2012 rochester international jazz festival

We have been to every Rochester International Jazz Festival and I take a few notes on the acts we catch.

2012

Diana Krall tour bus at the 2012 Rochester International Jazz Festival
Diana Krall tour bus at the 2012 Rochester International Jazz Festival

As dark as these tinted windows are I know Diana Krall is inside this bus parked behind the Eastman Theater where she is appearing in a few hours. We plan to miss her, Esperanza Spalding, Zappa Plays Zappa, Steve Martin, Daryl Hall, Keb’ Mo and Norah Jones – all the big name acts. While we’re doing the Club Pass thing we’ll also miss the street bands – The Outlaws, Gov’t Mule, Jimmie Vaughan and Trombone Shorty.

Christian McBride at the 2012 Rochester International Jazz Festival
Christian McBride at the 2012 Rochester International Jazz Festival

We made an extra effort to get out early on the first night of Jazz Fest 11 and we were in good shape for down front seats at Kilbourn Hall for the bass player Christian McBribe but word spread that he was stuck in Newark airport due to wind. You’d think McBride could have made an extra effort to leave a few hours before the show or just driven up here

Don Thompson and Neil Swainson performing at the 2012 Rochester International Jazz Festival
Don Thompson and Neil Swainson performing at the 2012 Rochester International Jazz Festival

performance space and it only holds about two hundred people. It’s like sitting in front of a big speaker, but in this case the tweeter is a Steinway Grand and the woofer is a gorgeous sounding standup bass in the capable hands of Canadians Don Thompson and Neil Swainson. They have played together for thirty years and know over two thousand songs so they were melodic and lyrical as twenty first century musicians can be.

Get The Blessing performing at the 2012 Rochester International Jazz Festival
Get The Blessing performing at the 2012 Rochester International Jazz Festival

We had seen “Get The Blessing” before at an earlier Jazz Fest and we gave their straight ahead trip hop a second try. With elements of jazz, the two horns, and plenty of effects on top of a clubby rhythm section in the cavernous Christ Church, it seems like it could work. The drummer and bass player had success with Portishead but here their instruments had a wide dull rumble-like sound like a band down the street rehearsing. We left after two songs so I should shut up.

Subtropic performing at the 2012 Rochester International Jazz Festival
Subtropic performing at the 2012 Rochester International Jazz Festival

Goran Kafjes Subtropic Arkestra at the Lutheran Church borrowed the the name of Sun Ra’s band. They built their songs around somewhat repetitive keyboard progressions and with seven players, they managed to sound like a big band but they didn’t swing like Ra or visit the astral planes. Jonas Kullhammer was in the band which was sort of odd. He was such a dynamo with his own quartet in years past. But still I liked this band quite a bit. It was trumpet player Goran Kafjes’s birthday. Their music was fun like a Bollywood soundtrack.

Yggdrasil performing at the 2012 Rochester International Jazz Festival
Yggdrasil performing at the 2012 Rochester International Jazz Festival

Ingmar Bergman comes from the Faroe Islands and there is something of that austere quality in Yggdrasil’s delicate sensitive music. Like the early, hippie, new age ensembles Paul Winter Consort or Oregon, they look for inspiration close to the earth. Yggdrasil performed a beautiful nine part piece devoted to the Inuit and Native American tribes of North and South America. With chanting, piano, bass, flutes, violin, drums and an electric guitar player in a Pink Floyd shirt, they were quite extraordinary.

Annie Wells performing at the 2012 Rochester International Jazz Festival
Annie Wells performing at the 2012 Rochester International Jazz Festival

Last stop of the night was the Little Theater where we were just in time to catch Annie Wells last song, “Heroin and People” by Dave Ripton. That’s the great Phil Marshall on guitar and Margaret Explosion‘s Ken Frank on bass. I’m happy to see the Jazz Fest has incorporated the Little events into the nightly listings on their festival website.

Kid trumpeter at the 2012 Rochester International Jazz Festival
Kid trumpeter at the 2012 Rochester International Jazz Festival

This kid, who looks like he stepped out of a Norman Rockwell painting, was set up behind the Eastman Theater. His mom arranged the seed money in the case and probably dressed him as well. He sounded pretty good and I clapped for him. The creep standing next to us said, “Don’t encourage him.” 

Tom Harrell performing at the 2012 Rochester International Jazz Festival
Tom Harrell performing at the 2012 Rochester International Jazz Festival

We saw Tom Harrell a few years back and really enjoyed him. “Enjoyed” is not the right word. He is a serious musician. Last night he played his arrangments of Debussy and Ravel with his Chamber Ensemble. The program said nine piece but who’s counting? This line-up included piano, violin, cello, upright bass, soprano/tenor sax, flute and drums, each among the best players we’ve seen at the Jazz Fest ever. All reading but with such confidence and rock solid feel they brought this rich music to life. Is it too early to call “Best of the Fest?”

ivor with Yggdrasil performing at the 2012 Rochester International Jazz Festival
ivor with Yggdrasil performing at the 2012 Rochester International Jazz Festival

Eivor, the Danish vocalist who played the Lutheran Church with Yggdrasil as a backing band, is a primordal force. I couldn’t understand what she was singing even when it was an English Shakesperean Sonnet but it didn’t matter. Her gothic songs transported us to another time in a far off place.

Luca Ciarla Quartet performing at the 2012 Rochester International Jazz Festival
Luca Ciarla Quartet performing at the 2012 Rochester International Jazz Festival

We were the first ones in line outside the Rochester Club for Luca Ciarla Quartet while the line for the Cuban band at Kilbourn, a show that started at the same time, had already wrapped around the corner and was confusing itself with the line we started. The “Mediterranean Gypsy Jazz” moniker works well for these guys. Laid back, warm and friendly, their personalties carry over to their sound. The crowd went nuts when violin, accordion, double bass and hand drums got into overdrive but they kept the volume in check and always followed it up with something sweet. From Monk to Nino Roto-like tunes, they reached beyond the gypsy songbook. The accordion player was outstanding. 

Ninety Miles performing at the 2012 Rochester International Jazz Festival
Ninety Miles performing at the 2012 Rochester International Jazz Festival

Ninety Miles (distance from US to Cuba) at Kilbourn was still happening so we popped in for their last rambunctious number. Sort of seemed liked a loud jam session but we missed the buildup.

Street band near Abilene performing at the 2012 Rochester International Jazz Festival
Street band near Abilene performing at the 2012 Rochester International Jazz Festival

These guys were set up on the street in front of the apartment building near Abilene. They had a bowl full of money and were all smiles when we walked by

Abilene band performing at the 2012 Rochester International Jazz Festival
Abilene band performing at the 2012 Rochester International Jazz Festival

We had some time with no agenda and decided to walk over to Harro East but there was a line, and there was one at the Lutheran Church as well, so on to Abilene where a band called “Ha Ha Tonka” were cranking out some ordinariness. We peeked in the tent and moved along.

Catherine Russell performing at the 2012 Rochester International Jazz Festival
Catherine Russell performing at the 2012 Rochester International Jazz Festival

The line we found in front of Harro East (remember when this place was the Triangle Theater and Wease worked the door and they had all those great reggae acts?) was gone so we stopped in for few songs. I like Catherine Russell’s great voice when she’s not belting it out.

Monophonics performing at the 2012 Rochester International Jazz Festival
Monophonics performing at the 2012 Rochester International Jazz Festival

The line we found in front of Harro East (remember when this place was the Triangle Theater and Wease worked the door and they had all those great reggae acts?) was gone so we stopped in for few songs. I like Catherine Russell’s great voice when she’s not belting it out.

Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey performing at the 2012 Rochester International Jazz Festival
Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey performing at the 2012 Rochester International Jazz Festival

Before this show we were talking to a fellow Jazz Fest passenger, a stranger, who said he has a problem with the Xerox venue because he always falls asleep. The auditorium’s warm sound is perfect for some acts and Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey is one of them. Man, did they sound great! Aptly named, the Odyssey wanders all over the musical map, with songs arranged but open like a free-range playground. They performed a group of songs from their new album, “The Race Riot Suite,” written by the pedal-steel player. Tulsa at one time had a thriving black community and this music aptly rekindles that swinging advanced civilization. We’ve seen these guys at two earlier festivals and they keep getting better and crazier. Wow! 

Pedrito Martinez Group performing at the 2012 Rochester International Jazz Festival
Pedrito Martinez Group performing at the 2012 Rochester International Jazz Festival

The blurb in the Jazz Fest program cited Steve Gadd and Herlin Riley as fans of the Afro-Cuban rumba band, Pedrito Martinez. Despite a few sound problems, bad enough to force them to stop in the middle of a song, this four piece (I was sitting so close I could only get three in at a time) was all smiles and as energetic as a new wave band.

Nicholas Peyton performing at the 2012 Rochester International Jazz Festival
Nicholas Peyton performing at the 2012 Rochester International Jazz Festival

We ran into a few friends who were leaving Nicholas Peyton XXX at the Xerox Auditorium and we asked how the show was. They said the band was “strangely noncommittal” and this seemed like an odd comment so of course we had to see for ourselves. They predisposed us to this diagnosis but we had to agree. The auditorium was full (where were all these people when Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssy played here last night?) and the the three musicians played like they were a pickup band at a wine tasting. The electric bass was a letdown. Most of the venues have such great acoustics there is really no excuse for a one dimensional bass sound (I suppose it did let the drummer play louder) and Nicholas Peyton kept switching instruments for no apparent reason. 

Sunna GunnlaugTrio performing at the 2012 Rochester International Jazz Festival
Sunna GunnlaugTrio performing at the 2012 Rochester International Jazz Festival

Sunna Gunnlaugs Trio sounded just right in the Lutheran Church. The Icelandic pianist has a rolling beautiful Dollar Brand-like sound, full of melody and rhythm. She didn’t really need the two other players and could easily have handled the gig herself in Keith Jarret style. Her melodies could support a dozen romantic movie soundtracks/

FraserFiField performing at the 2012 Rochester International Jazz Festival
Fraser FiField performing at the 2012 Rochester International Jazz Festival

Fraser FiField plays bagpipes, saxophone, percussion and whistles of every stripe. He’ a walking encyclopedia of Celtic sounds and his guitar player provides the rhythmic framework for playtime. The use this cavernous space perfectly.

Bill Dobbins does Ellington performing at the 2012 Rochester International Jazz Festival
Bill Dobbins does Ellington performing at the 2012 Rochester International Jazz Festival

“Bill Dobbins Plays Ellington” at Hatch Recital Hall was a history lesson in jazz. Bill started with a song from 1928, played without charts and talked about Duke between each song. The acoustics are perfect in here. Notice the absence of mics or amps.

Tommy Smith Karma performing at the 2012 Rochester International Jazz Festival
Tommy Smith Karma performing at the 2012 Rochester International Jazz Festival

Can you imagine a less imaginative name than Tommy Smith and Karma? Sounds like something a group of music students would think of. In fact the band members were reading charts and almost made Tommy appear swinging. They had a mild Weather Report like sound. I could have used a lot more stormy.

Newt performing at the 2012 Rochester International Jazz Festival
Newt performing at the 2012 Rochester International Jazz Festival

I’m getting a little tired of kilts at the Jazz fest. They’re silly and that’s as far as they go, so it presents a hurdle for a group that wears them. With guitar, trombone and drums (a bass would only have muddied the waters in the Christ Church hall) NeWt played songs that they wrote on a remote island in northern Scotland and painted a picture of a bleak and sometimes beautiful spot.

IPA performing at the 2012 Rochester International Jazz Festival
IPA performing at the 2012 Rochester International Jazz Festival

PA is a real jazz band in that they write songs with heads and tails around midsections with plenty of room to roam around, something all four musicians were equipped to to do. They sounded fantastic in the Lutheran Church. I especially liked the bass player and loved listening to him lay down a solid bed while bouncing off the instruments at the same time both giving and taking.

Pedrito Martinez Group performing at the 2012 Rochester International Jazz Festival
Pedrito Martinez Group performing at the 2012 Rochester International Jazz Festival

We stopped by the back of the tent to listen to a bit of Pedrito Martinez Group and next thing we knew three of the members came out the back of the tent while Pedrito was doing his percussion solo. The cowbell player, a key player in Afro Cuban music, invited us back in so we took in the rest of their show from the side of the stage. They sounded great.

Kneebody performing at the 2012 Rochester International Jazz Festival
Kneebody performing at the 2012 Rochester International Jazz Festival

Steve Martin sold out two shows at the Eastman Theater, if you can believe that, so that took quite a few people off the streets. We were in plenty early for Kneebody at Montage in fact if we had waltzed in five minutes before showtime we could have sat right next to ourselves at the front table. Four out five players in this band are alums of the Eastman School of Music so this was a bit of a homecoming. They don’t swing, they are too young and modern for that, but they are very musical. Their beats are maniacal and the fender bass and electric piano lean progressive but the two horns on top give them a unique sound. Kneebody was like a joyride.

Osian Roberts Steve Fishwick Quintet performing at the 2012 Rochester International Jazz Festival
Osian Roberts Steve Fishwick Quintet performing at the 2012 Rochester International Jazz Festival

We stopped in at Christ Church just long enough to determine we didn’t want to stay. Osian Roberts / Steve Fishwick Quintet were just too straight ahead for us old timers.” 

FFEAR performing at the 2012 Rochester International Jazz Festival
FFEAR performing at the 2012 Rochester International Jazz Festival

FFEAR (Forum For Electro Acoustic Research) is an arty combo with Ole and Per Mathisen on tenor sax and bass, Chris Washburne on trombone and NYC”s “first call” drummer, Tony Moreno (his left hand is unbelievable). They play with odd meters, a few at a time, and microtonality. This is challenging music but they were so varied and rich they managed to sound far bigger than a four piece. Near the end of their set they interrupted and played scores that were drawn by a visual artist friend and projected on the screen behind them.

Terje Rypdal performing at the 2012 Rochester International Jazz Festival
Terje Rypdal performing at the 2012 Rochester International Jazz Festival

We primed ourselves for Terje Rypdal’s Rochester appearance by listening to his 1975 album, Odyssey, the one with him smiling, sitting in the back of an open van with his guitar and equipment. We grabbed front row seats in the Xerox Auditorium, right in front of a an orange-red, Fender Strat with a whammy bar on a stand between stereo Vox amps. Terje performed most of his 2010 recording, “Crime Scene,” with Bergen Big Band (a thirteen piece horn section with three bass clarinets plus drums) set up stage left and his core band (Hammond B3, electric piano, additional guitar, bass, drums and Palle Mikkelborg on trumpet bathed in reverb) stage right. The 20 piece band came out first and then Terje, 38 years after Odyssey, with the support of a cane. Terje’s trademark sound has a distinct mood that has not changed since the seventies and his score for big band has only made it darker and richer. We felt like we had entered a dream state and couldn’t wait for the second show.

The Abney Effect performing at the 2012 Rochester International Jazz Festival
The Abney Effect performing at the 2012 Rochester International Jazz Festival

New Orlean’s “The Abney Effect” had a good dose of Bootsy in their sound samples but it was not to be in their stripped down Montage show. They leaned jazz here and lost their groove. 

Ruthie Foster performing at the 2012 Rochester International Jazz Festival
Ruthie Foster performing at the 2012 Rochester International Jazz Festival

Texas’ Ruthie Foster and the Family Band packed the Harro East with solid, gospel-tinged, bluesy music. Ruthie has a fantastic voice and could sing anything. You don’t often hear three women (guitar, bass and drums) dig this deep and I dug it.

Terje Rypdal performing at the 2012 Rochester International Jazz Festival
Terje Rypdal performing at the 2012 Rochester International Jazz Festival

Back at Xerox Auditorium for the second show of Terje Rypdal and the Bergen Big Band we found two front row seats when some people tore out of there as soon as the music started. The band, performing the same music, illustrated how much room there is to move in this piece. They create their own cinematic landscape and I kept finding myself with my mouth hanging open. The band was having more fun this time and Terje’s solos were wilder. In fact after the show we told Terje we had heard both shows and he said, “You’re crazy.” We told him we thought the second show was wilder, and he said, “Yes, I liked it better, it was wilder.”

Roy Haynes performing at the 2012 Rochester International Jazz Festival
Roy Haynes performing at the 2012 Rochester International Jazz Festival

At 87 Roy Haynes would really rather just talk than play the drums. He tap danced as he took the stage and is living proof that music keeps you young. His band plays jazz the old fashioned way, not precious, not muscular but loose and swinging. They sounded their best on the ballads and that comes with age.

Terje Rypdal performing at the 2012 Rochester International Jazz Festival
Terje Rypdal performing at the 2012 Rochester International Jazz Festival

There was no question as to where we would be tonight – in the front row for performance number three of Terje Rypdal and the Bergen Big Band’s “Crime Scene.” Like Peggi said, “When the choice is between music that transports you and music that doesn’t, there really is no choice.” Palle Mikkelborg entered from the rear of the church with his wireless, reverb drenched mic stuck to the front of his trumpet playing “Stranger In Paradise.

Terje Rypdal performing at the 2012 Rochester International Jazz Festival
Terje Rypdal performing at the 2012 Rochester International Jazz Festival

Terje is not asleep. He’s listening. If someone snapped a shot of us while we were taking this music in we’d look pretty much the same. We were anxious to compare the sound of this room to the warm Xerox Auditorium. Much livelier here with its cold hard church surfaces, Palle Mikkelborg’s trumpet and Terje’s guitar sounded better but the bass and drums lost definition and the horns did not sound as clear. But the atmosphere was just right for the “Crime Scene” drama to unfold. A true crime buff, Peggi had scripted all the parts of this masterpiece. She knew when the crime happened, when the getaway occurred, when the crowd was just standing around gawking and then of course when the crime was solved. This was dramatically cinematic. The Jazz Festival pulled out all the stops in booking this incredible band.

Steve Grills performing at the 2012 Rochester International Jazz Festival
Steve Grills performing at the 2012 Rochester International Jazz Festival

On our way to the car we worked our way around the free stages in the street and found Steve Grills and the Roadmasters playing in front of the Inn on Broadway. They sounded great. 

Mederic Collignon performing at the 2012 Rochester International Jazz Festival
Mederic Collignon performing at the 2012 Rochester International Jazz Festival

Mederic Collignon is a dynamo. He wigs out on stage, skat singing and doing the human beat box thing. He sings distorted wah guitar parts and synth sounds. He also distills Miles’ “Bitches Brew” era with an incredible economy and most of this credit goes to his three piece backup band. They are so much more than backup. The Fender Rhodes player covers the melodic multiple keys in Miles’ big band and he contributes a concise pulse at the same time. The bass player was minimal and solid as a rock leaving holes a mile wide for their frenzied drummer. They and Mederic channelled my favorite Miles period better than anyone I have ever heard except, of course, Miles.

Arun Ghosh Quintet performing at the 2012 Rochester International Jazz Festival
Arun Ghosh Quintet performing at the 2012 Rochester International Jazz Festival

Arun Ghosh Quintet, an English by way of Calcutta clarinetist, sounded best in Christ Church doing a song based on the folk music of his native India. The bombastic sound of his small group, the venue’s fault, just didn’t live up to the sinewy middle-eastern tracks we previewed.

Hakon Kornstad performing at the 2012 Rochester International Jazz Festival
Hakon Kornstad performing at the 2012 Rochester International Jazz Festival

Hakon Kornstad was the perfect ending to what I would consider the best Jazz Fest yet. He plays solo sax and improvises on his own sketches. He plays with the sound of the room and prefers churches like this one and the one across the street from his home in Oslo where he has recorded an album. He is like the performers you catch in a subway, except in this case, your train doesn’t come for an hour and you are perfectly content. Kornstad plays with an obsolete sampler/looper and creates his own organic, rhythmic and sometimes synthetic sounding backing tracks. He continues to improvise over this and quote “Summertime” in case you forgot where you were. On top of all this, he whistles and plays flute and then sings arias from his favorite operas. This was a beautiful performance and one of our favorites.

Locarno performing at the 2012 Rochester International Jazz Festival
Locarno performing at the 2012 Rochester International Jazz Festival

We stuck our heads in the tent, sort of afraid to go in the front door because the sound system is so big, and found a band we had not read anything about. They sang a few songs in Spanish but spoke English between songs. The guitar player sounded Mexican and they introduced the trumpet player as being from Cuba but the rhythm section could have been backing John Cougar. (They did a Cumbia without the Cumbia beat.) Locarno is an international pop band and a lot of fun. 

The Sadies performing at the 2012 Rochester International Jazz Festival
The Sadies performing at the 2012 Rochester International Jazz Festival

We finished the night over at Abilene, the “New Hillbilly” venue, where we caught the beginning of The Sadies second set. They were loud enough to drown out the loud people that conjugate in the back of this tent. (You could hardly tell Neil Young’s “Americana” lp was cranked on the sound system during the break). Their opening instrumentals, one sounding like a Sergio Leon outtake, were raucous and fun like an eighties band.

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