We have been to every Rochester International Jazz Festival and I take a few notes on the acts we catch.
The line for Christain McBride at Kilbourn Hall was too long (where were all these people when McBride performed here a few months ago?) so we headed over to Xerox for the Thiefs. They were pretty cool but the drummer/lead singer was shy of all things. The trio of sax, bass and drums each had effects pedals which they used liberally. The tenor player had more effects boxes than Bob Martin and sampled a few loops to add to the guitar sounds the drummer was getting from the box on his floor tom.
Kat Edmundson was “cute.” That is the one word description we heard from multiple sources. Her performance at the Little Theater, with only acoustic guitar accompaniment, was disarmingly charming and quite unique
Wegmans hired a chalk artist to paint this Jazz Fest ad for their new Italian restaurant. Did you expect art at the Jazz Fest? They paid pretty for this prime piece of sidewalk.
Robin McKelle & The Flytones looked and sounded like an eighties band or a band you might want to hire for your next high school reunion. They played organ fueled, soul covers or songs that borrowed from sixties’ songs but McKelle has one hell of a voice.
Someday we’ll get the nerve up to find out what goes on in this VIP Jazz Fest tent.
I felt kind of sorry for Dr. John, up there on the main stage on Chestnut Street banging out gris gris classics to the throngs. Can this be fulfilling on any but financial grounds?
We started day two with the Brighton High School Jazz Band. My nephews, Eli and Caleb, are in the horn section and that’s Jack Schaefer’s son on guitar. Jack often sits in with Margaret Explosion on guitar and bass clarinet.
My father and mother were in the crowd, watching their grandsons perform with the Brighton band and they asked me where they could eat around here. We never eat at the festival so I told them I really didn’t have any good suggestions.There are plenty of food trucks on the street. I pictured them in line for Gourmet Mac and Cheese.
We passed the Bud Light crew having some some sort of pow wow before the crowds filled the streets for free shows.
I managed to get all nine of Norway’s Trondheim Jazz Orchestra in this one shot but I wasn’t able to get the two shamen-like performers/dancers in there. This was quite a show as band members paraded through the room, pantomimed and at one point all fell over. But all these theatrics couldn’t get in the way of their delightful soundtrack. I was picturing myself at a European circus where things went amuck and we were involved in some sort of crazy caper.
Sienna Dahlen was fantastic. Singing with a marvelous, understated (the drummer often played with his fingers) trio, she played some guitar and piano and conjured up the ghost of Tim Buckley’s early jazz explorations. She has an incredible voice and the band gives her the room she deserves. Her vocals shape the strange, dreamy, minor key songs and in the Lutheran Church she stretched the forms with the perfectly suited ambiance. I couldn’t tell what she was singing about but it didn’t matter in the least.
These guys have played the last five festivals or so and it was good to see them making some money. The “LPW Summer Jam” plays the sidewalk on Liberty Pole Way.
John Mooney was a Rochester favorite in the mid seventies, holding down a regular gig at the Mendon Cottage Hotel. He shuffled off to New Orleans where he made his mark and last night he reunited with Rochester’s Brian Williams (Bob Henrie & the Goners) and Bob Cooper (Peggi bought her red Farfisa organ from Bob when we played in the Hi-Techs) at Abilene. The band tore it up.
The Shuffle Demons have been here many times now. The players have changed but not the suits. They are a festival favorite and can usually get a pretty good snake dance going.
The Xerox employees were desperate to get someone in their tent to “be moved” on the JazzCam. I am happy they’re still around to sponsor the Jazz Fest but their promotional schemes are wacky.
The cellist with the Christian Wallumrod Ensemble set the mood as she closed her eyes and listened to the band leader’s harmonium at the beginning of their performance at the Lutheran Church. The evening’s music seemed to be of a complete piece as the set progressed but apparently they were playing compositions from three different releases. Their set was so pristine, so studied, it was hard to believe the six players were not reading charts. Minimal, like Morton Feldman, there was room for improvisation but that would only have risked shattering the exceptionally beautiful sound sculpture.
Rochester’s Ritmo Seis packed the big tent with their northern merengue. They sounded so good in the hot weather they were drawing anyone with ears in the downtown area. This is dance music and they featured a couple dancing on stage to illustrate their point.
Christine Tobin had Gabriel Byrne as Spanish teacher in second grade in Ireland and she recently secured his voice talents for a few tracks on her new cd. She has a huge voice and tackles big subjects with apocalyptic themes from Yeats and even Lenard Cohen.
The club Montage always seems on the verge of falling apart. Sporatic metal shows through the year and then they open their door for Jazz Fest. At one time they had food here but now they have one server on hand and were on the verge of running out of beer.
If only the hyperactive Kevin Breit would skip the shred tendencies in his solos, his band would have a killer sound. We stood in the back of the room for a bit and were next to a guy doing a Joe Cooker air guitar imitation complete with wild tongue action making it was clear that guitar players love Kevin Breit. The band includes Dave Brubeck’s son on electric cello and Jesse Stewart on drums. Jessie has played with Roswell Rudd, Bill Dixon, William Parker, Evan Parker, Joe McPhee and Pauline Olivero, all heroes of the avant-garde, but his playing was grounded and so right on he could make any band sound great. The Stretch Orchestra has a Frisell Intercontinentals vibe and they opened with their best song and performed a gorgeous version of Moon River with bowed cello.
Reggae sounds good anytime but it sounds best in high humidity. The Jazz Jamaica-like, Courtney Pine track we sampled online sounded like just the ticket to start the night off with. We put our earplugs in and sat down near the front of Harro Ballroom. Courtney came out wearing an official Great Britain hockey jersey. His soprano sax has two mics mounted on it and once he started playing he did not stop. He plays music like a professional athlete plays their sport and it was all a little too muscular for us.
Alfredo Rodriguez played percussion before studying piano in his native Cuba. All three parts of his sensational trio are incredibly rhythmic and they easily handled the evening’s complicated, gnarly musical interchanges but they knocked me out with a gentle romantic ballad. Unfortunately, that led directly into some sort of laptop experiment and we left for the next venue.
We couldn’t pass by the small Gibbs Street stage without stopping for the New Horizons Vintage Jazz Band. This is what Margaret Explosion will look like in a few years.
These horn players are cousins. They wrote a joyous song about this and played it last night. These guys were pure, old-school, jazz without any of the stock trading-fours nonsense. The Greenfield-Rosenberg Quartet have unique, elastic arrangements of Monk songs “Well, You Needn’t” and “Monks Mood,” their tribute song called “Ornetticism” and other solid tunes of their own.
Michael Wollny is a fleet fingered wonder. The classically trained German pianist is not constrained by jazz conventions and even worked Schubert into his wide open set at Max’s. He improvises with delight, reaching one hand into the piano or crossing hands in percussive patterns, making the piano sound like it was just invented.
ulian Arguelles Quartet have the craziest website. We went there before planning our stops tonight and found a new age-like track playing on the home page and then some raucous videos of the band playing live. We had both tracks playing at once for a bit. We stopped in Christ Church and found he does indeed sound somewhere between these poles.
The Finish tenor saxophonist, Eero Koivistoinenv, played at the 1969 Newport jazz Festival. He has been around and years of jazz exploration shows in his playing. He reaches for the sky with his solos but I would have preferred him in a trio setting. The piano player in the quartet at the Lutheran Church closed all the spaces and appeared to be doing piano exercises at the band’s expense.
Djabe has managed to establish themselves as a “festival band” and this is easily their fifth or sixth appearance at this fest. Crowd pleasing, progressive elements like an extra string on the bass and electronic keyboards continue to pack the big tent leaving room for the rest of us to get into the other shows.
There is sure to be a resurgence in the popularity of the clarinet after hearing Anat Cohen’s set at Xerox Auditorium. She plays beautifully and has chosen her bandmates and material wisely. The band of pros played concise but loose and let Anat shine as she traveled the exotic world with Jitterburg Waltz, a popular Cuban song, a South African Ibrahim song and a Brazillian song by Milton Nascimento. We loved her. How could you not?
Local salsa band, Calle Uno, played the RG&E tent. We’ve seen them a few times and they create a party atmosphere without even trying. The tent was packed, people were dancing and kids were running around while the band did their thing.
According to the guy who sat down next to us in Xerox Auditorium, Howard Levy plays chromatically and can play any note in any key on any harmonica where most players have harmonicas for each key. He does all this by “overblowing and underflowing” to bend the notes. “Howard is the show,” he said emphatically. And then added, “Don’t worry about me. I’ll shut up as soon as the band starts.” Anat Cohen, the night before in this same room, had incorporated world music into a jazz setting with such remarkable sophistication I found it hard to sit through Trio Globo.
It was only a matter of time before rap worked its way into the Jazz Fest lineup. Oxford educated, Soweto Kinch plays tenor sax as well and the trio sounded fine that way. The vocal parts were lost in the big church ambience.
Margaret Explosion played two sets at the Little Theater Jazz Tent, dusting off “Floating at the Bug Jar” from their first cd and then cracking open some new material. CDs may be dead but sales were brisk.
Zoe Rahman performed a suite of songs that touched on her Irish/Bengali heritage. She plays piano with a rich mix of classical and jazz as well. She dedicated her version of an Abdullah Ibrahim song to the ailing Nelson Mandela and gave her bass player plenty of room for a rousing solo.
Sweden’s Jacob Karlzon 3 have an exhilarating sound. They enjoy winding each other up and cited Korn as an influence on a particularly hard driving song. For me they sounded best on a long slow-building, trance-like tune that Karlzon introduced as a song about people leaving their home country for a better life. The song was the perfect setting for some sensational double bass playing.
We stopped in the Little Theater to check out Rudresh Mahanthappas GAMAK but we didn’t last long. Just count the strings on the instruments of the two players on the left of this photo. There is an enthusiastic crowd for muscular fusion but it does not include me.
From the back of the stage outside of the tent at Abilene it was hard to understand what Garland Jeffreys was singing about. Choruses included references to “R O C K” and “Radio” and “Modern Love” and “96 Tears.” To our ears they sounded like a bar band doing Elvis Costello and the Attractions.
The Cuban pianist, Hilario Duran, convinced my ears that there were two keyboard players on stage. His syncopated lefthand chords and righthand flights of fancy sounded like they were coming from two distinctly different instruments. And his playing was thrilling. We could have settled in here but the night was young.
We were really excited about hearing Phronesis. We loved their set at the Festival two years ago and listen to their cd often but we were a little concerned about how they would sound in the cavernous Christ Church. We found seats in the first row and they sounded better than last time. The young band is maturing and the lyrical piano player and frenetic drummer push the bass led songs into rich, musical waters.
The Dirty Dozen Brass Band are a half dozen short by my count but they get the party going. By the second song they were getting people out of their chairs in the big tent with the real New Orleans deal.
Youn Sun Nah & Ulf Wakenius came on like a morphine drip opening with a slow, minimal thumb piano and voice version of “My Favorite Things.” Pristine and somehow detached from their material they managed to take the hurt out of “Hurt,” the NIN’s song that Johnny Cash killed before he died but Youn Sun Nah has an absolutely amazing voice and she delivered a completely unique take on Nat King Cole’s “Calypso Blues” and brought the house down.
Tim Berne SnakeOil easily held down the avant guard end of this year’s jazz festival. A quartet without a bass player or blues touchstones for that matter, saxophonist Tim Berne, with clarinet, piano and percussion, performed abstract compositions from the written page. Their music was like a breath of fresh air.
Tyson Naylor Trio sounded so good at Xerox Auditorium we didn’t want to leave. We hung around the merchandise table looking at their homemade t-shirts and picked up their recent cd. Piano player Tyson Naylor has the perfect band for his delicate, lyrical songs. They were more connected and tuned into each other’s playing than any other band at the fest and used dynamics to a cinematic effect.
How to describe The Blaggards? Well, they have a sign behind them with a tagline and I see the tagline written on the bass drum head so how about “Stout Irish Rock” or maybe “We put the bombast in The Pogues.” But I have enough Irish in me to enjoy them.
Festival Promoter John Nugent pulled a rabbit out of his hat by scheduling Monty Alexander’s Harlem-Kingston Express on one of the big East Avenues stages going head to head with Trombone Shorty. Monty was our festival favorite from a few years ago and this setting – Monty sitting amidst two bands, his jazz trio with drums and double bass on the left and his Jamaican band on the right – was nothing short of magical. Each band was featured and they traded portions of songs and all played at once while Monty winged it in true jazz master fashion. Only a seasoned performer and top shelf entertainer could handle two electrical outages in the middle of the set by picking up his melodica and getting the crowd to sing along on the Banana Boat song.
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