We have been to every Rochester International Jazz Festival and I take a few notes on the acts we catch.
Mikkel Ploug Equilbrium, a three piece with vocals, soprano sax, finger-picked guitar and clarinets, was almost sleepy but too pretty to nod off to. Their gorgeous voicings of ethereal, melodic compositions drenched in reverb and delay was a perfect fit with the the Lutheran Church venue.
You can build an eight piece band around a good bass player. This guy had five strings but he never overplayed. Seattle’s Polyrythmics, in the big tent, sounded like a jam band but if they were really jamming it would all be a mess. They played solid grooves with the horn section dropping in and out like a reggae band. They get behind the bass player and keep it upbeat and listenable.
The Kent Sangster Obsessions Octet sounded a lot more cinematic and exotic on the recordings we checked out before we got here. In person they sounded more like Chuck Mangione. Their instrumentation, piano, three violins, cello, bass, drums and the leader on all manner of horns (a wind controller is hardly ever a good idea) could have gone anywhere.
At Harro East Kandace Springs played piano and sang mid-tempo, soulful jazz tunes. She was accompanied by bass and drums but she probably would have sounded better on her own. The band had a hard time following her loose, personal groove. She did a fantastic version of John Coltrane’s “Soul Eyes” which also serves as the title of her new album. She has a great voice and, of course, look.
Mats Eilertsen Trio, part of the Nordic Jazz Series at the Lutheran Church, was absolutely beautiful. The bass player is the leader and
the drummer and piano player gave his gorgeous playing plenty of space. As a band they listen intently and play as a whole. The drummer took the quietest drum solo I have ever heard. His minimal playing had a maximum impact. The band is so in tune with each other, playing as one, they were transcendent. I know the festival is young but this will probably be my favorite band this year.
Arild Andersen Trio opened with bowed bass and tons of delay. I hope they were recording because these ECM heavyweights sounded exactly like one of those far away, pristine Scandinavian recordings. Arild was joined by Tommy Smith on tenor and Paolo Vinacci on drums. Vinacci was last here with Terje Rypdal. They went from pretty to tough and then to a lullaby played on top of a bass loop. Makoto Ozone, who had played in a duo with Tommy Smith at Kilbourn on Saturday, joined the trio on piano for their second to last number, a gorgeous ballad, and then an all out romp.
Conga player, Pedrito Martinez, performed in Kilbourn Hall with his small but mighty Afro Cuban band. From left to right, cowbell, bass, congas and keyboards. Last time they were here, in 2012, we caught them at Montage and the tent. This time there was a sameness to the rhythms which are typically irresistible. They were all smiles, clearly having a good time, but they were banging it out like a club band instead of working it.
How many gypsy jazz bands does one festival need? Velvet Caravan, in the tent, added boogie woogie piano and latin rhythms to he international mix and managed to sound like an entertaining festival band. They did a cover that began as “Autumn Leaves” and evolved into either Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” or Mary Hopkin’s “Those Were The Days.”
If there was a catagory for gentlemen jazz, Scott Neumann Spin Cycle would fit. At the Little Theater they traded solos, got a little funky and played really well. Scott Neumann plays and teaches drums. This was his group. The guitar player, hidden behind the music stand, was a virtuoso and will have his own gig here tomorrow.
Judith Hill was with Prince when his plane made that emergency landing. She’s on his label and she needed an extra long sound check for some reason. Her dad plays bass and her mom plays the keys. At Anthology she opened in dramatic fashion playing a djembe and chanting but it got pretty ordinary after that, loud and ordinary. Every time they got near that gospel beat with the pounding keyboard chords I realized how much I missed Sly and the Family Stone. And Bootsy. And funk for that matter.
The Revelers in the big tent mixed their Cajun music with blues and even had a sax player in the mix. Perfect festival fair for a night in the nineties.
Drummer, Ikiz, of Ikiz Cabin Crew, was here in 2010 and 2013 playing with different groups. Here, at the Lutheran Church, he led a trio including trumpet and keyboards. Ikiz plays all sorts of extra percussion instruments as well, a frame drum, an electronic bass drum, water bowls. Interplay is not in their repertoire. This was Ikiz’s band. Their music, whether Swedish or Turkish folk songs or his originals, all moved at mid-tempo and never got exited. Steady, deliberate and pretty. He finished with a beautiful drum solo.
Street performers in front of Hatch Hall. That’s a drum on the left.
Nacka Forum is the name of one of saxophonist, Jonas Kullhammer’s, bands, one that was formed to explore music like the band’s heroes, Ornette, Art Ensemble and Sun Ra. With great players on trumpet, bass and drums they bring their European roots to the jazz table and pay tribute to the greats. Our jazz fest buddy, Hal Schuler, alerted us to the fact that this drummer was here with Blake Tartar, one of our favorite shows ever at Jazz Fest. Jonas has been here many times with other bands but he saved Jazz Fest 2016. Finally a real, loose, swinging, musical, jazz group in the tradition but completely out on their own.
The bass player, Avishai Cohen, and his trio of piano and drums sounded great in Harro East. I can’t remember ever hearing a band that sounded great in this hollow hall. Back when it was the Triangle Theater and all those reggae bands were coming through, they just used to crank it to get by. The drummer was able to play with brushes and even his hands while the bass was crisp and melodic and there was clarity in a full piano sound. Their tunes really took off and changed around every corner with dramatic shifts in color and intensity. They could get convoluted and and then start swinging ferociously. Cohen, who played with Chick Corea for years, is a pretty amazing player and band leader.
Mammal Hands, a trio from England, played their first ever date in the US at Christ Church where they channeled Philip Glass and Pharoah Sanders. Two brothers playing piano and tenor and soprano sax are joined by a drummer who plays repeating and ever shifting patterns. They keep this all together without a bass player and get quite hypnotic.
Nacka Forum opened with a rousing Sun Ra like unison horn number which quickly turned to an outside romp. And then they shifted gears for a few of the drummer’s songs which were surprisingly pretty for a guy wearing shorts, a bright green Ninja Turtle t-shirt and a matching trucker hat with “Fred Anderson” written on it. Both were tunes off their new album, “We Are The World.” The trumpet player did a conga drum solo and Jonas played both a clarinet and tenor sax at the same time. We loved this band at Kilbourn last night and they were just as good tonight.
Johannes Linstead Guitar of Fire played to a packed house in the big tent. Guitar of Fire is a little misleading. Johannes Linstead, a certified yoga instructor, plays universal festival music. A Canadian, his guitar playing sounds Spanish and his band worldly.
Jacky Terrasson, on piano with his trio at Montage, played mostly standards but not in a standard way. He played with them. Terrasson plays piano like a rhythm instrument, not that he wasn’t melodic first, and the bass player played like a drummer, crazy runs, pushing the piano. “My Favorite Things” with a nod to “Happy Birthday,” Michael Jackson’s “Beat It.” “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes,” gorgeous version of “You Don’t Know What Love Is” with a bit of “America The Beautiful” tacked on the end, and the third version of “Autumn Leaves” that we’ve heard at this festival. Nothing precious, no formulaic trading solos, just all out playing. Exhilarating!
Claudia Quintet, performing at Xerox Auditorium, played the Little Theater ten years ago. Led by drummer and Eastman School of Music graduate, John Hollenbeck, they play studied but casual chamber jazz. Vibraphone, bass, clarinet and tenor sax, accordion and drums make the quintet. Red Waring, from Rochester’s Respect Sextet, played the accordion. They looked small, clustered together in the large auditrium but that worked to their advantage as they drew you into their oddball compositions.
Cortex, a young quartet appearing at the Lutheran Church in their last of eight US gigs, got into high gear immediately and pretty much stayed there for the whole set. With the drums in the driver’s seat and the bass laying out the road map the tenor sax and trumpet burned it with unison parts at the head and tails solos throughout. They were channelling Coltrane and the greats.
Calle Uno played the free tent and drew a huge crowd. Nothing to write home about, this Rochester, New York alsa and Merengue band is home. They rule the roost and sounded especially good last night.
Lucky Chops, on the big stage where Midtown once was, were an all-out, fun party band. And, impressively, they did it all without bass or guitar. Just horns and drums or vocals. R&B horn lines, honking tuba and and a dncable beat. So simple. They had the crowd in the palm of their hands.
We saw Flat Earth Society a couple of years ago at Xerox and they sounded a bit like the Mothers of old, like Uncle Meat era. Last night at the Lutheran Church they did one of those songs, not sure which one it was but very familiar. There’s fourteen players in this band and the logistical problems are visible but if you close your eyes they are quite cinematic.
Orgone was billed as going after the raw soul sound of yesterday and they did a pretty good job with that.
Jacob’s Cattle, at the Little Theater with pedal steel, drums, bass and and steel guitar were so laid back they won us over. Their easy going country groove had a little African and Caribbean islandfeel in the mix. They were very enjoyable and transported us without even trying.
Takuya Kuroda, a young Japanese trumpet player on the Blue Note label, had a great bass player with a great groove but we’ve been spoiled big time. The loud electric bass in a large room with hard surfaces is no match for the clarity of the acoustic basses we heard everywhere else in this festival. Takuya’s sound is club like so he was a little mystified by the chairs that were carefully arranged in front of the stage. Nowherenear as heavy or funky as mid-seventies Miles but he has found a spot for jazz trumpet in a contemporary setting.
The Woods Brothers are sort of like a new hippie band. We heard a couple of their sound files, a cover of the Band’s “Ophelia” and the New Orleans classic, “I Got Loaded.” And when we stopped in front of the big stage were they were performing on the last night they sounded like they were channeling Leon Russel. I could be way off. They could have their own thing. I’ll give them another chance.