The intensity of Sunday's portion of the 21st Annual Freedom Jazz Festival, held at Freedom Plaza downtown, was due not only to the high temperatures, but also to a stellar lineup that emphasized infectious rhythms ranging from Afro-Cuban to avant-funk, drum 'n' bass to free-bop, and calypso to juju stomp.
Saxophonist and flutist Jane Bunnett and her scintillating Spirits of Havana, which featured the wonderful 14-year-old Lucumi, created a communal vibe befitting its name. Lucumi played the congas with authority and poise well beyond his years, and Bunnett's razor-sharp soprano seared the humid air with soulful lyricism.
Trombonist Craig Harris and his Nation of Imagination kept the danceable rhythms going with the whipping "Mandela," which featured African drumming. Harris's visceral growls and back-stabbing riffs gave the music a jolting funk edge, as did Kelvyn Bell's blues-based guitar.
The pan-African, avant-funk aesthetic continued with trumpeter and former Sun Ra band-mate Ahmed Abdullah's Diaspora, and Toby Foyeh & Orchestra Africa, while trumpeter Nils Petter Molvaer's set offered an intriguing alternative as he blissfully played through ambient textures and drum 'n' bass grooves. Despite technical problems that prevented Molvaer's deejay from performing at optimum level, his trippy vamps remained engaging. The heat may have prevented many jazz fans from coming, but the festival's flammable music kept the devoted listeners from wandering.