[image-1]

On the other end of the musical and theatrical spectrums from Spoleto’s biggest events, the diverse Wachovia Jazz series and colorfully-assembled Piccolo roots music, blues, reggae, bluegrass, and jazz events offered a tremendous opportunity for music fans this season.

For over 10 years, Spoleto Festival USA and the organizers of their jazz series have utilized the strong support of Wachovia Bank and delivered a wide range of international musical artists. Wachovia Jazz regularly delivers a diverse lineup of veteran and up-and-coming artists who specialize in just about everything under the global jazz tent — from Latin, bossa nova, flamenco, and traditional swing and bebop, to modernistic and experimental. This year’s Wachovia Jazz series is no exception.

On opening night — May 26 at the Cistern — Solveig Slettahjell & The Slow Motion Quintet captivated the audience with a cool and confident set of tunes and unpredictable explorations that only added to the mysteries.

After a gracious introduction from Wachovia Jazz director/producer Michael Grofsorean, the band stepped on stage, Slettahjell clad in a sharp, jet-black suit and the four bandmates in corduroy outfits and neckties. The group lived up to their moniker, moving very slowly around one verse after another, collectively building up in volume well into each piece. Slettahjell’s voice was amazing. Her warm, raspy delivery (in perfectly pronounced English) and deep vibrato captivated the audience.

On Sun. May 28 at The Cistern, Naples-born composer and alto saxophonist Marco Zurzolo led his young, casually-dressed quartet through a fiery set filled with their unique variety of Euro/Latin-jazz styles and rhythms. It almost sounded like the Italian Weather Report jamming with a klezmer Return to Forever. The band constantly changed things, shifting from tempo to tempo with ease and maneuvering from one extreme dynamic to the other.

Zurzolo and horn player Tedesco played around the bandleader’s compositions’ melodic themes — often in unusual harmonies or counterparts. The entire group became more playful as they pressed ahead, and seemed to be cracking each other up with fills and flourishes. It was fun to watch and invigorating to hear.

One of only two American jazz artists to perform in this year’s series, legendary pianist Hank Jones — still sprightly at 87 — and his trio performed a stellar, two-hour concert to a full house at the Sottile Theater on Mon. May 29. Jones, the brother of the late jazz drummer Elvin Jones and the late cornetist and jazz composer Thad Jones, grinned, waved, made bug-eyed faces, and laughed his way through an elegant program of bebop, early blues, and swing — from compositions by his brother Thad and a few original pieces to renditions of grand old faves by Thelonious Monk, the Mel Lewis Orchestra, SonnyRollins, Charlie Parker, and J.J. Johnson.

In conjunction with the big “Spoleto Soirée” festivities on Fri. June 2, cutting-edge jazz vocalist and six-time Grammy Award nominee and Chicago scenester Kurt Elling and his 15-piece orchestra performed two boisterous sets of swing and big band, bebop, and pop standards — from Sinatra and Nat King Cole to John Coltrane and Weather Report — in front of a sold-out crowd at the Gaillard Auditorium.

During the second and third weeks of Wachovia Jazz, virtuoso Brazilian guitarists Marcus Tardelli and Sérgio Santos stood out as the masters of traditional Brazilian and Latin musical styles (samba, bossa nova, choro, folk, etc.). The events presented a perfect opportunity for budding guitar students and serious fans of traditional Brazilian music.

Singer/guitarist, composer, and arranger Sérgio Santos performed to one of Wachovia Jazz’s largest audiences at The Cistern (despite rain delays) on Sat. June 3. Considered one of South America’s rising stars, Santos and his combo (featuring pianist Andre Mehmari, who performed solo at last year’s Wachovia Jazz series) dug into authentic Latin-jazz (samba, in particular) and Afro-Brazilian grooves. Santos impressed with his soulful singing style and his technical chops.

Tardelli, a veteran of the acclaimed Maogani Quartet and a dedicated student of Brazilian composer and guitarist Guinga (a recent Wachovia Jazz veteran himself), starts a four-day stint of solo shows from Wed. June 7 through Sat. June 10 (two per evening) at the Albert Simons Center’s Recital Hall at 54 St. Philip St.

Piccolo Spoleto’s massive music schedule featured a style for every fan and a venue for every style. Their jazz and blues series included a strong list of local players, including percussionists Quentin Baxter and Emmanuel Abdul-Rahim, blues men Smoky Weiner and Gary Erwin and the “Blues on the Dock” crew, and jazz vocalists Quiana Parler, Leah Suarez, Regina Ruopoli, and Ann Caldwell, among many others. Several impressive national acts made their Piccolo debut, including soul singer Terry Evans and keyboardist Nate Shaw’s fusion trio Big Bucket.

The Charleston Music Hall stayed full through the weeks with numerous, lively performances from the acclaimed Lovell Sisters and local producer Sheri Grace Wenger’s musical variety show Rock ‘n’ Roll Heaven (billed as “the ultimate fantasy rock ‘n’ roll concert,”). One of the most anticipated performers was actor/songwriter/guitarist Jeff Daniels, who performed one set at the venue on Sat. June 3.

At the Custom House, reggae fans enjoyed the Caribbean grooves and rhythms of The Itals and Rezolushun during the Reggae Block Dance on May 27. Adult teeny-boppers came out in droves for the party tunes rendered by local band MacDaddy and Weird Science during the Flashback Charleston! ’80s Block Party on the following Saturday.

Whether under the blue-and-red-lit moss hanging from the oaks in the College of Charleston’s beautiful Cistern courtyard or the serene auditorium settings and taverns around the corner, the Wachovia Jazz and Piccolo Jazz/Blues series delivered yet another set of memorable programs.