The reports were true. Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock are among us, walking in the streets of Melbourne, even checking out Bopstretch’s electifying-as-usual performance at the Uptown Jazz Cafe. Their sold-out concerts are, of course, the highlights of this year’s edition of the Melbourne International Jazz Festival, accounting for its labeling as pianocentric. Though it’s true that the Festival can boast for featuring the top of the jazz piano crop – apart from these two legends, one can also catch mad genius Ethan Iverson of the Bad Plus, or the two most exciting european pianists, Stefano Bollani and Tord Gustavsen, not to mention some Australian masters – it has an even better roster of saxophone players, covering a wide range of aspects of the jazz tradition.
Towering among them is one of the veterans of the ’60s free jazz movement, Pharoah Sanders, who emerged from the ranks of Coltrane’s band to become a mesmerizing narrator, chronicling through his tenor the tries and tribulations of african-american people.
The phrase “modern master” seems to have been created to describe Joe Lovano, who, in the past 30 years, has managed to define post-bop sax playing with his lyrical approach and elegant phrasing. By the time when Lovano recorded his first album, Walter Smith III was only five years old, but he has since grown to become probably the single most fascinating sax player of the younger generation, one to definitely watch. The same can be said for the absolutely brilliant Miguel Zenon, who reinvents the latin jazz tradition, deconstructing and rearranging its components in a truly refreshing way. Anyone catching his shows should be prepared for an unforgettable experience.