We have been to every Rochester International Jazz Festival and I take a few notes on the acts we catch.
We missed the first night of this year’s Jazz Fest but we had a good excuse in that we were vacationing in Spain. We heard from friends that Matt Willson’s “Art & Crafts” were good the first night, even getting the crowd to sing along with a Sun Ra tune, so we decided to check out Matt playing drums with Gary Verace at the Rochester Club Ballroom. I particularly liked the vaguely Italian song they did with an accordion but they were a little too tame to kick this off for us so we moved on.
Ensemble Denada, the European big, big band had fourteen players, Spevak counted 15, but their gorgeous arrangements left plenty of space and their songs became cinematic soundscapes. In fact they projected movies behind the band to complete the picture. Each song came from a new dimension and each player was outstanding.
We read that the Norwegian bass player, Arild Anderson, had played with Terje Rypdal and Jan Garberack so that was enough for us. They started with a Gregorian chant taking full advantage of the beautiful reverb in the Lutheran Church. The drummer was a monster playing with whisk brooms at times. The bass player created little loops on the fly that became the foundation of some of their songs. This was beautiful music and the highlight of the night
Seems kind of clunky putting the word “jazz” in your name. Then again Pete’s Rock Band did it with rock. Jazz Passengers works well though because that is exactly how we felt last night at Kilbourn Hall. With trombone, saxes, violin, vibes, bass and drums we took a little trip with these guys. Deborah Harry sang with them for a few years and each band member sings except the guitar player. He just reinvents his instrument on each song. They had recently taken a hiatus from performing and played a beautiful version of Peaches and Herb’s “Reunited” to celebrate their return. They make thoroughly entertaining music and were the perfect hosts.
I’m guessing the piano player is the leader of Nikolaj Hess Global Motion +. The band’s sound came from his flowing melodies and we just sort of drifted off to it all. Not a bad thing but I like a little brawn with my brains.
Lucky Peterson grew up in Buffalo. Look at those shoes! He played with Little Milton and Bobby Blue Bland so his blues has soul. Willie Dixon produced his first record and he is a monster on the organ, piano and guitar. He has a voice big enough to command attention in a full house while off mic. He has the showmanship thing down with spades! I caught him back stage with his drummer and bass player and then took in the show.
Trumpeter Joe Magnarelli, all the way from Syracuse, played with the Antonio Ciacca Trio last night at the Rochester Club Ballroom. We didn’t know anything about Joe but had heard Ciacca a few other years and really like his piano playing. This didn’t work on a number of levels. Why was it the trumpet player’s gig? He had nothing to say. Ciacca, the bass player and drummer were great players but there was no excitement in the room whatsoever.
TRIODES is all caps on the schedule so I’m going with it. We stuck our head in here on our way over to Xerox Auditorium. These guys had some excitement in the room but it wasn’t the musical kind. They were trying to get the crowd to sing along with some poppin’ bass thing. We felt like we had walked into someone’s wedding reception.
The Rodriguez Brothers (on piano and trumpet) were ok especially on the slow tunes. The bass player sounded good but the drummer kept clanging away (I know all about drummers clanging away) so pretty sections were somewhat obliterated.
We couldn’t help but hear the Colin Cannon Quartet. They were loud as hell. General rule of thumb is when the bass player has more than four tuning pegs you’re in trouble. But I guess that’s what you would expect in the “Fusion Tent.”
The Mika Pohjola Quintet turned out to be a quartet. We had no idea what to expect from them. I followed the link on the Jazz Fest site and it took me to Mika Pohjola’s MySpace page with no sound files. I did see he had three friends. The band was too polite, too serious to get a groove on
We hadn’t been over to Abilene yet so we filed in to the packed tent and heard a few songs by Professor Louie & The Crowmatix, “Motherless Child” and Leonard Cohen’s “In My Secret Life.”I do not have a discerning Americana palette but these guys sounded like a bar band to me.
That gold blur in the bottom left corner is Rick Braun’s trumpet. He was out in the crowd workin’ it when we showed up and they were playing a big beat version of “Grazing In The Grass.”
uesday promised to be a better night. The sound samples for the acts at the churches both sounded good. The Rochester Club Ballroom feels like the lounge on a cruise ship but has some real potential. We had about fifteen minutes to spend there with Rochester’s Vitale Brothers (on bass, sax and trumpet). The trumpet player was late and explained he had a parking problem. In Rochester? Mike Melito palyed drums. They traded fours on some standards and we moved on.
Rochester Contemorary stays open late through the Jazz Fest and last night they had a Poetry & Jazz event to celebrat BOA 35th Aniversary.
Paula Gardiner/Huw Warren Duo sounded fantastic in the dark, cavernous Christ Church on East Avenue. The bass was big and strong and every bit a lead instrument in Paula Gardner’s hands and then the perfect accompaniment to Huw Warren’s furious melodies. Paula performed a beautiful brand new song called the “The Bells of Saint Mary’s” and dedicated another song to the bass player at the Lutheran Church, our next stop.
We cut through the back of the Eastman Theater and spotted the Bela Fleck tour bus. Some kids were smoking weed in the alley.
I saw that Rochester’s premier salsa band, Grupo Calle Uno, was playing at the tent and added them to our list but by the time we got there they had left the stage and were hanging out behind the tent.
Finally a fresh, clear headed, energetic band, unbound by tradition and just enough off kilter to make it all brand new. Phronesis was riveting at the Lutheran Church. The bass player drove this band with wild abandon egged on by the frenetic drummer who dampened his snare with a towel and then rode on the snare, tom rims and just about anything but his ride cymbal. He sounded more like a tap dancer than a drummer. Piano player was great and the band tore it up.
We stuck our head in the tent in the RGE parking lot and caught Kristen Shiner playing drums for Jon Seiger and the All Stars. Kristen teaches drums at Nazareth and I love the way she plays.
“Many Worlds with Greg Burk” were the most adventurous band we have seen at this year’s festival and they were one of the best. Led by Detroit’s and now Rome’s Greg Burk on piano they indeed explored many worlds. They aired out their arrangements to the point where they teetered, just long enough to make you wonder who’s in charge and then they were off again. They have enough confidence and trust in each other to pull way back intensifying their music with every rest. Colorful arrangements featured flute, soprano and tenor sax, a great bass player and a loose limbed, left handed drummer made for an extremely melodic set.
Bill Frisell opened with some really gnarly, prog stuff and then settled into one of his trademark, lazy, country blues things but the band never really gelled for me. I was always aware of the parts, Frisells restrained control, the plunked violin, the scattershot drums and I couldn’t hear the whole. It all felt rather tedious. We spotted Bob Martin in usual Frisell spot, right behind the sound board. He said he was having dinner with Frisell between sets. Maybe he’ll have the skinny.
We simply had to hear the Pee Wee Ellis Funk Assemby over at Harro East out of respect to the man, Pee Wee’s long time employer, James Brown. Pee Wee who went to high school here co-wrote some the finest songs in the James Brown songbook, “In A Cold Sweat” and “Say It Loud.” He’s played with Van Morrison for twenty years or so and still sounds good.
It’s nice to know that the ECM label is still cranking out esoteric sound treasure steeped in reverb. Ounaskari-Mikkonen-Jorgensen at the Lutheran Church were like a deep breathing exercise. They suspended time. It takes all players on board to advance a tune ever so carefully without breaking the trance. The trumpet player, sitting down, also played percussion but his secret weapon was a haunting wordless, vocals. It made you feel like you were witnessing some ancient rite.
We were scurrying over to Christ Church when we came on this drum corps with dancers out front of the Democratic Headquarters.
Fraser Fyfield & Graeme Stephen were a real treat for the end of the night. Traditional Scotlish folk melodies updated with great rhythm guitar playing (plus distortion), bagpipes, soprano sax, pipe and penny whistles and even a beat box from the cajon one of them was sitting on. They both sampled parts live and effortlessly worked them into their sound. This was especially dreamy and worked perfectly in the old world church.
Jonas Kullhahhar Quartet have been playing together for thirteen years or so and are widely considered Sweden’s best jazz band. If they lived in the states they would be one of our best jazz bands. They’ve been at this festival three times now and we can’t get enough of them. The piano, bass and drum rhythm section takes off like a rocket and the band is an exhilarating full tilt for most numbers. But their joyous, fresh, crisp playing is also giving way to slower, moodier, seasoned compositions with plenty of space for big bass lines and bare hand drumming. They may have stole the festival agin this year. They’re playing again tonight at Max’s.
Dan Berglund, Tonbruket’s bass player, was here with his highly acclaimed, European Bad Plus trio, E.S.T. back in 2006. He played with a distortion pedal and could sound like Hendrix in a jazz setting. He sits in the center of his new quartet as if holding court while beautiful melodies surround him from the piano/keyboard side and the guitar (including lap steel) side. The drums are more krautrrock than jazz and the band sounds like a dark euro pop band doing film scores. They toss off surprising strong melodies and could be huge in the next world provided they keep their bombast tendancies in check.
There wasn’t all that much to choose from on Saturday night. We considered Ben Allison over at Montage in a bass, guitar, trumpet setting but Jonas Kullhammar Quartet is a guaranteed good show so why mess around. They were performing tonight at Max’s, a smaller, livelier room than last night’s Xerox Auditorium and their music took on these same characteristics. It’s hard to tell how much truth is in Jonas’s between songs banter. Is the bass player take a year off to practice Buddhism? Maybe music critic, Jack Garner, knows. He was having a serious discussion with Jonas before the show. This quartet is steeped in jazz tradition and as an American you have to wonder how that happen in Sweden. They’re bursting with energetic ideas at the same time and this makes for an explosive combination.
The distance from Sweden’s Jonas Kullhammar to Norway’s In The Country was only a few city blocks but but the journey took us from bright and joyous to dark and dour in a flash. In The Country was here back in 2007 covering David Bowie’s “Ashes to Ashes.” I didn’t recognize any covers last night but they seem to have gotten even drearier in the last few years. The minimal piano parts are are given little melodic or rhythmic counterpoint by the other two players. Theyre happy to milk the Cowboy Junkie church stupor on most songs but they surprised me with a really beautiful vocal from the drummer.
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