Floating and Swinging in the Eastern Caribbean – part 3

Tuesday, November 13, 2007
As I strolled the Lido deck, coffee in hand, we were still in transit from Nassau, on our way to St. Thomas, playing hide and seek with the emerging sun. Here I was, thousands of miles away from my Pasadena/Altadena home, enjoying the newness of places and people, reveling in the urge to do absolutely nothing and chatting with everyone, passengers and crew alike, and who do I meet but Ralph and Kitty and Joyce, and where do they live? Pasadena! I didn’t find out until I got home that they are hometown celebs, so to speak. Ralph and Kitty are local activists who have been serving the Pasadena community for many years, Ralph being on the Board of the Levitt Pavilion, and Joyce recently retired from the Pasadena City Council, was honored by Pasadena Democratic state Sen. Jack Scott the 21st State Senate District Woman of the Year. And to top it off, all three are well known to my two of my closest friends, Phil who once worked for the Pasadena School District and Regina, a publicist turned jewelry-designer who lives in Pasadena and handles press and promotion for several local arts festivals.

cruisejimmytshirt.jpgBy noon it was a breezy 78-degrees with winds from the East-North-East at 22knots (25.3mph) and poolside was crowded with jazz cruisers (including Jimmy Heath, left) all wearing their blue cruise t-shirts that entitled them to free drinks. Pina Coladas in the sun made me miss the Keyboard Capers (a series of piano solos) but I did make it later to hear the first four tunes in Lynne Arriale’s first set before our early dinner seating.

They played Alone Together, Evidence (Monk), Home (an Arriale original) and Jones’ Bones, but I think that the group was suffering from the same sound difficulties in the Queen’s Lounge that had plagued Clairdee the day before. The set was reminiscent of Ahmad Jamal in that Lynne wandered in and out of many different moods within a single song, but the transitions did not flow smoothly and I felt a push-me pull-you tug of war between the players (Thomson Kneeland on bass and Steve Davis on drums), exacerbated by the Davis’ embellishments that lacked rhythm or groove. I am familiar with Davis’s playing in this group, having a few years ago quite favorably reviewed Lynne’s trio recording Live in Montreux, so either they were having a bad day, or more likely, getting ready to kill the sound man.

Cruise ships are not built for high fidelity sound, but jazz cruises have nonetheless maintained and even grown in popularity. Where once there was only 1 a year, there are now several…here and here and here…so I guess that’s a good thing.

cruiselonnie2.jpgAfter dinner we caught Dr. Lonnie Smith’s organ trio upstairs in the Crow’s Nest for an early set. Dr. Lonnie was a delightful surprise — I know him and love him as a gentle soul, but I’ve never been keen on the organ. Truth be told, I would have said flat out that I don’t much care for jazz organ, but I was prepared to enjoy what I could. Never would I have thought that long before the end of his set I’d want to buy the CD. (Yes, I did go and buy one – The Turbanator.) cruisepeterb.jpgWith Peter Bernstein on guitar and Anthony Pinciotti on drums, the opening was heavily rhythmic, loud and kind of thick (full-throttle organ sound), and I watched incredulously as little old ladies — both black and white blue-hairs — swayed gently, almost imperceptibly as they fell under the spell this turban-topped doctor of organology who wears a mischievous smile and sings along with himself as he plays (here’s a vidclip from Nashville).

They opened with Freedom Jazz Dance, and followed with a triple parody of Lonnie singing Misty (Lonnie Mattress/Johnny Mathis), Sunshine of My Life (imitating Stevie), and You Sure Look Good To Me a la Elvis. Then came what I considered to be his tour-de-force, piece de resistance – Squeeze Me, taken oh so slow with lots of space — a lesson in how to build a song and a set. After that they got down and dirty again with Simone (?) (it sounded like Wade In The Water to me) and Roy Hargrove couldn’t resist the urge to sit in. Their last selection started with mystical, ethereal, futuristic sounds, an almost underwater quality, and the tune turned out to be Caravan, complete with an extended drum solo.

After Lonnie’s set we tried to listen to Cyrus Chestnut’s Trio but the Queen’s Lounge was just too cold. We stopped at Ocean Bar but Eric Alexander’s group was too loud, so we opted for a quick nap before Clairdee’s two late sets in the Ocean Bar starting at 10:30pm – we were relieved to experience better sound and much better shows.

Tomorrow…St. Thomas.

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