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Newport Jazz 2010: The Lesser-Known Giants

Some of the giants of jazz will be heading to seaside Rhode Island next weekend for the 2010 CareFusion Newport Jazz Festival: Wynton Marsalis, Chick Corea, Roy Haynes, Ahmad Jamal and even 89-year-old Dave Brubeck. Of the 32 acts at this year's festival, most of them aren't as well-known. But based on their talents, most of them deserve to be.

Next weekend, NPR Music heads to the mother of all jazz festivals for two days of live online webcasting from the festival, and recording those concerts for our free Web archives. Follow npr.org/newportjazz for all the details on Aug. 7-8.

I recently sat down with Guy Raz, host of Weekend All Things Considered, to preview a few of the slightly lesser-known acts this year. Here are four among many worthy of your ears. If you're intrigued, check out a preview of eight more performances at A Blog Supreme.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Fly

There are two phenomenal saxophone trios at Newport this year. One is the JD Allen trio; the other is this group, comprised of modern masters Mark Turner on sax, Larry Grenadier on bass and Jeff Ballard on drums. You'll notice that Fly lacks a chordal -- e.g., a piano or guitar -- player who might "comp" along, suggesting harmonic directions or phrases. As a result, all three members have to listen very closely to each other, but it also allows the band to breathe unfettered, free, even with exhilaration. Fly uses its liberty to full effect: It's a collaborative ensemble, where everybody contributes tunes, and there's no clear leader.

Gretchen Parlato

Here's an intriguing new-ish singer, Gretchen Parlato, in duet with a frequent sparring partner, guitarist Lionel Loueke. Of course, he doesn't play guitar on this track; he does vocalize bass lines and make random percussive noises with his mouth, while Parlato sings the melody, establishes the groove and claps. (At Newport, she'll probably have just a drummer accompanying her on this tune, which is an equally astounding duet in itself.) Parlato doesn't have a huge set of pipes -- her voice is delicate, breathy, cooing. But she knows her instrument well and pairs that with a very musical sensibility that renders tunes like the Brazilian classic "Doralice" quite nicely.

Arturo O'Farrill and the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra

Pianist Arturo O'Farrill is the son of the legendary jazz composer Chico O'Farrill. And like his dad, Arturo writes for and directs an Afro-Cuban big band. He'll be bringing the entire Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra to Newport this year. In fact, there are a number of fantastic large ensembles that will play, the Maria Schneider Orchestra, Darcy James Argue's Secret Society and the Jazz Mafia among them. Today, the big band is a bit of an anachronism: It's expensive to pay, difficult to travel with, and with amplifiers, you don't need 18 musicians to pack a loud punch. But today's composers are using all those voices so artfully that they're hard to deny. See how Arturo reimagines the standard "Caravan" to incorporate dense Latin jazz orchestration with a slinky, spacious funk groove underneath it all.

Matt Wilson Quartet

Matt Wilson, in addition to being one of the nicest guys in jazz, is a phenomenal, versatile drummer. He can play plenty of things with form and conventional beauty, but he also recently directed a free music clinic for kids at Jazz at Lincoln Center. This tune is called "Celibate Oriole" -- bassist Chris Lightcap (the composer) originally wanted to call it "Celebratorial," but that isn't a real word. It is nearly an anagram for free jazz giant "Ornette Coleman," however. When I asked Wilson if that was the inspiration, he said no -- but now that I mentioned it, there was a certain similarity in texture. His quartet at Newport will look similar to the classic Coleman quartet -- sax, trumpet, drums, bass -- but with a string quartet and "special guests." We wait with bated breath.