The names may differ from year to year, but one thing about the JVC Jazz Festival New York never changes: its immensely rich diversity. Since its inception, the festival has endeavored to present jazz in its countless permutations, and the lineup for 2008 is no exception. From the breathtaking vocal stylings of Dianne Reeves, Tierney Sutton, Al Green, and Jill Scott, to the mesmerizing instrumental dexterity of the Brad Mehldau Trio, Chris Botti, and superstar Herbie Hancock, from the international flavorings of Sergio Mendes and Joê£o Gilberto to the ever-surprising Mos Def, Carnegie Hall's Stern Auditorium / Perelman Stage and Zankel Hall will host nearly a dozen programs from June 20 to 28, representing the vast array of approaches falling under the contemporary jazz umbrella.
The schedule kicks off with The Real Thing: An Evening with Jill Scott. Since the late '90s "Jilly from Philly" has wowed listeners with her seamless mashup of R&B, jazz, and hip-hop, her fluid vocal technique, and poetic, emotionally naked words pushing into new territory each time out.
Tierney Sutton, who arrives on June 24, is another restless artist constantly on the move. On her latest CD, On the Other Side, Sutton deconstructs and reinvents 13 love standards as bluesy, unorthodox interpretations that cast a frown on the very idea of a smile, yet somehow make that hurt sound joyous.
Vocal enthusiasts will also revel in what will surely be one of the great pairings of the JVC Festival, as the dynamic, soul-infused Al Green and Dianne Reeves share a bill on June 24. Green is an all-time legend of R&B, and his new Blue Note album, Lay It Down, is his funkiest in years. Reeves, meanwhile, also shines on a new Blue Note release, When You Know, which examines the stages of love from a woman's perspective as only Dianne Reeves can.
As it has since its inception, this year's JVC Jazz Festival offers a host of brilliant pianists, including Herbie Hancock on June 23. The look on Hancock's face as he accepted the Album of the Year Grammy for River: The Joni Letters was priceless‹an honor long in coming.
Brad Mehldau, performing on June 22, has proven himself one of the most electrifying young pianists on the scene since the 1990s. Full of constant surprises, he unfurls complex new ideas with his longstanding trio as if it were the simplest thing on Earth to do. The following evening, another virtuoso pianist, Dick Hyman, will display what transpires when a healthy respect for traditionalism meets an unwavering curiosity.
Joê£o Gilberto, too, is about tradition‹in his case one that he himself helped to create. The Brazilian singer-songwriter-guitarist is synonymous with bossa nova, a genre he virtually defined a half-century ago. Gilberto's whispery, feathery touch will fill Carnegie on June 22. The previous evening finds another Brazilian giant, Sergio Mendes, taking the same stage. With his group Brasil '66, Mendes was once the top-selling Brazilian artist. He remains a vital, forward-thinking musician today, and opening his show will be the exciting "Afropean" outfit Zap Mama, one of the many all-star guest artists appearing on Mendes's latest release, Encanto.
Rounding out the JVC Jazz Festival's Carnegie Hall lineup are three artists who couldn't have less in common‹except that they are all part of this magical thing called jazz. Chris Botti (June 24) is the remarkably talented trumpeter adept at fusing the daring and the classic. Richard Galliano (with his Tangaria 4tet, June 28) has collaborated with everyone from Chet Baker to Michel Petrucciani, rewriting the role of the accordion in jazz. Also on June 28, something else altogether: the Mos Def Big Band, a cross-cultural, genre-hopping experience that will feature music and spoken word, with the pioneering singer, poet, and rap progenitor Gil Scott-Heron guesting. And if that isn't the very definition of keeping jazz alive‹and of the JVC Jazz Festival New York‹then nothing is.