Showstopper

Monty Alexander Trio at Kilbourn Hall at the Rochester International Jazz Festival

We stuck our head in the tent a few years ago to check out Ryan Shaw and gave him another chance last night. We met Brian and Olga in line and Brian reached into his bag for his glasses to read the program.  He put them on and they steamed up. The temperature in his bag was quite bit cooler that the air temperature because he had some sort of liquid refreshment in there. We do love the early Detroit r&b era that Ryan Shaw is mining but this muscular approach, not just his buff build but the five string bass and heavy hitting drummer, takes the sweetness out it. I couldn’t get past the ready cell phone on his belt. 

We ran into Jeff and Mary Kaye on the street and followed them over to the Xerox Auditorium to check out Joe Baione on the vibes. He looked like Jeff Daniels and played in a loose limbed manner that was clearly at odds with the studied approach of his bandmates. I wanted to like the Milt Jackson tune they were doing but I couldn’t get past the disconnect.

We saw the Russians from Second approach on the street. They were wearing their “Artist” badges and enjoying themselves in our strange land. Peggi had them sign her program.

Gary Brandt and a number of fans were in line early for Nils Petter Molvaer at the Lutheran Church. These were people without Jazz passes who were ready to plunk down cash for this guy. We knew nothing about him other than the sound files that we had spot-checked before leaving the house. Nils plays trumpet through two mics, one with an arsenal of effects boxes and one with only reverb. Both the guitar player and Nils had an Apple laptop to augment and mix their sound with. Their spacious, austere sound worked perfectly in the church and it all would have been more relaxing if we didn’t have to watch the performers fussing with the equipment. But I know that is now part of the modern performers’ dialog. The drummer in Nils Petter Molvaer did not have his own laptop but he did have to lock into some loops. I thought their sound was more interesting without the programmed tracks and this guy sounded fantastic playing the drums with his bare hands like he did for the first part of the set. In a song called “Gong” he soloed with a cymbal in his hands while standing in front of a mic confirming that these guys would have sound better without all the non organic trappings.

Never mind that Monty Alexander looked about twenty years younger in the promo photo. He stole the show last night and may be our favorite act at the Jazz Fest. We almost didn’t go but there was line for Tony Kofi at Christ Church so we tried Kilbourn. We sat next to an older woman who greeted us with a smile. I said, “You already saw Monty didn’t you?” She said, “How did you know?” Peggi said, “You have that Monty glow.” She had a Wegman’s bag next to her on the floor, one of the new green ones with the limes on them. She showed us a photo that she had Monty sign after the first show. It was her and Monty outside of Birdland in NYC a few years ago but she was a regular at the Roundtowner in the seventies when Monty came through town on a regular basis. We had heard Monty at Art Park about ten years ago and we were bothered by hs hyperactive quoting of so many songs that you forget what song he is playing. He did a bit of that last night and his sidemen seemed to shake their heads at the cornball tactic but it was all in the name of a thoroughly entertaining show. And entertaining alone would sell him short. He did a song of his called “Hope” with a bowed bass solo that almost made me cry it was so beautiful.

Monty’s drummer could be the best drummer in the world. I was blown away by this guy’s incredible control. He had the perfect touch with every beat. No exaggeration! Both the drummer and bass player had genuine smiles on their faces the entire set. Monty had a blast finding his groove and hit his master showman stride singing Day O and Nat King Cole’s “Lorraine” with a Nat imitation. He reached into  into a black bag to pull out a melodica to play amazing versions of Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song” and “Running Away” and then an instrumental that we recognized from Augustus Pablo.

I’ve posted more photos of the Jazz Fest on The Refrigerator.

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