Now in its 26th year, the Tri-C JazzFest has become a welcome rite of spring in Cleveland, right up there with opening day at Jacobs Field and at least one April snowstorm. This year, the 10-day presentation (which runs from April 14-24 at various venues across town) spans the orthodox (the impeccably branded and tailored Wynton Marsalis), the pop-tinged (Cleveland favorite, vocalist Al Jarreau), and the innovative (the third Jazz Meets Hip-Hop concert at the Beachland Ballroom). And though there won't be any Buena Vista Social Club representatives at JazzFest this year, there will be plenty of Latin-influenced artists, so get ready to party. With so many quality shows to choose from, here are our top picks for JazzFest 2005:
Latin Jazz Night, with Bobby Sanabria and Ascension (8 p.m. Saturday, April 16, at the Tri-C Metro Auditorium, $20/$25). The Sanabria concert should throw down hard, because the Tito Puente disciple has a wicked nonet in Ascension, he worked on the Mambo Kings film soundtrack, and his repertoire spans everything from Cuban to Yoruba to progressive jazz. Besides, there's a post-Sanabria party at the Hilton Garden Inn, featuring local favorite Roberto Ocasio's Latin Jazz Project. The evening calls for soft shoes and sharp, slinky threads. Latin Jazz Night is always one of the hottest JazzFest tickets.
Bobby Caldwell (8 p.m. Saturday, April 16, at the Allen Theatre, $15-$50). Fans of smooth jazz will revel in the buttery vocals of Bobby Caldwell, a Sinatra fan best known for the title track to his breakthrough 1978 disc, What You Won't Do for Love. Joining Caldwell will be Down to the Bone, a British jazz-fusion group with a hip-hop beat.
Charles Lloyd (7:30 p.m. Sunday, April 17, at the Tri-C Metro Auditorium, $25). The hippies' favorite saxophonist, Charles Lloyd just released Jumping the Creek, his 11th album on the terminally stylish and diverse ECM label, and it's exceptional. Lloyd came to prominence in Chico Hamilton's groups in the '60s, cemented his identity with his classic 1966 solo album Forest Flower, and then quit the business for about 20 years. Since the early '90s, he's recorded variously configured albums and, though Creek features a quartet, it's very much a solo Lloyd effort. It spans a to-die-for exploration of Jacques Brel's "Ne Me Quitte Pas," a mercurial "Georgia Bright Suite," Lloyd's haunting "Song of the Inuit," and the brisk "Canon Perdido," which sounds like a long-lost outtake from Sonny Rollins's Saxophone Colossus. Lloyd's concert should be dazzling and creative; this Memphis man stretches tradition to make it his own. Joining Geri Allen in the rhythm section will be bassist Reuben Rogers and drummer Derek Phillips.
Geri Allen (7:30 p.m. Monday, April 18, at the East Cleveland Public Library, free). Jack DeJohnette's drums pulse and splash beautifully on Geri Allen's new The Life of a Song, the pianist's debut disc for Beachwood-based label Telarc. Rounded out by the bass of Dave Holland, Allen's first album in six years finds her in ruminative, innovative mode. During her free concert at the East Cleveland Public Library, DeJohnette and Holland won't be there, but Jimmy Cobb will drum and Darryl Hall will play bass. "Jimmy Cobb -- he's someone who made many hits, he's an innovative spirit on all the records he's associated with, and it made me rise in a way that was very, very informative for me as a player," Allen says, recalling a recent date with this trio at the Village Vanguard. "He's elegant and intelligent, so it brought the music up to a much higher level. I'm looking forward to bringing this trio there."
Charlie Hunter Trio (8 p.m. Tuesday, April 19, at the Museum of Contemporary Art, $25). Hunter plays an eight-string guitar, improvises rhapsodically, and touches on rock, reggae, and jam-band colorations in his invigorating, melting-pot jazz style.
Jack DeJohnette's Latin Project (8 p.m. Thursday, April 21, at the Tri-C Metro Auditorium, $20/$25). In joining the veteran drummer with the great, maverick woodwind player Don Byron, this show signals a return to innovative form for a man who launched his career with "Freedom Jazz Dance" writer Eddie Harris, came to prominence in Miles Davis's Bitches Brew band, and anchored his career with pianist Keith Jarrett and bassist Gary Peacock.
The Down Beat Invitational, featuring Ted Nash and Still Evolved (2 p.m. Saturday, April 23, at the Tri-C Metro Main Stage Theatre, free). Saxophonist Nash and drummer Matt Wilson, artists-in-residence for this JazzFest, are among the most modernist mainstreamers in the field.
Slight Return: The Music of Jimi Hendrix and Gil Evans (8 p.m. Saturday, April 23, at the Tri-C Metro Auditorium, $25). This gig will feature artist-in-residence (and longtime Evans collaborator) Howard Johnson, former Living Colour leader-guitarist Vernon Reid, and the rarely heard, magnificent Cleveland group the Jazz Unit, a mainstay at the late-lamented Bop Stop. Howie Smith, Cleveland's best saxophonist, will lead the Unit.