If you spent the afternoon commuting between the two stages at Merriweather Post Pavilion Saturday, as thousands of people did during the seventh annual Capital Jazz Fest, you would have heard an all-star cast of smooth-jazz artists creating a sunny soundtrack for a weather-perfect day. No matter that much of the music sounded the same. The capacity crowd soaked up the rhythms and the rays with equal enthusiasm.
For much of the afternoon, the keening saxophones gave way to thumb-slapped bass solos or rock-inflected guitar lines. And whether you were seated inside the main venue or wandering through the nearby Symphony Woods, where a smaller stage was shaded by a grove of beech trees, you could feel the ground shake with a pronounced backbeat and hear the air erupt with ovations.
Leading a quintet, Chuck Mangione delivered one of the most crowd-pleasing and distinctive sets with considerable help from bassist Charles Meeks and saxophonist Gerry Niewood. Doubling on fluegelhorn and keyboards, Mangione successfully evoked both the atmospheric and tuneful aspects of his familiar repertoire with such hits as "Children of Sanchez" and "Feels So Good." Before leaving the stage, he thanked the audience for buying enough copies of the latter tune to "put my two daughters through college."
The sets by saxophonists Eric Marienthal and Tom Scott were more reflective of contemporary jazz trends. Marienthal's performance was charged by the neon-bright tone of his alto sax, punctuated by bassist Vail Johnson's feverishly syncopated funk solos and briefly tempered by the soul jazz hit "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy," a tribute to the late Cannonball Adderley.
Backed by the L.A. Express, Scott performed several tunes from his latest album, "Smokin' Section," though he recast "Ode to Billie Joe" so vigorously that it made his newly recorded version seem listless by comparison. He also took some welcome liberties with the Average White Band's "Pick Up the Pieces," adding a salsa groove, before uncorking a fine soprano sax recital of the blues classic "Stormy Monday."
Keyboardist Jeff Lorber's set was almost entirely redeemed by saxophonist Gary Meek, who played some of the most sophisticated and challenging improvisations heard during the afternoon. Otherwise, the tunes were fairly routine, the solos predictable. When Lorber wasn't playing keyboards, he spent much of his time tinkering with his gear, trying to figure out why his guitar wasn't working properly.
Tuck Andress had no such problems while accompanying wife Patti Cathcart in Symphony Woods. The couple, celebrating 20 years of musical collaboration, continue to anticipate each other's moves onstage in ways that border on the telepathic.
Playing finger-style guitar, Andress created a delicate weave of melody, harmony and bass lines to complement Cathcart's voice, an immensely supple and surprising alto.
The duo's fresh and spry arrangement of "Joy Spring" ranked among the afternoon's highlights, as did Andress's nimble salute to jazz guitar great Wes Montgomery.