Casino Lights '99

Various Artists

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Casino Lights '99 Review

by Richard S. Ginell

The Montreux Jazz Festival has made this exquisite resort town tucked into a corner of Lake Geneva, towered over by the hulking Alps a household name in jazz households. But by the 20th century's end, the festival had grown and changed almost beyond recognition; indeed, what one knowledgeable local observer calls the "Time Warnerization" of Montreux is quite evident here in this two-CD "document" of the 1999 Festival. The idea here is to update the Jazz At The Philharmonic tours and CTI All-Stars concerts by gathering a bunch of Warner Bros. contracted musicians -- all of whom operate in the smooth jazz arena in the States -- and turning 'em loose in various combinations in the hope that something ignites. Some things do ignite, but there is also a lot of over-polished, under-powered music here, for some of the musicians evidently couldn't shake off their Stateside shackles. One tune that does get very hot is the 11-minute jam "Always There," with a crowded front line of Rick Braun, Kenny Garrett, Boney James, and Kirk Whalum clearly lit up by Larry Carlton's sharp rhythm guitar and George Duke's funky-butt clavinet comping. Garrett's smokin' rhythm section rouses his badder self on "Wayne's Thang"; and in a salute to his famous 1991 Montreux gig with Miles Davis, Garrett quotes Miles's "Jean Pierre" on the way out. In another reminder of Montreux' past, Carlton slyly invokes Eddie Harris's "It's Cold Duck Time" (from the epochal Swiss Movement) while Whalum provides the blunt edge. There are some flickers of welcome against-type programming as Fourplay does a nice job with another bit of Miles ("Four") and Kevin Mahogany gets an exciting, growling thing going in "Yesterday I Have the Blues." While virtually all of festival's historic events occurred in Montreux' cozy Casino ballroom, now the concerts take place elsewhere, mostly in the new Auditorium Stravinski and adjoining Miles Davis Hall. And as befits the genre, some unspecified, sleight-of-hand overdubbing in Los Angeles also takes place, so this may not be exactly the way it was.

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