all smiles, a few shed tears, and some said one or two amens. Even the m.c. seemed to have enjoyed the music. What a perfect way to bring in the art of cool!

Other Friday night highlights included a stellar performance in The Carolina Theater by the North Carolina Central University Big Band and a funky concert by Kinston, North Carolina native, saxophonist, Maceo Parker, whose tight, energetic band caused most of the crowd, to get out of their seats and dance. Later, the seasoned, Atlanta-based trumpeter, Russell Gunn, and his extremely loud, very visual band Electrix Butterfly, played a dynamic late night set at Motorco Music Hall. It was a delicate mix, a balance of hip-hop and jazz and what one music lover called: "21st American Classical Music" or 21st century jazz.

Saturday's festivities were all top-notch, also. A free outdoor event at The Diamond View Park, near the Durham Bulls Ball Park, began the day at noon with a bang. The "Ultimate Outdoor Day Party" was a family-friendly fun-filled, beautiful, warm, sunny affair with colorful food trucks galore and a variety of good music, which included rhythm and blues, jazz, hip-hop and blues. The crowd, which included all ages, shapes and cultures, clearly loved it. The highlights included the soulful, polished performance of NCCU professor, Brian Horton and his swinging quartet.

But, it was the New York City-based ensemble called The Revive Big Band, the group that followed Horton's group, that stole the Saturday afternoon show. It was a unique blend of very talented musicians of different ages and backgrounds. Some were NCCU faculty members, like trombonist Robert Trowers, and, others, were New York City-based, noted musicians, like trombonist Frank Lacy and the Strickland twins, saxophonist Marcus Strickland and the drummer E.J. The band was led by San Diego-native, Brooklyn-based arranger, composer Igmar Thomas who used compositions like Wayne Shorter's "Speak No Evil" and other jazz tunes and arranged them in a hip-hop style with a big band jazz sound. The crowd went wild and greeted the band's hot, upbeat set, with cheers and dances on the grass in front of stage.

Saturday night at The Cool Of Art Festival featured a long list of diverse musical tastes, ranging from The NCCU Vocal Ensemble, just back from a gig at Lincoln Center, in New York City, which presented some fine vocal jazz tunes; and the Brooklyn-based, excellent, neo-soul, funky band, fronted by vocalist Mavis Swan Poole, a NCCU graduate along with NCCU alum drummer Jeremy "Bean" Clemons. Later, the evening was set on fire with a sizzling straight-ahead set provided by The Clayton Brothers, with scorching solos from trumpet player, Terrell Stafford. Their concert was followed by an extended, highly-anticipated, superb presentation called "Carolina Soul" Tribute. It was created by the highly-acclaimed Los Angeles-based violinist/arranger/composer Miguel Atwood-Ferguson. "Carolina Soul" was billed as a tribute to four native North Carolinian jazz greats--John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, Nina Simone and Roberta Flack. It featured masterful performances by vocalist N'Dambi, Durham, NC-based vocalist Nnnenna Freelon and Bilal, whose rendition of Monk's "Round Midnight" was as good as it gets!

The final and fitting highlight of the Art Of Cool Festival was the late-night set at the packed, standing room only, The Motorco Music Hall, that featured the much-in-demand trumpet player with the distinct rooster-like haircut, New Orleans-born, Harlem-based Christian Scott and his intense group. His band sounded like some of the Miles Davis' "Bitches Brew" recordings of late 1960s, early 1970s. He was dressed in a white cape-like sweater. The bell of his horn was bent up like Dizzy Gillispie's. He was a showman par excellence. When he got ready to solo, he got in a crouch, and lunged into the horn like it was his last day on earth. What a sound! What a show! What a festival! What a good time was had by all! Has The Art Of Cool Music Festival 2015 gotten here yet'

For more information about The Art Of Cool Music Festival 2015 go to www.artofcoolproject.com.

More Information: http://www.artofcoolproject.com


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