The top shows at the 13th annual Eddie Moore Jazz Festival prove once again why saxophonists have ruled jazz since the birth of bebop nearly half a century ago. Baritonist Hamiet Bluiett and his spirited trio (with pianist D.D. Jackson and percussionist Kahil El'Zabar) exemplify the black American jazz tradition, digging deep into the genre's African roots while also reaching high into the procreative canopy above. Devoted to the almighty power of the groove, Bluiett channels hard funk, propulsive swing, fevered hallelujahs, and down-home shouts with an impeccable sense of time that moves both body and soul.
As musical director and composer/ improviser, tenor saxophonist Ellery Eskelin acts as spirit guide for his extraordinary trio with Jim Black (drums) and Andrea Parkins (accordion, piano, sampler). With an ear for textural nuance and an ingenious facility on multiple instruments, Parkins is the mind of the group, while Black is its heart, his consummate beat mastery never failing to maintain momentum even when turning the rhythms inside out. But Eskelin's clearly the band's Zen center. His thorough grasp of jazz's rich past and agile phrasing provide a balanced focal point from which the music soars.
Whether leading big bands or small combos, alto saxophonist Tim Berne plays with the fantastical presence of a great winged serpent. His sweeping abstractions seem of another world, but also soulful, like a Baptist revival at some kingdom in the clouds. Often spiraling skyward from an earthy base, his set-long compositions sustain their melodic logic from start to finish. Berne's rare duo appearance with bassist Michael Formanek offers listeners an up-close glimpse of his enigmatic style.