We have been to every Rochester International Jazz Festival and I take a few notes on the acts we catch.
We had bought our Jazz Fest tickets so long ago that we forgot where we put them. We finally found them in a drawer and scurried downtown. We ran into John Nugent on the street and he asked if we needed passes. So we swapped tickets for 2007 Club Passes and got in the long line for Kilbourn. Kilbourn Hall is considered one of the finest chamber music halls in the world. It is our favorite jazz venue. The room sounds natural, not too lively or dead, and it is not dependent on the sound system. Geri Allen looked like royalty. She is. She played with Ornette Coleman.
The Geri Allen Trio consisted of Kenny Davis on bass and the classic jazz drummer Jimmy Cobb. He played on Miles’ “Kind of Blue” and “Sketches of Spain.” He is my father’s age and still a joy to watch. Geri Allen started alone with a flowing classical sounding piece and set a perfect mood for the evening. Her playing is rich and colorful and she drove this band with a strong sense of rythmn. Geri Allen plays with the best. We were looking at a cd in the Bop Shop Tent with her, Ron Carter and Jack DeJohnette. If they had either of the ones with her and Ornette, I would buy that again – or was that only vinyl where you bought a fresh copy of a favorite?.
This sign was posted inside the Lutheran Church on their bulletin board. Did God create jazz or did it evolve? I like” the language of the soul.” That works.
The Peter Asplund Quartet, from Sweden, were nice. There were no rough edges here. The sound in this space was very nice as well.
We left the church and it was raining. but the light on the Eastman Theatre was beautiful. Solomon Burke was in the theatre, no doubt working the crowd with his authentic country soul.
Harro East was another new venue this year. I thought we might still see Wease working the door like he did when it was the Triangle Theatre. This has always been a tough room for acoustics. You have to overcome the tall hard surfaces with enough projection to negate the reflections. It worked for reggae bands like Toots and the Maytals, Peter Tosh, Dennis Brown, The Wailers, Third World, Max Romeo and Black Uhuru with Sly and Robbie who all played here. Mike Mainieri & Steps Ahead had the volume but very little clarity. That’s Steve Smith from Journey on drums and a steamroller of a bass player sitting down back there. Who ever thought of combining vibes and fusion?
Toronto’s Shuffle Demons were back. They are real crowd pleasers and fill the Djabe shoes from other years. They had pretty much the same lineup as before and the same costumes. The drummer had the same haircut but the bass player was wearing a wig this time. The Shuffle Demons leave the stage at the end of their set and parade through the crowd New Orleans style. They know how to work a room. The baritone sax is their secret weapon.
The Stephane Wrembel Trio was rained out of their first slot but took the stage around 9:30 when the rain had stopped. They play driving gypsy jazz with a world beat flair. We ran into Brian Williams from Lumière here and Bob Henri was sitting down front.
We checked the sound sample of Saturday night’s lineup before we left the house and Montage seemed like the clear choice. We certainly weren’t in the mood for the “smooth jazz” offerings elsewhere. Jason Crane, former host of WGMC’s “Traffic Jam” introduced the Paul Tillotson Love Trio at Montage. I miss Jason’s daily show and it was good to see that he was still in town.
Montage is now a heavy metal club (when the Jazz Fest is not in session). The room still sounds nice but they have built a short wall around the stage for some reason. You can see part of the wall in the lower right hand corner of this photo. Paul Tillotson reminded me of Jim Carey and his patter between songs was just as funny. Love Trio’s drummer, James Wormworth, is a maniac on the drums. He is now one of my favorite drummers. Paul Tillotson drives the band with a rollicking, barrelhouse piano style. He is so rythmic on piano that the drummer and bass player act like they are in heaven. They are all smiles and play effortlessly. The Love Trio’s sound is infectious and they build a joyful, party atmosphere in the room reminding you of just how much fun jazz can be in the right hands.
Zanussi 5’s three horn players played arrangements written by the bass player that went from abstract soundscapes to beautiful theme music to fanciful dreams. Not really swinging but really musical. These guys were a treat.
Ryan Shaw from Decatur, Georgia sounded like something out of the mid sixties. This was a live soul band with real musicians. We watched them from the side of the tent over by the bathroom exit. We tried going in the front door of the tent but this band was LOUD. May have had something to do with that Marshall amp.
Los Lonely Boys were on stage but you couldn’t see or hear anything. This event may have been too successful. We packed it in for the night. –
.Saskia Laroo from Amsterdam was billed as a female Miles Davis. She played great and did sound like late Miles, like when we saw him at Finger Lakes in the eighties. She looked great and was wacky and fun to watch. She wasn’t going to trust her sound to any sound man. She wore her effects boxes around her waist and used them well. Saskia Laroo’s band played hard and the funky beat got a lttle too insistent by the end of the set. They would have better off trimming their set to an hour or less. It s hard to complain though, because we did like Saskia. She looked right at home in the former metal club.
Our nieghbor, Rick, came over this morning with his laptop open to a Lotte Anker video on YouTube. It looked fantastic. Her trio improvised the night away at the Lutheran Church. This was the perfect venue for them. The place was packed and when they finished their first twenty minute piece, half the crowd left. This was the heaviest and most avant garde music of the festival so far. Jeff Spevak described it as “rain falling on the instruments.” Lotte played soprano, alto and tenor sax. The music was hypnotic and abstract.
We came out of the church and spotted Saskia Laroo and her band headed down to the Harro East for Benny Golson.
Mamadou Diabate started his show by announcing “We are here to make you happy tonight” and he fulfilled his promise. He is from a long line (like seven centuries) of musicians in Mali and his music is is steeped in old African melodies. He was here at Kilbourn two years ago without the percussion and bass players and he really didn’t need them this time. He plays a 21-string harp called the kora and its light drone and plucked strings sound beautiful with the wooden, xylophone-like, balafon. Mamadou did a song he wrote that had a one word title in his language that meant “someday the enjoyment will end” (their language is more concise than ours). The song was not a warning but another reminder to be here now.
We only caught one song by the Dave Glasser 4tet as we passed through the tent on our way to the church. But that one song, “In A Sentimental Mood” was absolutely beautiful. Dave graduated from the Eastman and that’s Jeff Campbell on bass and Rich Thompson on drums from Rochester’s Trio East.
Midaircondo’s performance at the Lutheran Church came together like magic. I know this because we watched the setup. We were there early thinking this event may be crowded. There was all this hubbub around a table of gadgets and wires. It was the group’s first performance in the US and they apparently were not prepared for the power supply difference. And if ever a group was dependent on power, it would be this one. We watched while they patched multicolored cords into a myriad of effects boxes and boards checking imaginary sounds in headphones. This whole thing would have been nerve wracking for most performers but these two handled it like performance art. They sample and loop their voices and percussion under real sax for a strikingly modern sound. The film loops they played in front of were mostly as blurry as this shot. I grabbed some sensational shots while they were soundchecking and I will put them up here as a detour when the Jazz Fest is over.
WRUR’s Scott Regan introduced Dan Hicks and told the crowd how Chuck from Colorblind James had introduced him to the band. Dan Hicks is a rather large presence these days but his voice sounds as good as ever. He is as wry as ever too. Funny how their time came and went in the early seventies and yet their music is so timeless. In fact, it sounded like some sort of throwback when they came out. They did switch the lyrics of “Canned Music” to “heard it on the internet” instead of “radio”. Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks actually fit under the jazz banner with their brand of western swing. Dan even did some scat singing. They delivered a top notch version of “I Scare Myself” providing a glimpse into Dan’s thinly veiled dark side. And they finished with “Pennies From Heaven.” Only a cynic could see the dark side in that song.
Bonorama sounded promising and they came out with a bang but they were too loud for this place. There’s four trombones up there.
Five Corners from Helsinki were over at the Lutheran Church and they were fantastic. Young and energetic, they breathed new life into bop. The tenor sax player was outstanding and surely has a long career ahead of him. As young as this band was, the sax player was here three years ago with another band called the U Street All Stars.
Five Corners were led by the drummer and he practiced his English between sets. They played in New York the night before and only brought five cds with them for some reason that we couldn’t follow. They sold those in a hurry.
We stopped into Harro East to catch a little bit of Clint Eastwood’s son Kyle. That’s him on the bass guitar up front. This band looked even younger than the last one. Kyle did a really nice middle eastern sounding bowed bass intro to a song from his “Paris Blue” cd (now why would anyone be blue in Paris?) but then he picked up his electric bass again.
Matt Wilson plays drums for his band, Art & Crafts. His bachelor pad style of dress was apparent in the feel of their second song. It was one of his tunes and it sounded like Esquivel on jazz. His quartet featured a keyboardist on piano and Leslie organ to seal the lounge deal. They opened with a Monk tune and finished with an Ornette Coleman song. In between, they played a beautiful Pat Methany ballad. I didn’t even think I liked Pat Methany.
We left Matt Wilson at the Montage and scurried over to the Little Cafe for our weekly Margaret Explosion gig. We were talking about the festival during our break and someone recommended the Ilmiliekki Quartet from Finland at the church so we kept our jazz passes on and ran over there for more Nordic Jazz.
The Ilmiliekki Quartet were playing Thelonious Monk’s Three Corners when we walked in. This was the perfect setting for their pristine sound. I tried to buy some water during their set andI felt clumsy just moving around while they were playing. There is a piano player off to the left and they were sparse and exceptionally beautiful. The bass player played here the night before in Five Corners but he seemed more at home in this setting. They finished with Ornette Coleman’s “What Reason Can I Give” which the trumpet player introduced as “one of the most beautiful songs I know”. The bass player played the melody alone and the trumpet player played into the top of the opened piano so the strings of the piano resonated with his notes. We bought their cd on the way out.
We ran into Dick Storms and Jeff Spevak as we were coming out of the church and they highly recommended Bettye Lavette over at Harro so stopped in. The band played some ridiculous intro numbers without her giving no clue as what she would sound like – that’s why they call them “back-up” musicians. Bettye has been around and she sounds it. That’s a good thing. She was bluesy and soulful and she sang her old songs like she was just starting out. She is the real deal and the band backed her liked pros. She put soul into Dolly Parton and Lucinda Williams numbers and the slower it got the better she sounded
Jason Moran was in this same spot on the Montage stage five years ago when he played with Greg Osby. This time he was in complete charge of his own trio plus a box of samples. Jason told the crowd that “these songs are about things that we care deeply about” but the samples bogged down the musical interplay. They finished with an exceptionally beautiful, haunting melody that Jason stated simply as the song rolled on for ten minutes or so. It was our favorite piece of music of the whole festival.
The church was packed on Thursday so we stood in the back of the balcony and I grabbed this blurry photo. The drummer covered the drums with towels to dampen the clean tone of the beautifully tuned set from the previous night. It suited In The Country’s rock tinged sound, slow piano pieces, most of which built in intensity to reach crescendos. They covered David Bowie’s “Ashes To Ashes” and on the next tune all three players chanted “Everyone’s Going To Die. Cheer Up.” It was not at all as dreary as it sounds.
The Latin Side of Miles is a testament to the enduring popularity of Miles, but Miles never sounded like this. The trombone player, Conrad Herwig leads this group of great players in muscular versions of Davis and Coltrane classics. We had seen the sax player before with Pete LaRoca. And the trumpet player, Michael Rodriguez, who is taking Brian Lynch’s place here was just at the Montage with Matt Wilson’s Arts & Crafts. Rodriguez was taking Terrell Stafford’s place with Matt Wilson. Thanks to Jason Crane for straightening us out on trumpet situation. The percussion player sang and played a great Afro Cuban intro to “Flamenco Sketches” from “Kind of Blue” and I found myself wishing these guys had either more Miles or more latin in them.
We stopped at the tent for a few songs by Corey Harris. His trio fused the blues with African pop and came out with a rootsy Caribbean sound. We didn’t know anything about them but enjoyed what we heard.
We got a late start on Friday and heard that the line for Don Byron at Kilbourn was already around the corner and out to East Avenue. We hadn’t been in the new Milestones (High Fidelity now) so we stopped in. We lived next to East High for years and the marching band there did every conceivable song in the drum and bugle form. There were some big guys in the Soul Rebels and and they threw some hip hop and bullfight music into their hefty mix. I felt like I was at a funky football game at halftime.
We wandered around the various venues and tried not to be jazz snobs tonight. We ran into Steve Greene outside of Bernunzio’s Guitar Shop. He and the White Hots had just finished a corporate sponsor gig outside of Max at Eastman Place.
We walked down East Avenue to the Alexander Street stage where the crowd was starting to form for Toots and the Maytals. Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad, the band with about three too many words in their name, was playing. They sounded great in this huge sound system. I thought it was a cd playing until we got closer. They have a real contemporary roots sound and a great groove.
Ron Stackman from Bahama Mama and The Majestics introduced Toots and the Maytals. Toots came out swinging with a killer version of Pressure Drop. They sounded as good as ever. Toots is a little guy but a giant of an performer. That’s his daughter doing backups at the far right.
Maceo Parker was playing at the same time as Toots at the Chestnut Street stage. We caught a few numbers but couldn’t get close enough to hear properly.
Saturday night, last night of the Jazz Fest, and we had a five hour gig at the Memorial Art Gallery playing for the opening of the Finger Lakes show. Our Jazz Passes sat in the car. We played the first two sets as a trio while our guitar player, Bob Martin, listened to Bill Frisell at Kilbourn Hall.
Here is Bill Frisell at Kilbourn Hall with Tony Scherr and Kenny Wollesen, the last act of the 2007 festival. This festival keeps getting better. It may not be putting Rochester on the map but it sure brings a lot of excitement to town. Buy your pass early next year. They go up in price and then sell out as the festival nears. The pass lets you roam around and hear top shelf musicians that you have probably never heard of or big name players like Bill Frisell.