Once limited to those lucky enough to be able to travel to its gorgeous home grounds, the Monterey Jazz Festival went national in its 50th anniversary year, forming a cross-generational touring ensemble and sending the group on a strenuous 54-date tour around the country in early 2008. The tour was preceded by this recording, taped at the September 2007 festival as a calling card. The musicians were chosen with chronological savvy -- a genuine living giant, James Moody (then 82), as an ambassador from jazz's storied past; trumpeter Terence Blanchard, singer Nnenna Freelon, and pianist Benny Green representing the Young Lions grown to maturity; and Blanchard's rhythm section, bassist Derrick Hodge and drummer Kendrick Scott personifying "flaming" jazz youth in the 21st century. Moody doesn't concede one note to age; he is in thrilling, inventive, unpredictable form on tenor sax, clearly invigorated by the driving, tradition-minded rhythm section and his role as éminence grise. Moody also chips in a bit of flute, and kids around with Freelon, scatting and singing, in "Just Squeeze Me." The program selections often are heavy with references to Monterey's past -- Dizzy Gillespie's "Be-Bop," Milt Jackson's "Monterey Mist," an excerpt from Gerald Wilson's "Theme for Monterey" suite with retrofitted new lyrics by Freelon ("Romance [Winter Love]"). Blanchard is strikingly eloquent in "Benny's Tune," and Freelon's lustrous voice also finds a home in "Misty" and "Time After Time." If there is one weakness in this otherwise admirable 55-minute set, it is that these musicians' tastes and interests aren't expressed much beyond the default jazz mainstream; on tour, Blanchard stretched out into social protest and Green experimented with radically quiet dynamic levels. Nevertheless, it is heartening that everyone in this band is on the same wavelength and having an unfeigned fine time with each other.
AllMusic Review by Richard S. Ginell