We have been to every Rochester International Jazz Festival and I take a few notes on the acts we catch.
Not much of a lineup for opening night but we did find a gem.
Girls In Airports will probably reconsider their moniker when they get a little older. A five piece from Denmark, they appeared here as a foursome with a sax player who was filling in for their regular two players. The keyboardist’s layered, sweeping, full range soundscape was the foundation with drums on one side and a percussionist on the other and a breathy saxophonist. There was no lead instrument, just dreamy textural magic.
Something billed as”Celebrating Art Blakey with the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra Sextet” packed the house at Montage. The Eastman’s Bill Dobbins was sitting in on piano. The band sounded great. A bright and clear mix thanks to Matt Guarnere. This band was way in the the tradition of late fifties, early sixties jazz. As you can tell by the photo they dutifully took turns playing solos.
We have seen/heard Bill Frisell many times over the years in many different settings and he is always engaging. His trio, he has few, was here last night with Tony Scherr and Kenny Wollesen, the perfect accompanists. The trio’s music revolves around Bill. It is a one way street and that has always sort of bothered me but there is a lot to love, especially the way he snuggles up to the American songbook and sentimental Americana classics. He sometimes gets enamored with gnarly samples, tries to make something of them by playing along, but most of the night was lovely.
Switch was tearing it up in the street. The band tip box was was chocked with quiet money and the singer, a commanding force, had East Avenue full of people doing dance moves in unison.
Empirical, a quartet with alto, vibes, bass and drums, played so well it was stunning. Four equal parts or three if they broke it down. Breezy but with complicated parts, not studied but played. With beautiful songs this band was full of musical ideas and a real joy.
Eastman graduate, Jared Schonig, now lives in New York where here stays busy playing with Tom Harrell and Broadway plays. He was here a few years back with the Wee Trio. At the Wilder Room, where they played mostly his compositions, he worked a muscular Bad Plus sound as well as delicate arrangements of some beautiful songs.
The Campbell Brothers, Rochester’s foot-stompin’, steel pedal, gospel soul soul giants were doing “A Love Supreme” when we we walked in to he tent on Parcel 5..
We stopped in to hear a bit Jostein Gulbrandsen hoping the band would sound better that the sound samples we had previewed. I have a hard time the tradition jazz guitar sound and the flurry of notes that usually comes with that. We skipped this venue last night for the same reason.
You can tel these are Eastman students on Belgium Beer Garden patio. They are all dressed in black.
ECM artist, Kit Downes, improvised on the eighteen century Craighead-Saunders Christ Church organ. He was up in the balcony and he couldn’t see us but we could see him on the giant screen in front of the alter. Interesting but tough getting this machine to swing.
Brazilian percussionist, Cyro Baptista, played with Laurie Anderson, Gato Barbieri, David Byrne, Dr. John, Brian Eno, Milton Nascimento, Carlos Santana and Caetano Veloso. He has been here a few times, always with a completely different band, and he is always irresistibly entertaining. Joyous Brazilian rhythms are the foundation of his music but his ensembles, exceptional team players, work with the full palette of world music. They opened the set we saw with a Don Cherry composition.
Paa Kow’s Ghanaian Afro-Fusion orchestra was a bit unwieldily at Montage. The eight piece group would build grooves a crescendo and then unceremoniously peter out. But the groove was great.
Finland’s Kari Ikonen has been here four times, the last with drummer, Ra-Kalam Bob Moses and sax player, Ole Mathisen. Their first piece here was titled “The Soup of Poisonous Mushrooms.” Kari Ikonen, on piano, is a rich, lyrical player with delicate but grand themes. The bass and drums seamlessly interweave and develop Ikonen’s ideas. Ikonen took a few minutes to retune the grand piano with a device that allowed him to play a beautiful piece in an Arabic scale. This was a beautiful set.
Kit Downes’ trio at Christ Church, a group called ENEMY, suffered only in that we had just come from a similar trio, Kari Ikonen, who had handled their tunes in such such a delicate manor.
Adam Ben Erza, a YouTube sensation, accompanies himself on bass with loops, effects pedals and keyboards. He manages to produce an unpleasant wall of sound.
Harold Mabern, a Memphis piano player who has worked with a long list jazz luminaries (Lee Morgan, Sonny Rollins, Hank Mobley, Freddie Hubbard and Miles Davis) held court at Hatch Hall. He began his set at the mic, asking the crowd if they had any questions. Apparently he enjoys teaching more than playing these days. He demonstrated how one could jazz up a nursery rhythm. He took requests and sounded great.
The soft spoken tenor saxophonist, Trish Clowes, led this four piece with Hammond organ, guitar and the same drummer we heard play last night with Enemy. Their compositions slipped between very pretty and angular. The Hammond organ sounded great with Clowes cinematic tenor parts but the arrangements mucked everything up for me.
Any idea why they keep the lights on while the band is playing at the Wilder Room? Under One Sun started with a nice gypsy thing but it quick turned into all all out romp. Peggi was bothered by the sound of the soprano sax. We’ve heard the bass player, Roberto Occhipinti a few times and really like his playing. They need an arranger.
We picked up a beer on the street and wandered into the Chestnut Street tent where we saw some friends. Funknut took the stage while we talking and within ten seconds they were in full dance mode. Solid, old school party funk. This band was great.
Ian Shaw is jaw dropingly good. A real pro. From Peggy Lee to Leonard Cohen, you could put any song in his hands and he would reinterpret it and still protect it. He killed Jimmy Webb’s “Lineman for the County” and his own songs, like the one projecting what might have been if his brother had not died, can bring you to tears. He is a sensation!
I loved this Camp Roc Star band. Only heard two songs but they had it all. Poise, attitude, chops and songs. First one sounded as good as Joy Division. Second one, a duet with the two kids on the right, was Top 40 material.
Over the years, when Ornette was still alive, I would go to the racks looking for a new release and right next to my man’s empty section there was a George Coleman section. Disappointing by association, but here was George Coleman in person, at eighty some odd years old. His Quartet included Harold Mabern on piano and two sprightly (50ish) players. Peggi was distracted but the bass player’s golf attire and I was thinking the two elder statesmen would have sounded much better with someone their own age. Festival organizer, John Nugent, sitting in on the opening number only drove this point home.
Paul McCandless played with both the Paul Winter Consort and Oregon. Seems like we might have heard Paul Winter at Nazereth back in the seventies. The Charged Particles (keyboards, six-string bass and hard-hitting drums) played with a little too much oomph and very little space.
Before heading out we checked out DH’s Random/Control’s YouTube video of Chick Corea’s “Spain” and found it too tightly arranged to be a comfortable listen. But I’m glad we didn’t blow them off. Without a bass player or proper drummer they covered a lot of ground. Each of them played a variety of instruments, sometimes at the same time. The piano player lead this group through imaginative reinterpretations of songs by his favorite piano players. Abdullah Ibrahim and Ellington were in the mix. A very enjoyable night.
Spaga at Wilder Room with Disco Biscuits’ keyboardist and founding member Aron Magner on piano and an amazing bass player played jazz like rock players. They tore it up in the first song. The bass played has a full pedal board but he used it so tastefully. You can’t take your ears off him. The interplay between the piano and bass was sensational. The poor drummer needed a little more personality to keep up with them.
Brooklyn trumpeter, Itamar Borochov, had a beautiful dark tone and immediately set an exotic mood in Christ Church. The bass player was as melodic as the piano player and the quartet sounded great.
Dutch tenor saxophonist, Yuri Honing, performing with the third great bass player of the evening, was a real treat. Honing’s moody, minor key melodies introduce each song and the piano and bass player develop a rich soundscape around them. They are not afraid to empty a song out and then build in intensity before landing just as gently. Peggi said, “It is so nice to hear no overplaying.” Check out “Desire” by Yuri Honing on Spotify.
Finish piano player, Tuomo Uusitalo, brought pretty melodies to this quartet. The saxophonist played like he was being forced to work with the compositions. The drummer had a delicate touch. They compositions remained in the abstract and with little foundation in the blues to solidify them. They did a song called “Pablo’s Insomnia” and that sort of nailed it.