Helsinki 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. 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 started the night with the Al Foster Quartet. 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 him play behind Sonny. He is loose with a master’s touch. Al started one song playing with his hands and liked to play the rim of his floor tom with the side of a stick. The band stayed in check and were the perfect foil for Al who took off at a moments 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.
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 stood behind two turntables and a sound generator of some sort kicking out contemporary bass and drum loops while three horn players and timbale player played along. The horns 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.