BY VAN DIEP
Examiner Contributor

The annual Earshot Jazz Festival is the jazz fan’s opportunity to binge on music. Like the film community’s Seattle International Film Festival, this two-week marathon featuring more than 60 events, hundreds of performers, and multiple venues will cram your ears for the 12 months to come and whet your appetite for the next one.

The festival, called “Seattle’s most important jazz event” by Downbeat magazine, opens Oct. 19, running through Nov. 5.

The festival’s music frenzy is headlined by jazz superstar Wynton Marsalis, and the rest of the festival features a lineup of legends, upstarts, innovators, and international hybrids.

This year’s Asian and Asian American artists include the highly anticipated Northwest debut of French-Vietnamese guitarist Nguyên Lê with his Tiger’s Tail group, the return of Japan’s East/West Double Trio, a rare Seattle appearance by Japanese American pianist and composer Toshiko Akiyoshi, and the Pinay stylings of hometown pianist Victor Noriega.

Although Nguyên Lê has been touring extensively throughout Europe and Asia for the past 20 years, his performance at the festival is a stop in his first U.S. tour. He brings his Tiger’s Tail Quartet featuring Americans Art Lande (piano), Paul McCandless (reeds) and Frenchman Patrice Héral (percussion). Using influences from around the globe, Lê’s music is transcultural but not “World Music.” His virtuosic ability to blend contemporary jazz and traditional music in recordings such as “Purple: Celebrating Jimi Hendrix, Tales From Vietnam,” and “Walking on the Tiger’s Tail,” have started a buzz on this side of the pond. In particular, his “Vietnam” album, recorded in Vietnam with Vietnamese musicians and vocalists, shows an authenticity of traditional Southeast Asian music that belies the fact that Lê was born and raised in France.

Lê makes ample use of Vietnamese tonality on guitar, creating a singular voice that rivals other contemporary jazz guitarists like Pat Matheny, John Scofield and Bill Frisell. That unique voice is what cuts through and stays consistent on his recordings, which can range from electro-acoustic walls of sound to funky smooth jazz and haunting traditional ballads. This show at On the Boards is not to be missed.

Another not-to-miss program features solo piano by the legendary Toshiko Akiyoshi, 2006 recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts’ Jazz Masters Award. Born in Manchuria, Akiyoshi was discovered by the great Oscar Peterson in Japan in 1952, and she came to the United States in 1956 to study at the Berklee College of Music. Since then, she has been shattering glass ceilings and stereotypes.

As one of the first women in jazz to direct and compose for her own band — the Toshiko Akiyoshi Jazz Orchestra — Akiyoshi has accumulated dozens of musical honors including being the first woman in jazz history to be awarded the Best Arranger and Best Big Jazz Band by Down Beat Reader’s Poll, which she received for four consecutive years (1978-1981).

Inspired by Duke Ellington’s exploration of his African heritage in his big band composition, Akiyoshi has incorporated traditional Japanese textures and motifs into her own multilayered style. With decades of leading, composing and performing with a group, her solo appearance at the Seattle Asian Art Museum will display her mastery of the piano.

Seattle’s Victor Noriega released a new CD this year entitled “Alay” which means “gift” or “offering” in Tagalog. “Alay” pays homage to the 1950s and ‘60s popular music from the Philippines he heard growing up. The album also has a serenade written by a great-uncle, a popular Filipino composer and conductor in the 1930s. Noriega, who received Earshot Jazz’s 2005 Best Emerging Artist Award, will be performing with his Quintet, featuring Willie Blair (bass), Eric Eagle (drums), Mark Taylor (sax) and Jay Thomas (trumpet).

The trans-Pacific union of Seattleite and multi-instrumentalist Jay Thomas and Japan’s East/West Double Trio brings speedy, swingin’ jazz to Tula’s for a two-night stand.

Experimentalist avant-garde trombonist, composer and master improviser Stuart Dempster celebrates his 70th birthday with a gaggle of friends including musician and instrument-builder Susie Kozawa. Other guests include Trimpin, Pauline Oliveros, David Mahler, the Degenerate Art Ensemble and many more. Drop in on the daytime, building-wide performance at Town Hall.

Tickets to Earshot Jazz Festival events can be purchased via the Web site at www.earshot.org, by telephone at the festival hotline at (206) 547-9787, or at the Earshot office in Fremont at 3429 Fremont Place N, #309, Seattle. Visit the Web site for a complete schedule and artist information.

Van Diep manages artist residency programs at Jack Straw Productions, a nonprofit audio arts center and recording studio whose mission is to foster the communication of art, ideas, and information to diverse audiences through audio media. Applications for artist programs are now available at www.jackstraw.org.

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