We have been to every Rochester International Jazz Festival and I take a few notes on the acts we catch.
The first act we saw this year was Mose Allison at Kilbourn Hall. He played with only a bass player and did all his familiar jazzy/blues numbers. He bangs them out like Dylan and they careen just under control – not my favorite device for enlivening old songs. His lyrics though (Ever Since The World Ended, Your Mind Is On Vacation etc.) recall Pete LaBonne’s.
We caught a few songs by Triphazard at Milestones. They are from Slovenia and had a very cool, sort of dark, melancholy sound with some loops created from sampled live passages. The singer was fun to look at and kept the band in this detached space.
We caught the late set of Trio Da Paz at Montage, arriving an hour early to grab one of the seats available for the those not ready to spend a minimum of $20 per person for a late dinner. From Brazil, they mixed standards with their own songs and flavored them all with a heavy dose of their country’s trademark sound. The guitar player was a virtuoso and the three of them were so tasteful and professional they were a joy.
ntonio Ciacca/Wessell Anderson Quartet at Kilbourn Hall were one of our favorite acts this year. We sat right down front. The natural sound of acoustic instruments in this hall is very special and this is our favorite venue. The only thing we knew about this band was the very brief blurb in the program, “Expect cutting edge jazz steeped in the tradition of the masters”. This is exactly what was delivered.
Antonio Ciacca, the Italian pianist told the crowd how revered American jazz is in his country and reminded us all how lucky (or stupid) we are. Wessell Anderson, the sax player, lightened the mood with a story about his dog that would run away to the vet. He wrote a song about it. Thank God they got an encore because they played a new song by Ciacca that rivaled the best Kind Of Blue Miles.
Valery Ponomarev is from Russia and he played with Art Blakey. He told us “that applause was like food for musicians” so the crowd applauded heartily. They were good in a traditional way and Valery was was a natural entertainer. The club pass is the best deal in town. You pop in on a band from another world that you have never heard of and check out a few songs. If you get restless you walk down the street to another act.
The Wallace Rooney Quartet was scheduled for Kilbourn on Sunday night but they had an accident leaving New York. We had already seen Rooney playing with Ornette Coleman in NYC a few years ago (we named our new cat after Ornette when we got back) and we were looking forward to seeing him again. But the Michel Bisceglia Trio filled in amply. From Belgium, they have been together for fourteen years and played beautifully. They were in the Keith Jarret vein but they rocked harder.
he New Birth Brass Band over at Milestones was the ultimate party band complete with a trumpet player announcing, “the more you drink, the better we sound” at about 7 o’clock in the evening. They were a Mardi Gras band that could not be confined to any stage. They circled the club as the crowd went wild. The drummers wore their bass and snare drums around their necks and the trumpet player did the circle of breath. They can play at my funeral.
Djabe at RIJF Club Pass Tent was very entertaining. They came from Hungary and didn’t really play jazz but progressive world music. The bass player, Barabás Tamás (third from the right), kind of stole the show. He played a five string bass and even did a whole song by himself. The best song they did all night was when they all played oncles.
Eric Anderson and his trio at Montage were pretty good. They got an award for “Best Jazz Album of the Year” from WGMC’s Tony Gasparre before their set. They were more than pretty good. They were great players. WGMC was fun to listen to that week as they had interviews with the artists and they played a lot of their tracks. I see WGMC had two Art Ensemble records in their Top 100 of 2003!
The Flamenco Reunion at Kilbourn Hall were fantastic. The dancer known as “La Conja” sat to the side of the stage while the band led by a drummer from Barcelona set the mood. She was completely enchanting. The Flamenco Reunion managed to pull this whole thing off, combining real jazz with flamenco rhythms. They played a few Monk songs and their own material all with an exotic Spanish feel. They were so good we went back for more the next night and caught them at the tent.
The Eastman Theatre had all the big name acts. We managed to snag a few tickets to a couple of shows and were stuck by how much better the bands sounded in the clubs.
Marian McPartland worked the house at the Eastman Theatre. She loves talking and charmed the crowd with stories between each song. It was a joy to hear her in a trio setting with the Eastman’s Jeff Campbell on bass and Rich Thompson on drums. They stayed out of her way while she played beautiful renditions of classic songs, improvising her way through the tunes. She even did an Ornette Coleman tune called “Ramblin'”. When was the last time you saw an 85 year old woman bang on a piano with her elbow? Jeff Campbell and Rich Thompson are amazing players and can heard on the “Live At The Little’ cd.
John O’Gallagher Quartet at Milestones read their way through a thoughtful, melodic, ECM kind of set.
Avant Galoppi at the Little Theatre was one of Tom Kohn’s picks. They were the most “out” of the entire festival but the horn players played in unison at the head and tail of most tunes. They were officially led by drummer, Lou Grassi, but it looked like the bass player was calling the shots. He sounded great!
Is jazz the devil’s music? The religious nuts were out in force. This wasn’t exactly an end of civilization, East End Fest kind of crowd.
Wednesday was jam packed. There is no way you can do it all. James Blood Ulmer played solo at Milestones and was fantastic. He strums with his thumb, keeps his low E string open and slipped in and out of a few different tunings while digging deep between blues and jazz. He even played flute on one song. He did a great version of his “Are You Glad To Be In America?” We had front row seats for this one.
We left James Blood and walked over to the Little Theatre Cafe for our weekly Margaret Explosion gig. Steve Greene sat in while Bob Martin took this photo. We were suprised to find a decent crowd there during the Jazz Fest. We packed up and ran through the rain to the Montage for Billy Bang’s set.
We first saw Billy Bang at the Red Creek with the Sun Ra Arkestra in the late seventies. He has performed at the Village Gate atrium a few times in the last few years and he is always senational but he tore the roof off the place at Montage. His newest material is based on his Viet Nam experience and many of the new songs start with haunting Asian melodies and wind their way to wild peaks. The crowd was estatic. Billy Bang wins the “Best Of Show”.
Marc Hamilton, whose company was doing sound at Max’s gave us some extra tickets to Bobbi McFerrin. We stopped in the tent for a beer before the show and it looked pretty festive. Someone told us it had leaked in the rain. You’ll notice a lot of gray hairs in this crowd. Don’t let that bother you.
This show was pretty cool for a few reasons. It was only Bobbi McFerrin and Jack DeJohnette behind a mountain of drums for the whole show – just the two of them. And they didn;t really do any songs – not even “Blackbirds” or “Don’t Worry”. They kind of played around and only fell flat when they did a country western thing. This was a remarkable show for such a commercial artist. They didn’t do an encore either. Jack DeJohnette was Miles’s drummer during the Bitches Brew era and the last time that we saw him was out at the Red Creek on a Sunday afternoon in the late seventies.
Geez, this thing looked in focus in the little dispay on the back of my camera. We heard a song by the Hot Club of Cowtown at the RIJF Club Pass Big Tent (attention local sponsors: they need a better name for this tent like the B&L tent or the KrudCo tent or something). WXXI’s Mordecai Lipshutz introduduced the band, said they performed on Prarrie Home Companion and the recent WWII event in Washington. They fit the PBS bill but didn’t live up to the Django Reinhardt comparisons.
Friday night again and we started with Cuong Vu at Milestones. Born in Viet Nam, he plays trumpet with a $2000 mic stuck in the end of it. (we talked to him afterward at the Bop Shop concession stand). The mic is plugged into an amp and Cuong Vu concocts all sorts of trippy sounds (he can sound like Rochester’s joe+n when he wants to) as well as playing beautiful melodic lines. The bass player had about twenty stomp boxes patched together and they were all buzzing when they left the stage. Ted Poor from Respect Sextet plays drums with Cuong Vu.
We checked out a bit of Mike Stern at the tent but when he started playing we ducked around to the back of the stage. He plays way too loud. They had the sound system cranked just to keep up with his amp. Mike Stern smiled a lot and The bass player held down some heavy bass lines and cemented their metal/jazz sound. We headed over to Montage, the closest room to a jazz lounge in this city, for Joe Locke.
Former Rochesterian, Joe Locke calls his band “Four Walls of Freedom”. The sax player player is from Scotland and he likes to wear a skirt. They sounded great. The Times of London nails it by saying”Locke, with his ability to play cool and funky, heady and relaxed, is set to become the pre-eminent vibraphonist in jazz.” The last time we saw him was at Jenks and Jones over on Genesee Street. He still has family and friends here so don’t miss him next time he touches down in Rochester.
Saturday, the last night of Jazz Fest 2004, started with Ligeti/Bjorkenheim Duo. Raoul Björkenheim plays guitar and Lukas Ligeti plays drums and everything they do is improvised. This was a great way to start the evening, And the idea of having some of the bands play for free on Gibbs street is very cool.
The Latin Giants of Jazz is basically Tito Puente’s old back up band. They also played on the Gibbs Street stage and filled the street with dancers and fans. They sounded just like they look.
Jonas Kullhammar Quartet at Montage was going to be the capper to a sensational week. We had a blast darting around from club to club and soaking in the music. But I dropped as soon as the band started. Since you made it to the last page of the Jazz Fest 2004 postings, I’ll share with you what happened to me on the last night. It was quite a finale.
P DODDY COLLAPSES
My exit from the club last night was less than graceful. I had an intestinal flu for the last few days, mostly diarrhea, and I became dehydrated without knowing it. When the band started I tried heading for the door but my knees got wobbly. I fell on the way and then passed out. The last time I remember dropping like that was in church as a kid while fasting for communion.
The ambulance people were trying to determine if I had a stroke or some sort of heart thing. I pleaded with them that I was fine but I had to get to the bathroom to take care of some business. They let me up and I passed out again. They called a second ambulance and transferred me to the care of this guy who pretty quickly determined that I was dehydrated. He told me that I had “vasovagel”. I wrote it on my hand in case I passed out again. He gave me two bags of water intravenously. My color came back and I felt fine. He was testing me by asking me who the people were outside the ambulance. There was Tom from the Bob Shop and Al the club owner. When I pointed out Jeff Spevak as the the music columnist from the local paper he told me he didn’t read the local paper. I said, “Don’t you want to know when the fast ferry is gonna take off?” He said, “I am basically a right wing Republican” which sounded like a non-sequitur at first. It seemed like the guy had just saved my life with the water bags so I said, “That’s cool”.
They did blood tests at the hospital and monitored my blood pressure. Everything was fine. They gave me another water bag and when they confirmed that I was only dehydrated, they finally let me drink some water.
Buy the Club Pass and I’ll see you next year. – photo by Frank DeBlase