We have been to every Rochester International Jazz Festival and I take a few notes on the acts we catch.
The 2006 Jazz Fest passes sold out this year before the event started. You gotta buy your tickets early. We saved $20 each by buying ours before Christmas. What a beautiful way to kick off the 2006 edition. Dr. Lonnie (not Liston) Smith was at the Hammond B-3 in a trio setting with guitar and drums. Lonnie wears a turban and smiles a lot. He was born in Buffalo and told the crowd that he used to play sock hops in Henrietta with a vocal group called the “Supremes” (but not the Diana Ross group). Tonight he was slow and funky and not afraid to bring the groove way down and keep it there. He did a Johnny Mathis, Louis Armstrong and Stevie Wonder impression for dessert.
Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey were the perfect outdoor bar band. They were playing early, in the cold, to not that many people. I knew they would not want to be taken seriously with a name taken from a wandering, ponderous, experimental number by Spinal Tap. They were fun and good and they played an exceptionally wide range of material for a three piece. Bassist Reed Mathis’ bass guitar could sound like an electric guitar and did on their version of “Happiness Is A Warm Gun.”
Djabe, all the way from Hungary, was back in the tent. They must be hungry. They were here in the same spot two years ago. In fact they were hawking a cd this time that had two cuts on it that were recorded here during their last visit. The bass player drives this band with his five stringed instrument. They call themselves a fusion band and I guess they are but not in the athletic sense. They are a fusion of every style from folk to jazz and they are a real crowd pleaser.
Charlie Hunter trio was pretty cool at Kilbourn. They sort of jam but Charlie calls the shots on his eight string guitar. It’s a half bass/half guitar kind of set up. We had seats down front within earshot of the PA and they were just too damn loud so we left. A perfect sounding room was not good enough for them. They had to crank it. We hear they did a long version of a melodic song, “Goodnight Irene”, after we left and I would have liked to hear that but I only have two ears.
We popped in Milestones on our way home and heard a few minutes of Mahavishnu Project. I used to like John McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra but that was thirty years ago.
Saturday’s musical lineup started with an outdoor gig at Art Walk where Margaret Explosion played on someone’s front lawn on East Avenue as the art walkers paraded by.
The Eddie Henderson Quartet at Montage was in the mold of “Kind Of Blue” era Miles and there ain’t nothin’ wrong with that. They did a beautiful version of Blue on Green along with “Someday My Prince Will Come”. The bass player looked like a young Richard Nixon but they were all great players. As we were leaving the club I overheard WXXI’s Tom Hanson telling someone that he wished they had ended with an upbeat number. Their downbeat sound was perfect for us.
The Bop Shop was the official vender for cds of the bands playing at the Jazz Fest. They set up in a tent on Gibbs Street and did a booming business. Maybe next year they will have downloads available. The official Jazz Fest merchandise booth was right next door to the Bop Shop. They’ve sold quite a few berets, as hard as that is to believe, because I saw a number of people walking around with them on. I bought a t-shirt last year but this year’s was downright ugly. They need some help in the graphic department. I would start with the logo. It takes a city block to display that thing in all its glory.
this man had a serious job to do. He was outside the Eastman Theatre with all these suitcases of James Brown t-shirts while the Godfather was on stage. He was setting up a booth in the lobby. I would have loved to have seen James again but we were doing the Club Pass. I did see him at the Auditorium with Wilson Picket and I saw him out at Red Creek.
Whit Smith’s Hot Jazz Caravan was at the tent and Whit was hopped up on coffee and beer. The cowboy swing songs were familiar and he really didn’t have to try so hard but he did. The two other guys were solid as a rock. Whit was here a couple of years ago with Hot Club of Cowtown.
Cedar Walton’s solo piano performance at Kilbourn was deep into the intellectual side of jazz. He couldn’t help it if he looked like Homer Simpson. He did a beautiful Billy Strayhorn medley.
We ducked out of Cedar Walton and sat down at a table at Max across the street. The York Quartet was on stage and they sounded great. The drummer was wearing high heels and her blouse strap kept falling off her shoulder. She was a terrific player and did a solo with bare hands. The York Quartet was named after the the bass player, Jennifer York, who has been an early morning Skycam reporter for Los Angeles’ KTLA for the last fifteen years.
We started Sunday evening with the Roberto Occhipinti Quartet at Montage. The first thing that I noticed was that there were five guys in this quartet. Roberto is the bass player and his group was quiet and sophisticated. Jeff Munson thought they were the “sleeper of the event.”
Jonathan “Juanito” Pascual sounded beautiful in the atrium at Max. He explained the flamenco forms and rhythms and knocked the Gypsy Kings for using the same rhythm in all of their songs. He had plenty of anticdotes about the players he learned from and we really wanted to like him but there was too much Jonathan and not enough Juanito in his playing. Flamenco should be full of duende.
Inside the tent, we sat behind the two D&C music critics who were both preparing reviews of the evening’s shows. At first I thought that they had a wifi connection but we aren’t there yet.
Badi Assad is a singer/songwriter from Brazil and she put on an amazing show at the tent despite some unforgivable sound problems. Unforgivable because the guys from DiMarco/Admar Supply were just looking at each other while Badi tried to make light of the situation by saying, “These guys don’t have a clue what is wrong”. Sound problems happen all the time and you expect a certain pattern of behavior from the sound crew. Here the packed tent was looking at these guys who acted like they didn’t know there was problem. Enough about those guys. Badi was soulful, rhythmic and playful. She created sound effects with her voice while singing. And she thumped her guitar body while playing melodically to produce a very full, rhythmic sound from one little person. She was full of life and drama.
As we left the tent we watched a graduation ceremony break out in the middle of the Jazz Fest. That is a pretty amazing collection of posters on the front of the Eastman – James Brown, Etta James, McCoy Tyner and Wayne Shorter!
Jack Allen’s Big Band was up on the free stage on Gibbs Street. It really was different in these guys’ day. And they still had what it was.
.Claudia Quintet were over at Little 1 where the seats are plush and lights are low. Their unusual lineup included accordion, vibes, bass, drums and clarinet. They managed to be thoroughly entertaining while reading charts. Leader and drummer, John Hollenbeck, asked if he could borrow someones’ hat and then turned down an offer of a Red Sox hat. The clarinet, Chris Speed, performed in the Bop Shop atrium with another interesting group, Pachora, a few years back. They did a few beautiful mellow pieces based on Philip Glass-like patterns and even sounded like the Mothers of Invention at times.
BraamDeJoodeVatcher improvises on bare sketches of songs. They listen to each other intently while pushing the song in new directions. Pieces nearly fell apart and were reformed into something else. Their angular, deliberately off center playing was a joy to watch and hear.
I caught a few songs by Tim Posgate Hornband and Howard Johnson and couldn’t really get a handle on it. Tim Posgate’s electric guitar was too loud and full and the delicate horn parts were pushed to the back of the mix. And when the two horn players sat down for a guitar and tuba duo take of “Caravan,” Howard Johnson was playing like crazy but the big tuba was no match for the guitar.
Here was Respect Sextet, former Eastman students, up on the big stage in front of Java’s where they played every Wednesday to a handful of people. City’s Frank DeBase is in the lower right hand corner with his camera. Respect Sextet has two cds available and I would strongly recommend them both although I much prefer the second one which was recorded live at the Downstairs Cabaret. The tenor sax player is terrific and Ted Poor is an amazing drummer but, much more importantly, the group has their own sound. And it’s a rollicking yet pretty damn sophisticated sound for such young kids. They all improvise like pros. Next year, they belong in Kilbourn Hall.
And there was Billy Bang out on the sidewalk, heading over to the Montage for his second set. We had seen him last time he was in town and he blew the roof off the place. So this time we made dinner reservations for the show which sort of guaranteed us a seat down front.
Jack Garner introduced Billy Bang for his second set. I know that he liked the set because he picked Billy Bang’s Vietnam cd to recommend in his Friday music column in the D&C. Billy Bang’s drummer, Newman Taylor-Baker, got to the first show a little late. So late that they had hired Dave Cohen from Back Seat Sally and Prime Time Funk to play the first number. So Newman took a little time to tune his kit before the second set and we watched. He was here with Billy two years ago but he is not the drummer on the cds. This piano player was also here with Billy two years ago and his playing was melodic and beautiful, the perfect foil to Bang’s folky abandonment.
Garth Fagen choreographed a dance to the haunting “KIA/MIA” and it was the highlight of the set here. Billy said he spent eight years with Sun Ra’s band and he performed a song he wrote for Sun Ra called “Jupiter’s Future”. He was with Sun Ra when we saw them at Red Creek back in the seventies. There was a table of Garth Fagen dancers there and at the end of the set Garth came up and they posed for a few photos.
We started off Tuesday night back at Milestones. And there was the festival promoter, John Nugent, up on stage sitting in with his wife’s band, the Dawn Thomson Quartet. They sounded real nice.
Robert Glasper was nice too, but confusing. He was clearly the leader of this trio but his improvising didn’t give the others much to hang on to. They were great players but the pretty pieces wandered. The drummer would switch to brushes to support the piano player and I found myself listening to his brush patterns instead of the piano.
We headed over to the Little Theatre Cafe to catch Lumiere. They sounded especially good. These guys play here for free every Tuesday night.
Back to the tent where we waited in line to see alto saxophonist Gray Mayfield and guitarist Mark Whitfield. They are local guys and they had Ted Poor from Respect Sextet on drums and a pickup bass player. Gray Mayfield was really great and the guitar player may have been but we couldn’t get past his George Benson tone.
We caught one song from the Steve Gauci Trio at Little 1 before packing it in. It looked like Nod’s Brian Shaffer was on bass. They headed into tunes from charts and then started improvising on the forms. I found myself looking for the the distinction between a band who improvises and a jam band. There is one but it is a fuzzy line.
The press release on MK Groove Orchestra said they are inspired by the likes of Duke Ellington, Machito, Sun Ra, Stravinski, Debussy and Fela Kuti. Those are some heavy keywords. We even spotted someone in a Sun Ra t-shirt headed up front to see the band. Inspiration is one thing and delivering with a buildup like that is entirely another.
Wednesday night means Margaret Explosion was back in their spot at the Little Theatre Cafe between 8 and 10. We played with our Jazz passes on and headed out for more music when our sets were over.
ane Bunnett & Spirits of Havana 4tet were very melodic, maybe the most melodic band we heard at the festival. She is Canadian and we have seen her in Rochester twice before, each time with a different band. She was at the first Rochester Jazz Fest and out at MCC with a big band of Cuban percussionists. This setting was more traditional and it suited her well. She played some beautiful flute solos.
There we were at the Eastman House for our third gig of the week where we played a Jazz Festival event in the garden for a group of young professionals. We played All Blues, A Love Supreme and even honored a request from a GEH employee for Maggot Brain.
We had a bite to eat at the Little Cafe and listened to Trio East who were playing with two subs. Only bassist Jeff Campbell from the original lineup was there. I have heard that they sometimes do dates where all three players are subs.
Sliding Hammers are two trombone playing sisters plus a trio. They too were here once before. They drew a huge crowd to the tent. We couldn’t get in so I snapped this shot from the open side door on Main Street back by the Port-O-Johns.
We got in line at Montage for the Terell Stafford B3 Band, trumpet, organ and drums. The line was long but they were serving beers on the sidewalk so we hung in there. The show started inside and we were still out on the sidewalk but there were only six people in front of us so we didn’t think we would have to wait long. The crowd must have liked this band because no one was leaving. Festival promoter, John Nugent, darted by and announced that there was “a terrific band at Kilbourn and there were plenty of seats” but just then we were let in. We quickly determined that Terell Stafford was too tame for us and we dashed over to Kilbourn for Tom Harrell.
Tom Harrell was my favorite act of the festival. The music was incredibly beautiful. This was easily the best group of players as well. Tom has paranoid schizophrenia and his solos are intense and he would leave the band a lot of room between solos and trumpet parts. The band opened up the arrangements to feature each other but also played intensely as a group without stepping on each others’ toes. They propelled long instrumental sections to ecstatic heights.
Hard to say where Tom went when he wasn’t playing trumpet. He tried to hide on stage. He didn’t manage to do this and would walk back to the mic, signal the piano player to stop, and then play a knockout solo. I grabbed the following quote from his press release. “My feeling of who I am is always changing. Everything is in flux. It’s like Salvador Dali and surrealism: The minute you feel you’ve got a grip on life, it’s already slipped away and changed into something else. That’s the paradox of life and it brings up the role of the artist. You can’t do the same thing over and over again. You’d get bored quickly with your work. It’s more fun and satisfying to find new and different things to do.”
We started Friday evening back at Kilbourn where e.s.t. looked a bit like professional wrestlers. They are a Swedish trio and they play European jazz. At least that is how I pegged them. Their music does not hang on the rhythm section. The bass player and drummer were following the piano player. And this piano player was fantastic. He sounded like Rocmaninoff. They are described as a pop jazz band but they sounded like a classical jazz band to me. I didn’t care for the cheesy drum and bass rhythms or the goofy electronics that they piled on but I loved the Hendrix like tone that the bass player used on one song. Each member of this trio used guitar stomp boxes. They were very melodic and musically meaty.
We popped into RoCo to hear Autumn in Halifax with Chris Reeg on bass. They sounded fantastic in this space. I know the guy who did that painting in the background.
Cajun music is kind of jazzy. I liked the two fiddle players in Red Stick Ramblers. The lead singer was the fiddle player on the right. He looked like a Simon School business major but he sang a song of their’s with colorful lyrics that perfectly described a small deadbeat town.
Soul Live is an organ led jam band. Their sound was kinda like Average White Band meets the Jazz Crusaders. They were loud enough to fill downtown and drown out the Gibbs Street stage.
We spotted Mayor Duffy a couple times during the Jazz Fest with his jazz pass on.
Katrine Madsen delivered warm and smoky versions of recent standards like “Close To You.” Her late night pregnant standards (eight months!) were soft and intimate. We really enjoyed her.
Kristen Shiner McGuire is Director of Percussion Studies at Nazareth and she plays in a few bands. This is “Kind of Blue” at the Memorial Art Gallery, playing for the opening night of the Second Biennial. Kristen is a joy to watch and hear. She is so smooth proficient and yet she makes it all look so effortless. She even sings.
Kevin Breit and Folk Alarm 5 are from Toronto. Their accordion, mandolin, drums bass and tenor sax lineup made for a delightfully offbeat rag tag sound. They introduced a low key, laid back song of theirs by asking if anyone remembered the Fuller Brush Man. We were sitting with our neighbor who shouted that he did and in fact the Fuller Brush man still comes to his house. Kevin Breit said he did not believe it. But I know that this is true. I have seen him at their house.
Kenny Garrett was hot at Kilbourn on the last night. He was channeling Coltrane with the first few numbers. They featured driving rhythms and extended sax solos that reached for the heavens. His drummer was a powerhouse and Garrett pointed at him durning the second song signaling a full throttle drum sax duo. This was the heaviest jazz of the festival.
But Kenny Garrett has a soft side too. He did a couple of beautiful folk songs, one Japanese and one Korean with just sax and piano. This was the perfect capper to the 2006 festival.