We have been to every Rochester International Jazz Festival and I take a few notes on the acts we catch.
Getting into Kilbourn Hall means waiting at least an an hour in this line. It has the best natural sound and the acts that perform here are usually well worth the wait.
We started the night with the Al Foster Quartet at Kilbourn. Al played drums on two of my favorite Miles albums, “Get Up With It” and “On The Corner.” We saw him a few years back at Art Park in Buffalo with Joe Henderson. And we stopped in to see Sonny Rollins at the Eastman during the 2005 Jazz Fest to hear Al play with him. He is loose with a master’s touch. He started one song playing with his hands and liked to play the rim of his floor tom with the side of his stick. The band stayed in check and were the perfect foil for Al who took off at a moment’s notice but always returned with a soft landing.
We stopped in the Harro to see Ben Riley’s Monk Legacy. Riley played on some of Monk’s best work and still had the goods but the four horn players in the front line were too chart oriented for our tastes. There was a great quote in Frank DeBlase’s interview with Ben Riley where he talked about rehearsals with Monk. “We never rehearsed. If you rehearse you start playing things you know, and you don’t put anything creative in it.” The sound in this room though is problematic at best.
elsinki must be a swinging city. I know I liked the section of Jim Jarmusch’s “Night On Earth” featuring that city the best. And Helsinki’s Timo Lassy Band at the Lutheran Church for the opening night of Rochester’s Jazz Fest was hot. They play jazz like it was played in America in the fifties and sixties and they manage to make it sound exciting and new. This is the third time we have seen Timo Lassy at the Jazz Fest and each time it was in a slightly different setting. He was here with the U Street All Stars in 2003 and Five Corners in 2007. Last night he switched from tenor to baritone for an afro-centric, Pharoah Sanders like thing where the drummer played mallets and the percussion player dug a deep groove.
We finished the night in the Big Tent with the Spam All Stars while it poured outside. It was a new tent this year. No leaks and no poles to obstruct our view. A guy with a really short haircut (balding) stood behind two turntables and a sound generator of some sort kicking out contemporary bass and drum loops while three horn players and a timbale player played along. The horn lines were kind of exotic and worldly. But having just seen two of the best drummers in the world, the rhythmn section seemed pretty lame.
The Bad Plus are truly the rock stars of jazz, adored by their fans. And the individual players seem to each have their own fan base, especially the drummer, David King. The bass player in the middle holds the wildly divergent classically tinged piano player on the left and the raucous angular drummer on the right at bay while tying it all together. We saw them the last time they were here but really liked them this time.
.The Bad Plus morphed into a competent back up band for Wendy Lewis when she took the stage to sing beautiful versions of new standards by Nirvana, Pink Floyd, the Bee Gees, Bobby Vinton, U2 and Heart. This was their first gig with her, a preview of their upcoming cd.
The Jazz Festiva grey hairs with the Crocs can be an unruly crowd. Officer Friendly on his segway keeps them in line
The Ola Kvernberg Trio at the Lutheran Church featured a sort of hard driving violin. Some songs reminded us of Jean Luc Ponty workouts. But they could slip into respectful folk melodies that were very pretty.
Another year and another church was added to the list of venues.This is the Episcopal Christ Church next door to RoCo on East Avenue. The sound in here lacks any sort of definition and it picks up long room reflections.
Inside the church the Kris Davis Quartet worked with the sound problems like pros. They left space for Kris’ lingering piano notes to float and her husband’s drums to crescendo. They walked the line between free and beautifully controlled compositions. We spent some time trying to figure out which one is Judas.
We finished Saturday night standing at the newly remodeled High Fidelity (they took the Labatts beer signs down) for Stephanie McKay, “Soul Sister Number One.” Her sincere, heartfelt songs deserved a real band, not the hot dogs (five string bass, one handed rolls with a goofy smile) she appeared with. She has one cd out in England and another on the way here. She took the stage like Sly Stone and came out in the crowd to dance and invited people back up on stage with her. Angela Davis crossed with Diana Ross, she is a great entertainer with some real songs.
We were looking forward to seeing the tabla player, Badal Roy, with Dharma Jazz at Max’s but Badal Roy was a no show. We had seen him years ago with Ravi Shankar and he plays on Ornette Coleman’s “Tone Dialing” and a number of things with John McLaughlin. Dharma Jazz found a pretty good sub in Dan Johnson but the piano player had the better sense of rhythm. It appeared to be his band even though he announced that it was a collective.
Jazz Kamakazie on the street was not all that interesting but the show was free. They had some Kraftwerk-like electronic effects on the vocals.
Crowd at the 2008 Rochester International Jazz Festival
We were wondering if this bank makes house calls. And what would happen if if someone stole the car?
Yggdrasil from the Faroe Islands combined slides, nature sounds, flute, piano, bass, guitar and drums. They were as spacey as this photo looks. We heard a beautiful piece that lasted forty five minutes and completely transported us to a Nordic seashore. We were sitting on some rocks and marveling at the landscape. I forgot I was in church.
The Dave Liebman Quartet was last here for the 2003 version of the Rochester International Jazz Festival. He tore it up then so we prepared ourselves for takeoff last night. We grabbed a table down front at Montage and ordered a Brooklyn Lager (one of the sponsors of the show). The waitress asked for the cash up front and explained that she had to buy the beer from the bartender. This club is on its last legs and I suspect they are already out of business. They still had the “STEEL” sign up on the wall from the days when they went metal and the barricade to keep the meatheads from diving on the stage.
The set was exhilarating. Dave is in complete command and he gets there every time. The guitar player was amazing and we recognized him from the Sunday night’s Dharma Jazz which must have been a pick up gig for him. The group has been together for years and they play like a real band. They listen to and work with each other like the seasoned pros that they are. They did a tune from their new cd that was the slinkiest, low down, film noir track I have ever heard. Dave started it with a little wooden flute and he switched to soprano sax while the bass player strolled through some dark, swinging neighborhoods.
At the end of his set he told he crowd, “OK. You go see the rest of the bands. And you tell me.” Martin Edic had just chided us for darting around. He said, “You can’t just pop in for one or two songs and decide whether you like someone or not.” So we looked at each other and decided to just stay right here for the second set. It was equally good if that is possible. Dave did a song dedicated to an African pop singer who he heard everywhere while traveling to the Sahara for his sixtieth birthday. He played percussion in the intro and then some wildly exotic tenor. You rule Dave!
It takes guts to get on stage with former Miles sax player, Dave Liebman but John Nugent has ’em. He co-produces a wildly successful Jazz Festival in Rochester, New York doesn’t he? Dave introduced John as one of his students from the eighties in Canada. We are lucky to have a musician booking the music for this event but John still needs a few lessons in the wardrobe department.
We passed John Nugent on the way into the Lutheran Church for Wildbird & Peacedrums. He said, “You won’t be disappointed. This is my favorite act of the whole festival”. They were pretty sensational. Mostly voice and drums, they managed to sound like they were playing folk songs from an undiscovered tribe. I have a recording of prison tunes from down south where the songs are all voice with foot stomping, banging or hand clapping accompaniment. Wildbird & Peacedrums kept reminding me of those blues based tunes but in this case they removed the swing like only the Europeans can. Vocalist Mariam Wallentin sang mostly in English, I think. But I could only catch phrass and imagine what she might be singing about. I really liked this aspect.
Doctor Lonnie Smith made a triumphant return to RIJF with two sets in the tent. He is from Buffalo and he used to play sock hops in this area way back in the day so he is a thoroughly seasoned entertainer. He did his impressions. He smiled a lot. He got down on his knees and crawled under his Aztec organ to do a bass solo on the foot pedals. The band got all revved up and muscular but I liked it when they got slow and groovy.
Murray’s bass player was Jaribu Shahid, also the new bassist with the Art Ensemble of Chicago. He started a song called”Banished”, from the documentary of the same name, with a beautiful bowed intro. Murray switched to bass clarinet and the drummer played mallets. It was the standout tune of the night. We tried to add the movie to our NetFlix queue but it has not been released yet.
Iro Haarla, pianist-harpist-composer from Finland, makes modern music in the mid seventies ECM mold, austere, detached and quite beautiful.
This is the rest of Iro Haarla’s band. The bass player played one of those half scale stand ups (i.e. a sit down model). This church has a really good wide open sound unlike the cavernous Christ Church location. This band sounded great in here.
We popped into the Harro to check out The Wild Magnolias. They looked and sounded like a halftime act at a football game. We walked across the street to Abilene’s for a beer.
Jake Shimabukuro, the YouTube ukulele sensation, did a short set at Bernunzio’s between his two sets at High Fidelity. We happened to be walking by and I took this shot through the window. That’s happy owner, John Bernunzio, in uniform in the doorway and another YouTube sensation, Julia Nunes, first row, down front.
Jae Sinnett Quartet at Christ Church was mostly great. They sounded better when the bass played played his double bass and not so good when the keyboardist switched to electric piano. The sax sounded great in this room. Leader/drummer, Jae Sinnett, reminded us how lucky we are to have jazz at our Jazz Fest. He said, “Compare yourselves to fifty other major cities and look at the line-up of their jazz festivals”. Here we were worried that the promoters were bringing in too many mainstream music acts. I guess we’re doing better than we knew. Thank John Nugent when you see him darting around.
I wish you could see Joe Locke’s pointed white shoes in this shot. The right one was busy pumping his dampening pedal. His Buddy Miles lookalike drummer added the umph to his “”Force of Four” Quartet. Joe went to East High but got his start playing in clubs on the west side of Rochester. This is his third appearance at the Jazz Fest and this time he packed Kilbourn Hall for two shows. Next stop is the Eastman Theatre.
We didn’t find time yesterday to read the lineup for the Jazz Fest until we were in our seats at Kilbourn waiting for Joe Locke. The notes in the program guide said “Blake Tartare’s repertoire includes works by Charles Mingus and Sun Ra” so we decided to head over to Montage. Blake Tartare was loose, freewheeling and sensational like a wedding band after a break in the parking lot. They did a song from Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s “Rip, Rig & Panic” that lasted a half hour and received a standing ovation. They were the most exciting group of the festival so far. We made plans to come back for the second show.
Beady Belle completely changed her look from the photo in the program guide. The heels, tablecloth and perm were all in contrast to the relaxed, funky band look but she had a beautiful voice and the band was a perfect fit for her dreamy pop jazz. If you were trying to find a guitar player who could play exactly the right tasteful part for every song, her guitarist would be the guy to go to. The whole band was especially good at keeping their arrangements sparse and right on for the song. The group is from Norway and this was their first gig in the US. They sounded like the lounge band in heaven on a rainy day
Back to Montage for Blake Tartare’s ten o’clock show. Is there such a thing as punk jazz? If so, these guys hold the crown. I don’t mean to imply any lack of musical ability, I just want to emphasize their wild streak. Michael Blake is the leader but he called a song, a cover of a Curtis Mayfield tune, which led to a few minutes of discussion amongst the band and then the decision to launch into another song. Blake lives in New York and the other three live in Copenhagen. I can’t imagine how they pull this off. They did an encore with the Slickers “Johnny Too Bad” complete with an audience sing-a-long. But that wasn’t enough. They stayed on stage and improvised a whistling (the piano player is playing the beer bottle) song with percussion that brought the house down again. They were the most exciting group of the festival so far.
Billy’s Band looked like a bunch of hobos. In fact they were hard to photograph because they all huddled in circle like bums around a barrel of burning trash. The Saint Petersburg quartet sounded like Tom Waits singing in Russian. Most of the material was Tom Waits’ too. Tom Waits is good so they were good. The guitar player looked like Abbie Hoffman or a miniature Armand Schaubroeck. The bass player worked the room with his broken English and they were very entertaining. Tom would dig them.
Music Music Music at the Lutheran Church were good but just a little too polite for the near end of the Jazz Fest. The comparison to the Bad Plus in the program guide only forced the analysis.
Even the atonal accordian player made an appearance at the Jazz Fest.
We should have made a move right here to see The Skatellites playing on the East and Alexander Street Stage. I know they would have been good – they were Coxson Dodd’s house band. But you can’t do it all. John Vacaro sent this great pic.
Guy Barker and Ian Shaw’s “Made in the UK” was something completely different. Their sparse sound really worked in this spacious room. Ian Shaw has an amazing voice with a showman’s personality which is perfect for delivering standards and show tunes. The best part though was the stories they told between songs. Ian would ask the crowd, “Do you remember that scene in “Wait Until Dark” where Audrey Hepurn . . . and then launch into some obscure film music.
It seems every time Cyro Baptista steps out of the house he is peforming with a new band under a new name. Supergenerous featured Canadian guitarist, Kevin Breit and Cyro with a new bass player. We were excited to see Cyro because his performance with Beat The Donkey in this same club, Montage, a few years back was so sensational. This time around the band barely gelled. Kevin is not up to the Brazillian groove.
Carolyn Wonderland played the night before at Montage and we heard a few rave reviews from friends who caught her so we made a point to check her out when played for free on the street tonight. She was surrounded by the Headhunter’s trapping but all eyes were on her. She is cute and tough at the same time and an incredible guitarist with a great voice. She plays without a pick and sings like Janis Joplin. If she is not already huge, she should be.
he Sliding Hammers have been here twice before and they were appearing in different locations three nights in a row this year. They are very popular. For me two trombones are already one too many but they make the best of it by playing everything from sambas to straight ahead bebop. One of the sisters now sings and she wrote a beautiful slow song called, “My Wedding Shoes” that they peformed here.
We walked down East Avenue to the Alexander Street stage to check out the scene and Medeski, Martin and Wood. They were pretty good but nothing to write home about. Wait, we are home. I almost forgot. We have seen and heard so many amazing groups in the last week. We stood in line for Catherine Russel but couldn’t get in. We talked to Tom Kohn, Frank DeBlaise and Julia Fiqueres outside of Kilbourn while a fight broke out across the street. Frank said, Now it’s a real festival”
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