Jazz in the Pines blends new artists, seasoned stalwarts

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There will be many new faces at Idyllwild Arts’ Jazz in the Pines August festival, including Frisson, this Oberlin Conservatory grad octet. Frisson features some evocative new electronic instrumentation, great melodies, harmonies and intricate percussion. Photo courtesy Frisson

This year’s Jazz in the Pines lineup mixes seasoned jazz stalwarts with cutting-edge new artists for a multifaceted musical menu.

There will be surprises, including the first-ever solo artist to open the French Quarter and an international contemporary fusion quintet based in Athens, Greece.

John Newman and Marshall Hawkins have crafted a lineup that tells the story of jazz — from its New Orleans beginnings to its latest evolutions. The two-day festival showcases elder statesmen of jazz and young turks who are challenging the scene with new voices and perspectives.

The jazz lineage unfolds from the music of Euphoria Jazz Band, that recalls the early days of New Orleans street bands, to Definiens, a sextet with classical instrumentation (violin, cello, contrabass, flutes, clarinets and piano) and striking fusion arrangements that blur the lines between classical and jazz, and stake out new musical territory.

“Our mission with the festival is to preserve the heritage of jazz,” said Newman, “to feature jazz legends as well as up-and-coming young groups. There is a great variety of styles across the three stages of the festival in this year’s lineup, including some firsts.”

One of those firsts is Los Angeles-based singer, songwriter Eric Kufs. Part crooner, part protest singer and every part a charismatic artist, Kufs is a singer of the people, choosing to showcase his music as a busker in various street venues throughout Southern California.

In 2005, Kufs released an album of original songs recorded on the streets of Santa Monica.  As the singer-songwriter for indie folk band Common Rotation, Kufs has also released six full-length records and written nearly 1,000 songs. With a voice reminiscent of Van Morrison and James Taylor, and original songs of lyrical poignancy, Kufs will open the French Quarter at 10:30 a.m. Sunday, Aug. 13, the first time a solo artist has opened the venue. His latest album “Sense and Nonsense in Psychology, Pt.1” showcases Kufs standout voice, style and songwriting vision.

Newman also called attention to a new group Frisson, an all-Oberlin Conservatory grad octet with a unique sound led by composer Matt DiBlase playing vibes, electronics and MalletKat — an electronic mallet-played instrument — with Russell Gelman-Sheehan, guitar; Giveton Gelin, trumpet; Nathan Rice, tenor sax; Michael Orenstein, keyboards; Patrick Graney, percussion; Eli Heath, bass; and Chase Kuesel, drums. Frisson opens the main stage at 11 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 12. They are an appealing new voice on the jazz scene with beautiful melodic sensitivity and intricately crafted percussion.

Also new, and another festival first, is Athens, Greece-based Singularity Project playing the main stage at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 13. A contemporary jazz quintet with a distinct world-music vibe, Singularity Project features David Lynch, son of Idyllwild’s Mick Lynch on saxophones, Vagelis Stefanopoulos from Greece as composer and pianist, Adedeji Adetayo from Nigeria on guitar and vocals, Yoel Soto from Cuba on bass and Yiannis Angelopoulos from Greece on drums. What you’ll hear from Singularity will be unlike anything else you’ll hear at the festival.

Part of the mission of the festival is to feature Idyllwild Arts Academy grads whose musical chops and craft have established them as important voices in the contemporary jazz scene. Returning is Grammy winner Evan Christopher with his Evan Christopher Clarinet Road. Based in New Orleans, Christopher is recognized for his embrace of early jazz legacies of New Orleans clarinetists Lorenzo Tio Jr., Sidney Bechet, Barney Bigard and Johnny Dodds. Christopher is an IAA elder statesman, as one of the school’s first jazz graduates and student of jazz faculty elder statesman Marshall Hawkins.

Festival organizers honor the festival’s roots by featuring straight-ahead jazz in the intimate environment of Stephens Recital Hall, including Henry Franklin, Joshua White, Paul Carman, Rose Mallett, Max Haymer, Harry Pickens, Roy McCurdy and the “Hawk” himself.

For an outside-the-box twist, Newman has brought back Gregory Page and his Gregory Page Show. Page is an Irish/Armenian singer/songwriter who creates compelling and humorous genre-bending songs that observe and capture life in ways sure to involve audiences. Page appears in Stephens on Sunday, Aug. 13.

And as if this musical smorgasbord weren’t rich enough, there is the French Quarter that this year serves up an especially potent musical mix, along with the drinks to match. Adding sass and spice are, among others, Yve Evans, Greg Jones, Gilbert Hansen, Andre Thierry and his Accordion Soul Music, and the Euphoria Brass Band.

And for a boost of spirit, be sure to catch Evans with the Voices in Praise Gospel Choir that opens on the main stage on Sunday.

Enjoy this year’s festival with jazz as it was, jazz as it is and jazz as it’s becoming. For more information, visit www.jazzinthepines.com/.

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  1. Sounds irresistible! Kidding. Where did they find these “seasoned” post adolescent musicians? I cannot imagine dropping a few hundred on these headliners. There’s gotta be some give from this charitable event on the part of the Academy. Good luck though.

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