Rochester International Jazz Festival
We have been to every Rochester International Jazz Festival and I take a few notes on the acts we catch.
Entries from 2011 to the present are below
2002 – 2010 can be found HERE
We didn’t know the names so we listened to the samples and were left with only a few choices for the opening night of the Jazz Fest. More time to watch the three World Cup matches we had time shifted.
Seventeen years in and we are still able to find free parking downtown we walked by the old Milestones, what was once a venue for the festival, James Blood Ulmer comes to mind, and solo guitarist was playing in the parking lot patio. He had foot pedal rigged to play a tamborine and an old suitcase that played like a bass drum. Can’t even remember what he sounded like. We were on our way to the Xerox Auditorium and we were drawn into the Rhythm Dogs performance in front of the Inn on Broadway. Drawn, that is, by the rock solid R&B drummer, Laris Ashford. Anybody could have played anything in front of that guy. We only lasted a few minutes because it was painfully loud.
Alfredo Rodriguez and Pedrito Martinez at Xerox Auditorium were a pure joy to hear. We had heard both at past festivals in completely different settings, Rodriguez with his trio at Kilbourn and Martinez leading Cuban dance/pop ensembles. They played fast and furious and then slow and pretty. The classically trained pianist’s free flowing melodies worked magic with the rhythms of the Cuban streets. They played fast and furious and then slow and pretty. We were tempted to return for the second set but the World Cup called.
Marius Neset at the Lutheran Church went from dreamy pretty to frenetic in the same song. Their material was richly orchestrated and executed with near precision. We sat between the piano and vibraphone and those to instruments sounded especially good in stereo harmony. Their arrangements were mostly joyous and the band was clearly having fun so the progressive tendencies remained infectious.
These guys, performing on the street near Hatch Hall, posed for me while they were playing. The drums were about five times louder than the keyboard.
These two street musicians had switched instruments tonight and they sounded great.
The line for the Bad Plus went around the corner to Franklin Street but we weren’t worried, we’d been in this venue, now called Temple Theater, back in the eighties to see Yellowman, Grace Jones and The Replacements and we knew there was plenty of space. I was excited to see the Bad Plus with their new pianist, Orrin Evans. I found him just as melodic but more angular and impactful. The band has carved out their own space with a sound that is hard to pin down. One attribute is a constant. The group playing, one player’s part hanging on the other, creates the sound. I especially liked “Savages,” a hypnotic groove of a song from their new record.
Saxophonist, Sigurdur Flosason, left Iceland to study with David Baker at Indiana University in Bloomington. Peggi Fournier also went to Indiana University but she studied saxophone with Rich Stim. His band was a perfect fit with the Lutheran Church where we sat in the pews contemplating the setting sun through the stained glass windows. He finished with with “Serenading the Moon,” a tribute to Hoagy Carmichael (a Bloomington native)/Johnny Mercer song, “Skylark.” We talked to Flosason after the performance and never mentioned Iceland’s 2-0 World Cup loss to Nigeria.
Django Bates Beloved Trio has a new record produced by Manfred Eicher at ECM. Funny how a record label, Impulse, Blue Note, ECM, informs the sound. To my ears ECM leaves the blues out of jazz. A huge generalization. Bates’s free flowing piano melodies hardly needed the adornment of the rest of the beloved trio.
Melissa Aldana, the Chilean tenor saxophonist at Kilbourn works in a moody, blue territory, steeped in the right parts of the tradition but the band seemed oddly disconnected from the songs. I kept waiting for them to dig in. I might have missed that part. We went home to watch Germany score in theist minute of stoppage time.
We started the night at Montage without knowing anything about the band. The room was packed, standing room only, and it was about thirty degrees warmer than outside. Their air conditioning was not up to the task so they had the back door open and a large fan whirling away. Christian Sands Trio, piano, bass and drums, was tearing it up with a big back beat and showman-like piano swells that had the cro
Sonidos Unidos, the popular local Latin music band, had twelve people on the small RG&E tent stage and I counted seven strings on the bass player’s instrument. They always sound good.
It wasn’t until the third song that I realized there was no bass player in this trio. Kuala Trio held themselves together with the space around their perfectly placed parts. Mostly slow, even mournful at times, and always pretty in a sad sort of way. They mixed European folk with classical and jazz and played like a chamber ensemble, at times just sax or sax and drums or long stretches of piano and drums. They were each such great players they made their instruments sound like a million bucks.
We pushed our earplugs in and stepped into the big tent for a few songs by Moon Hooch. Two tenor sax players darting around the stage like professional wrestlers with a great dancehall drummer. They augmented this sound with some keyboard programming and got the party going on a Sunday night.
We heard Canadian Jane Bunnett, who plays soprano sax and flute, at the very Jazz Festival seventeen years ago and we’ve heard her a few times since, always playing with Cuban musicians. Tonight the band was also all women, on piano, bass drums and percussion. She explores all varieties of traditional Cuban music in a jazz setting and her shows are always joyous.
The soulful singer, Solveig Slettahjell, with the Norwegian band, Trail of Souls, puts a Cowboy Junkies spin on both American and European traditional blues and country. Her beautiful voice and the choice guitar parts added by guitarist Knut Reiersrud bring the backing trio, know separately as In The Country, to life. But just barely and that’s what makes it interesting. The band seems uninterested in melodic and rhythmic counterpoint. The sparse players worked well with the room’s hollow ambience.
I really wanted to like the English soul singer, Zara Mcfarlane. We looked at the 45s they had for sale at the merch table and I was ready to snap one up if I liked the band. The big Christ Church hall was not the right room for them. They might have sounded better in a small club, a setting where there no be as much focus on the singers voice.
Hatch Recital Hall was only half full on Tuesday night. There was a lot going on at other venues. The room is usually reserved for solo performances but pianist, Gary Versace, who graduated from the Eastman, brought the rest of his trio, bass and guitar, up from NYC for the gig. The bass player, Sean Smith, played with Peggi Lee and that impressed me. The three played each other’s tunes with lots of melodic interchange. It was kind of distracting watching them reading their charts while improvising so I closed my eyes and really enjoyed the dialog.
This trio was playing in the old Rochester Club courtyard on East Avenue. The instrument in the center is a bass, a nine string bass.
The tenor sax player in Partikel at Christ Church had some great ideas and I really liked his playing. The arrangements were youthful and energetic and the bass player provided really interesting support but he was hard to hear. For me their sound was lost, almost run over by the frenetic drumming. The guitar player also piled on and the songs lost their steam. It could have been the room swallowing up what I wanted to hear and not the bands’ fault at all.
The vocalist for Speak Low introduced the band, just sax and bass, and told us they were “going to play traditional tunes, standards and folk songs that we arranged for you.” This three piece covered a lot of ground. From abstract and angular to swinging grooves the band was a real pleasure to listen to. The vocalist, just like the name, spoke low more than sang but her low rent chanteuse style was a perfect fit.
The German Youth Orchestra at Xerox Auditorium is comprised of the county’s top young jazz musicians. The kids apply for their positions and their government supports the two year program. Imagine that! They celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Bauhaus movement by performing in front of digitally restored Bauhaus films from the George Eastman collection. Orchestras this big can get mushy but these kids were crisp and clear.
This young band was just finishing up a tune when we walked by Spot Coffee on East Avenue.
We started the night with Songs of Freedom, drummer and musical director Ulysses Owens’ project featuring interpretations of Nina Simone, Joni Mitchell and Abbey Lincoln featuring the vocalists Alicia Olatuja and Theo B. The band and singers were top shelf, real pros, surely the best musicians we’ll see at the Festival. Still not as satisfying as hearing the original artists they are covering but we don’t have that luxury. They were performing Joni’s “Borderline” above.
We were a little late for everything tonight, the World Cup got in our way again, but we were really late for Liz Vice at Montage. She was just finishing the the last song with a rave u when we walked in. Looked like a real party.
Shake Stew is led by Lukas Kranzelbinder, one of the two bass players in the group. They have have two drummer too and three horns. With a double trio lineup they are more than capable of coming across like a steamroller. But what a ride. I have to say I much preferred being able to hear the interplay in their former band, Interzone, a single trio who played the festival in 2015 and 2017.
I can’t imagine a more positive attitude than the one Jazzmeia Horn adapts for performance. Positive in sound, message laden self-help lyric and smile. Her bass player and drummer propelled her set. The duo with the piano player put it to sleep.
Some Bourbon Street, some barrelhouse piano blues and some real swagger make Davina and the Vagabonds a festive, festival act. From Louie Jordon to the Lovin’ Soonful, they put their barroom saloon stamp on everything they touched. We had our first beer of the festival, a Goose Island IPA, in the big tent while listening to Davina, who reminded us of our good friend Cheryl Laurro. We were standing next to Phil Marshall who told us he had played with the Vagabond’s bass player.
We were downtown earlier than we needed to be be so we stopped in Harro to hear The Suffers, a Gulf Coast band. The lead singer said people ask what Gulf Coast music is and we say it’s anything we want it to be.
The Vincent Herring Quartet at Kilbourn was very easy on the ears, what I would call “straight ahead jazz.” The bass player, Yasushi Nakamara, was fantastic and the drummer was the former director of the Juilliard School of Music. I could have stayed right there for the whole set and been happy but a band was staring over at Xerox that we wanted to see.
The Quinn Lawrence Band was doing an Amy Winehouse version of Valerie when we stopped in the RGE tent.
GoGo Penguin sounded much better in Xerox Auditorium than they did in the Church last year. Their trip-hop jazz is moving a little closer to progressive fusion but they are so melodic they will always be interesting. They repeat lines, almost like loops, fractured lines that sound like a vinyl record skipping and they construct arrangements out of these. Songs end just as mysteriously as they form.
Finally. We heard our favorite band of this jazz festival. The band was introduced, the bass player plucked a few notes and the drummer answered with a few strategically placed taps. Were they just checking their levels? No, they were starting a dialog, one that turned into a cat and mouse game before taking on the form of a fully developed piece. But just as we were digesting that development the piano player stood up and walked away. The bass and drums were revealed in a dramatic new light. He sat back down and piece evolved into something else.
Was Pilc Moutin Hoenig’s set all improvised? Surely they revisit favorite themes. The three were great players but their greatest strength was their arranging. They fearlessly deconstructed their music in the same way they constructed it. The trio was confident enough to explore smaller configurations. Just think of the possible combinations. Piano and bass, bass and drums, bass and piano. Just piano, just bass, just drums. And when it came down to just one instrument wasn’t so much a solo as it was music, played on one instrument. Pilc whistled a tune while accompanying himself with a one note piano repetition. It was brilliant.
They continually let things gracefully fall apart. One of them would duck out of the arrangement and the song immediately took on a new shape. They did this over and over again through the whole night. About thirty minutes into their set they found themselves all playing an ending and they went with it. There was applause. And they went back to work.
What Is It About The French? Jean Michel Pilc kept reminding me of Pete LaBonne, both in his playing and his manner, read understated wit. The self-taught pianist has a book on improvisation too, out of print. We picked one up at the show for a song.
New Orleans’ trumpeter Nicholas Payton at Kilbourn was surprise. His playing was featured in Robert Altman’s film, Kansas City, but we didn’t expect his singing. He is not the strongest but that is the charm. He pulled off a mid-seventies style soft soul tune from his love song album, “Bitches,” and a few slippery jazz numbers. He played samples from his phone which was mounted to his mic stand and he led the crowd in a “Jazz is a Four Letter Word” chant. His father, the bassist Walter Payton, played on Lee Dorsey’s “Working in the Coal Mine.” Those New Orleans routes showed in the amazing drum intro and bass solo in his song, “I Want To Stay In Mew Orleans.”
This fellow was sitting in the middle of Main Street playing the top of a steel drum. He sounded great and had the composure to pose for me while he was playing.
Maciej Obara Quartet at the Lutheran Church took off in a high flying frenzy and didn’t bring it down for twenty minutes. But when they did it was a really beautiful landing. Bowed bass and brushes and clean rhythms. Obara is is really melodic player. They proceeded to take us on a another wild ride, something resembling a car chase. They were cinematic in the I found myself lost in some action movie.
Richard Patterson played bass with Miles in in eighties. I think he was the bass player when we saw Miles at the FLPAC. He holds up the big fort of the Miles Electric Band even though the project was put together by drummer Vince Wilburn. Dedicated to Miles later work, I wish they would have stuck to “Bitches Brew”, “On The Corner” and “Get Up With It,” my personal favorites, but who’s complaining. Although downtown was packed we were able to find a place down front for “Time After Time” and “Guinnever.”. This was the perfect festival band.
Deva Mahal, Taj Mahal’s daughter, was taking it slow and soulful at Harro. Closer to gospel than her father she carries on the messenger role. “Everybody deserves to be free.” It was really refreshing to hear her not get overblown as she continued to draw you in.
The tiny Asian organ grinder, leading the Akiko Tsuruga Trio at Montage, held the room under her spell. It was 1960 all over again. Her crisp accompanists, guitar and drums, were not as gritty as Bill Doggett’s bands but “Misty” never sounded better.
Mark Lewandowski Trio’s tribute to Fats Waller’s music, what bass player, Lewandowski, calls, “the best pop songs of Fats’ day,” paired perfectly with the 90 degree heat. The trio had a light touch, even when playing incredibly fast and especially when playing really slow. They managed to sound great in this cavernous room.
Thomas Stronen plays with no sound reinforcement. Nothing was miced. The sound system was off. The Lutheran Church even killed the fans for the performance. The band is clearly in rarified chamber jazz category. Led by the drummer with piano, double bass, cello and violin, their sound is sparse and somber but not sad, something like an Igmar Bergman movie. They slow your pulse down. I closed my eyes and found myself in a remote, black and white, Norwegian country house. This was a magical ending to this year’s fest.
Opening day is most crowded but we were still able to find a free parking spot on Richmond Street. This trio was playing a party in the patio of the modern apartment with all the gee-gaws. They sounded pretty good.
The Huntertones met at Ohio State and got their start playing house shows. They doing a Stevie Wonder tune when we walked into Montage. They used to call this “frat rock.”
The leader or the Moscow Jazz Orchestra, the only one not wearing a red, white and blue striped tie, sounded fantastic on his own. His song, “Nostalgic,” was, slow, romantic, cinematic and bluesy. His tenor tone reminded us of Gato Barbieri.
After 21 years of continuously singing the good news of Jesus Christ, Tim Woodson & The Heirs Of Harmony, billed as “True Gospel psalmists,” sounded like a loud festival rock band. The singers all wore white and hadn’t taken the stage yet.
Yggdrasil, we have heard many times at the jazz fest but their sound has remained the same. They work in a folky, sometimes Bjork austere, sometimes Pink Floyd ponderous fairyland
I didn’t hear the Peruvian half of the Gabriel Alegria Afro-Peruvian Sextet but the Afro-jazz part was right on. The rhythm section, piano, bass and drums were all amazing players. The percussionist was was rough and tumble and that’s where the magic was. The combination was beautiful.
When Eivor was in Rochester with Yggdrasil about thirteen years ago she bought an electric guitar at the House of Guitars. In fact she was playing that guitar at the Lutheran Church. She told the crowd she went back to the HOG today and bought another guitar, something from the sixties. She finger picked Leonard. Cohen’s “Famous Blue Raincoat” on it tonight. Her lofty voice was perfectly suited to the church.
This young trio laying in the street sounded pretty damn good good.
Derick Lucas from WGMC introduced the the Neil Cowley Trio and told us we were in for “a life changing experience.” Well, not quite. More progressive rock than jazz with lots of unison parts they were melodic and a joy to listen to but I found myself exhausted before the set ended.
We sported Bill Frisell and his bass player, Thomas Morgan, going in the side door of the Eastman for their soundcheck. We’ve heard Frisell everytime he’s been here and almost decided to skip this one but I’m glad we didn’t. We found front row seats and sat right next to Bob Martin and Ken Frank from Margaret Explosion. In this duo setting Frisell sounded better than ever. The musicalexchanges between the two were intense. The minor key “Rambler'” an early song of Frisell’s, was my favorite.
Matthew Leonard from the D&C introduced Shabaka & the Ancestors at Harro East.
Shabaka & the Ancestors tore it up. They started with a chant and the “In the burning of the republic. . .” theme ran throughout their set. “We need you people. You need these hymns. Feminize the government. Feed our children. Black lives matter.” I assume the Ancestors are artists like The Last Poets and Sun Ra. Shabaka Hutchings certainly channelled Pharoah Sanders on tenor sax.
Red Hook Soul does classic, King Curtis style, r&b. Tenor sax player, Michael Blake, whose band, “Blake Tratar was out favorite groups of the fest a few years back and who was just in town performing at the Bop Shop, leads the band, amoney making project for him. Bill Frisell’s long time bassist, Tony Scheer, plays guitar in this band. They play again tomorrow night at Xerox Auditorium.
Fred Costello was playing a Bill Dogget’s Honky Tonk on the stage at Gibbs Street. His band sounded great and we couldn’t help thinking how his R&B sounded so much more authentic than Red Hook Soul. Could have just been the great Bill Dogget number.
Elliot Galvin Trio at Christ Church was contemplative and very pretty. Their spartan sound and delicate touch worked really well in this space. Not entirely ethereal they even played an off kilter blues.
We stopped in to hear Michael Blakes’s Red Hook Soul on Sunday night but we only stayed for a few songs. The sound in the big tent so oppressive. We had already decided to hear them at Xerox on Monday and they were so good we caught both the early and late shows. Every member of this band is a solid pro and the sound here was perfect.
Ikonostasis at the Lutheran Church was the most avant-garde guard band of the festival so far and maybe my favorite. A trio with no bass player. This one worked, unlike the band we saw at the Little Theater last night. Kari Ikonen, the piano/synth player is the leader but I was sitting so close I could only get two players in the frame and the sax player, Ole Mathisen, and drummer, Ra-Kalam Bob Moses were far more interesting to look at. The band went from pretty to abstract to outer space and back. “What time is it?” asked Ikonen after an hour or so. “Just keep playing’ said someone in the crowd. And they did with a beautiful middle eastern piece that started like a call to prayer.
En route back to the Xerox hall we spotted Bernie Heveron, formerly of Personal Effects, playing bass with the Red, White and Blues band.
We sat in the front row for both sets and we had an incredible stereo mix of the two mostly rhythm guitars. Tony Scherr on the left had the crunch and Avi Bortnick the classic clean soulful scratch. Of course none of this would work without a way in the pocket bass player. The band plays vintage 70’s soul and Blake writes songs in that vein (“Make Out Machine”)for the band. He chooses the best and Michael calls out songs on stage. Last night they played a different Gladys Knight song in each set along with Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s “Volunteered Slavery” and Taj Mahall’s “Buy You a Chevrolet.”
Monty Alexander, playing solo piano at the Lyric Theater, introduced one of his songs, “Hurricane,” as his “painting on piano.” Monty’s bout with cancer seems to have slowed his manic pace at notch. He can still shift gears and quote so many songs you just wish he would milk what he brings to each one a little longer. So when he slowed things down to play a melancholy version of September Song he captivated the room and then brought the house down with “Sweet Georgia Brown.” He plays with a trio tomorrow at Kilbourn.
I have a slow meditative Steve Kuhn song in our iTunes library called “Trance” that I love. I meant to play it today before the show it slipped my mind. Tonight he played a lot of standards. My favorite was “Stella By Starlight” Billy Drummond played drums and it was hard to take my eyes off him. He was the perfect foil/accompaniment to Kuhn’s fluid, rolling melodies
About four songs into their first set Kendrick Scott Oracle announced that pianist Geri Allen passed away. He had played with her as did Ornette Coleman and she played the festival here a few years back. Kendrick Scott dedicated a song to her and followed that up by playing along with a recorded montage of Obama’s speech on the black incarceration rate. Scott said he was “all about togetherness but you have to talk about it.”
Ole Mathisen Foating Points at the Lutheran Church was a four piece with sax, trumpet, piano and bass and their music was all notated. The sax player and leader even read from notes between songs. They played like a small mysterious orchestra and were very dreamy.
Vanishing Sun Band in the RGE tent were laying down a heavy funk groove that could be heard a block away so we stopped in the RGE Fusion Tent for a beer but then the band dipped into fusion for some reason.
Dave O’Higgens Atlantic Bridge Quartet at Christ Church did just that. With Tommy Smith on sax they bridged the Atlantic with an international band of proper, clean cut jazz.
Mario Rom Interzone at the Little were just called Interzone last time we saw them. The Austrian band has so much youthful energy and such a love of jazz they are Infectious. Just when you think they are too young and too European to really swing they sound like Louie Armstrong in a Bourbon Street bar. And they are so very entertaining.
ommy Smith is an Scottish gentleman who plays a gorgeous tenor sax. I don’t mean his horn is particularly good looking, his tone is rich and warm and it sounded especially good in round opera hall. He played solo at the Lyric Theater this afternoon and it was everything you would want from a jazz performance. Melodic, rhythmic and moving.
Back at Kilbourn for more Monty Alexander, this time in a trio setting. He had the same bass player as when we last heard them here, someone who has been with him for thirty years or so. And I think the drummer was a former Eastman student because after the show he addressed John Beck, the former head of the percussion department, as “Mr. Beck.” With a rythmn section Monty is grounded. And when he is grounded he is more astonishing, melodically and rhythmically, in equal measure. He is so musically gifted and has such fun with it all it is pure joy to be a witness. Corny enough to quote the Flintstone theme mid song and get away with it. And he finished with a heart-wrenching version of “No Woman, No Cry.” Monty gets our vote (again) for Best of the Fest.
At the Lutheran Church we heard something other than jazz., Klabbesbank. Three horns up front playing arrangements on top of sequenced keyboard tracks. A guitar player and drummer played along.
Anthology was our last stop of the evening. Kind of amazing how loud this club is. There’s a whole second row of speakers in the back of the club just so you can’t possibly get away from the volume. Electric Kif is a little bit of everything, mostly over the top with it all. Too many gnarly keyboards for my taste and progressive with no ideas. The jazz fest slide show by the door was more interesting than the band.
“4 By Monk By 4” started at 4 o’clock at the Lyric Theater. Four piano players were on the bill but only two pianos were on the stage. Cyrus Chestnut started alone and then Benny Green played one and then George Cables played a duo with Green. Kenny Barron played a duo with Cables and then a couple on his own. Then, of course, all four players, two on a piano, which made me think of the merry-ground music at Sea Breeze. George Cables was the most interesting.
Young Sun Nah did an Al Green song, a Joni Mitchell song and a Hendrix song all in a row. A pretty good set list of other people’s material. She has an odd manor, smiling during sad songs, an incredible voice but strangely detached from the material.
Phronesis was back, for the third time, at Christ Church. It is not the best venue for them. They have a frenetic sound and the cavernous church takes that edge off. The bass player and band leader is both the foundation and the lead instrument. The piano and drums decorate his playing. It is kind of unusual. No matter how flowery the piano player gets you are still drawn to the bass. And rhythmically the drummer never gets out front of the bass. Here I am trying to describe the band and the bass player just invited the crowd back to the second set by saying. “All different music. If you like weird rhythms, slightly dark, melancholic, Scandinavian music, by all means, come back”
Oskar Stenmaek NYC Quartet let their arrangements run and wander but they always landed with a lovely, mellow, folky, flugelhorn melody from Stenmaek. Despite their name the melodies were all old world.
Cello, djembe, tom tom, accordion and vocals from all four and even some throat singing. Dakha Brakha are from the Ukraine. We were standing next to Olga and Peggi asked her if this was pretty authentic Ukrainian music and she said it was but the music is usually sung by old women and there usually are no drums.
We stuck our head into the Wilder Room but the band sounded way too ordinary. We caught Phil Marshall’s son, Roy, playing on the Gibb’s Street stage in an odd combo with kids and maybe a music teacher on bass. Roy sound like a million bucks.
This guy was playing congas on East Avenue while we chatted with Bleu in front of RoCo.
Binker and Moses, a duo with sax and drums tore it up in Christ Church. They used the ambience here like street performers in a giant subway station. They reached for the sky like those Coltrane and Rashid Ali duos near the end of Coltrane’s life. But this wasn’t all they had. The next number reminded me of something a band would play in an early 60’s movie where the partygoers, drinks hoisted, would form a conga line and dance out of the living room. How old are these guys?
We only heard Bonarama long enough for Peggi too go to the bathroom and we were out of there. Horrendous, bombastic sound.
We tried Iris Bergcrantz Group at the Lutheran Church but no luck. Not much of a line-up tonight.We made an early night of it.
I thought it was interesting that people pulled right out onto he filled in Inner Loop to park for free last night. The city was packed for last night of Jazz Fest. Tonight was for the back up musicians, David Bowie’s Blackstar band at Xerox and Bruno Mars backup band at one of the outdoor stages.
We started with Donny McCaslin Group, a four piece, who sounded really great in the Xerox auditorium. The keyboard player has a big role in their sound and he had plenty of unusual sounds but his Mopho x4 was a little overbearing. And there was a little too much four-on-the-floor from the drums for my tastes. I really liked the sax player’s playing. Peggi talked to him after the gig about EarthQuaker effects. The band’s new record is based on their experience working with David Bowie and they played an instrumental version of Bowie’s “Lazurus.” It was the best song they did.
We stopped for a few minutes at the outdoor stage on Parcel 5 where local soul band, Danielle Ponder & The Tomorrow People, were playing. I love their name and their sound files sound great. The here wasoverblown. I’m looking forward to hearing them in better environment.
The trio over at the Lutheran Church was led by the drummer. Gard Nilssen’s Acoustic Unity had a light airy sound but they played fast and furious. The drummer soloed with brushes. The sax player played tenor and soprano and both at once. The bass played reminded me of Charlie Haden. They played so well together it was quite amazing.
We stopped in Christ’s Church to hear a bit of Tessa Souter. I was glad to see Billy Drumund in the drum chair. Souter sounds like a really good lounge singer. I don’t mean that as any kind of slight. I would love to be stuck in a hotel bar somewhere or on a cruise ship and have the Spanish guitar, the double bass and Billy’s drums backing her chanteuse show. They weren’t serving drinks in the church though.
We ran into my brother, Fran, the other night and he was disappointed because there was no band in front of the University Club. He comes down for the free stuff. He likes blues and he usually finds something he likes there. Tonight there was a band there and they were doing a James Brown’s “Cold Sweat” when we walked by.
The guitar player in International Orange at the Little Theater was really great. He played all kinds of fingerpicking, slide and whammy bar stuff. He sounded a bit like one of those African Highlife players. I kind of wish he had a different band. The the drummer was a little heavy handed and the electric piano just didn’t sound that good with the guitar. And the bass player certainly didn’t need two five string basses. They did a Pat Methany song and something off Keith Jarrett’s “Belonging” but the guitar player’s stuff was the best.
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.
Day One 2015: Free parking is getting harder and harder to find in Downtown Rochester. I dropped Peggi off near City Blue and went on the hunt for a spot. When I reconnected with her she was standing in a long line between two rows of port-o-johns on Barrett Place. But she had already talked to the vocalist, Cecile McLorin Salvant, telling her, “We’re looking forward to your performance” as she walked by. We brought our dinner, a green salad, rice dish and two Sam Adams and before we knew it we were inside Kilbourn Hall.
At twenty three Salvant has a voice way beyond her years and a fabulous piano, bass and drums trio. She opened accompanied by only the bass player with a song called “Lonely Town.” Then “Glitter and Be Gay” and three Cole Porter songs. Most of her songs are from a long time ago. She is very theatrical and musical but just didn’t draw us in with her readings of these classic songs. I would prefer a more personal stamp.
If you search for a sound file of “Music Music Music” you won’t come up with the band, “MusicMusicMusic.” Despite their digital indexing problems the Swedish band has been together for ten years . They were at Jazz Fest in this same venue back in 2008. Their first number opened up to a drum solo, the second one was slow with bowed bass and a pretty, spacious effect on the piano. They were so enjoyable I almost forgot to snap a photo of them. The piano player leads this trio and was exceptionally melodic. They finished the set with the Theresa Brewer song, “Music! Music! Music!”
On the route to Xerox Auditorium we stopped in to hear a bit of Jeremy Pelt at Montage. We heard him five years ago at this same club. We grabbed a seat down front with Jeff Spevak and Scott Regan and the band came on like gangbusters. Hard driving drums, thumping bass and Jeremy’s muscular trumpet playing. One song was not enough to hear how the pianist would fit in to this picture.
Eric Revis Trio at Xerox Auditorium had the most interesting sound files for the night. Eric plays a clear toned, punctual bass. These guys improvise on themes laid out by Reves. The drummer’s light touch, brushes and press rolls, reminded me of Danny Richmond, Mingus’ long time drummer. I realized why I was getting the Mingus vibe when Eric started grunting his notes with his voice while he played. The piano player was very delicate reaching into the piano to mute the strings. The band was extremely melodic and sounded especially good on a version of Paul Motian’s ” Victoria.”
The first thing we noticed about The Splender at the Lutheran Church was that the piano and bass players were the same as in last night’s group. The woman who leads this group was here in 2007 wih a duo called Midaircondo. When I reread my notes from that show their performance all came back to me. Last night she played tenor and soprano saxes, bass clarinet and even constructed a loop with an omnichord and sang over that. The band itself reminded me of Weather Report but she was able to take them in cinematic directions.
We heard this guy from a distance and he sounded great. He sounded great up close as well and I loved how he set himself up in the middle of East Avenue. We went into Christ Church to hear one of the English bands and when we came out this guy was playing exactly the same beat at the same tempo.
Christ Church is not the right venue for a group that plays with so little space. Added volume provides some clarity for the top end but the ambience of the worship hall swallows the rest. Andrew McCormack Quartet was very listenable. McCormack’s piano playing in another setting would have been really nice. The arangements were all rather academic in a jazz school sort of way.
Christ Church is not the right venue for a group that plays with so little space. Added volume provides some clarity for the top end but the ambience of the worship hall swallows the rest. Andrew McCormack Quartet was very listenable. McCormack’s piano playing in another setting would have been really nice. The arangements were all rather academic in a jazz school sort of way.
Nils Berg CinemaScope at the Lutheran Church, a trio with horns, bass and drums, accompanied video performances they found on YouTube. They back-projected the clips and played to the recordings. Sometimes the home video or street performer footage from around the globe was processed, manipulated or looped. The mixed-media collage was sloppy at times but very engaging at others. I love the way the concept both collapsed and expanded our worldly perceceptions. And did I mention it was the same bass player as the two previous nights in this venue?
Barnes Herriott Duo at the Rochester Club Ballroom was a breath of fresh air. Amazing to see two guys make it all look so easy. Flugelhorn and guitar, no effects on the guitar, no pick even and a great sense of rhythm. I liked it best when they relaxed and even better when they played a minor key ballad.
Trio Red at Christ Church sounded more intriguing online than they did in person. Not sure why that is. They had a substitute bass player for one thing and the sound in this hall is problematic. They opened with a Thomas Chapin song and then did a pretty number written by the drummer, the leader, called “Boy Meets Boy Meets Girl Meets Girl” to “cover all bases.”
We stopped into Bernunzios to hear a bit of Kinloch Nelson on guitar, Dave Areneus on bass and Pete Monacelli on his uncle’s 1930’s trap set. They sounded great.
The Lounge Lizards are alive. Or their “not exactly jazz” spirit is in Elvind Opsvik Overseas. This band was here at the Lutheran Church in 2010. They were one of our favorites then and even sounded better this time. Of course they brought along two more members, a piano player and a tenor sax player. Each player has a distinctly different role in this band. No one is glomming onto another’s part or space. Consequently the ensemble creates a very rich pallette.
Led by the bass player, Eivind Opsvik, they opened with a car chase of a tune, one where the chaser forgot what it was chasing. They get cinematic in a hurry. The tenor sax adds a solid film noir aspect to the big picture, at times taking the band into Gato territory like Last Tango in Outer Space. We’ve heard drummer Kenny Wollesen with Bill Frisell a few times but he sounded better than ever in this setting, free to color the song as he sees fit.
Brandon Seabrook could be the world’s most unusual guitar player. He bowed his guitar while Opsvik bowed his bass but mostly he adds angular punctuation, melodic and rhythmic and WTF texture when he rubs a mini cassette player across the neck of his guitar.
Soul Rebels shook the big tent. How do you shake a tent? They had a huge New Orleans style party band sound. Two drummers, both standing up. They sounded like fun but we were afraid to go out front. My beer can was trembling with the bottom end.
Either the sax player in Moutin Factory Quintet is extremely large or his soprano sax is extremely small, maybe it’s a sopranino. It has to be very strange to have an exact twin. And weirder still to play in a band with your twin. We had seen the Moutin brothers, drums and bass, at this same club in 2007. I remembered them being tightly synced, egging each other on and playing circles around one another. They still have that quality but they’ve added a guitar and sax to the lineup so it is not as pronounced. They pushed themselves and even worked some loose, outside interplay into their set.
An English trio, vibes, bass and drums, called Cloudmaker Trio played Christ Church, the same nineteenth century Gothic venue that has swallowed the sound of so many bands at this festival. They sounded really good. The ambience was perfect for the vibes player, the leader of the group and the bass sounded full yet clear and the drums were crisp. All three were great players. Even pulled off a rousing version of Thelonious Monk’s “Epistrophy.”
The Berlin based Julia Hulsmann Trio at the Lutheran Church was a real treat. Iimagine the first ECM album you ever heard, that smart, European take on jazz and that pristine Sunday morning sound. Hulsmann is a fabulous piano player. They played a great version Kurt Weil’s “Alabama Song,” a tribute to Monk and a gorgeous song she wrote called “The End of Summer.” My favorite tune, a real romp led by the bass player, was back announced as a song they had played for the very first time.
The bass player in Interzone, the Austrian trio at the Little Theater, was quite influenced by William Burroughs. His writing shows up in the title of their songs, their videos and the name of their band. Young, all around 25, and confident as hell, the trio with trumpet and drums and matching suits had a lot of fun with the traditional forms of jazz, making it their own as entertainment. The bass player apparently broke a string for the first time ever in the first set and Brian Williams from Bobby Henrie and the Goners was there to loan him a string. They were so eager to play that they asked the crowd if they could do one more. They gave the audience the boken bass string to pass around while they played their last song.
The line for Antonio Sanchez & Migration at Kilbourn Hall wasn’t as bad as we expected considering the big splash in the paper and, of course, the movie “Birdman” for which Sanchez did the soundtrack. I loved the freshness of the drum tracks in the movie, what seemed like spontaneous interactions or dialog with the script and I guess I was expecting some elements of that in his performance. Instead his, “Meridian Suite,” performed in its entirety for only the third time, was pretty tightly arranged with very little room for improvisation, an extremely ambitious project.
The sparser sections worked the best for. The sax playing one of the main themes, the bass playe back on the double bass, the piano pretty and the vocalist was given some air. I liked hearing her double lines with Seamus Blake’s sax or wind controller and I loved the the rattiness in the Fender Rhodes. The vocalist sampled a section of her voice and caught some feedback which of course came around every time it looped and I watched Sanchez wince each time. One snare drum would not be enough for Antonio Sanchez so he plays with two and he has an extra bass drum pedal for his left foot. He is a phenomenal drummer.
Omer Avital Quintet at Xerox Auditorium had an interesting world jazz sound. The coolest thing about the gig was hearing Johnathan Blake on drums. He was recently at the Hochstrin with Tom Harrell and Esperanza Spalding and “Colors of a Dream.” I love his low, horizantal set-up and the way he plays.
As we were leaving the Lutheran Church I heard someone describe the High Definition Quartet from Poland as “a little too off beat for me.” Actually I found them a little too on the beat in a precision kind of mathematical way. They finished and punctuated each other’s lines, creating parts with the combinations, jazz without all that much swing, a sound our friend, Jeff, called “a little too heady.” They were but in a really interesting way. The pianist took a really unusual but beautiful solo.
We only caught a few songs by Gypsophilia from Halifax, Nova Scotia. They were playing in the street as we fought our way through the crowd. Three guitars, bass and a trumpet, they combined the ever popular gypsy party vibe with little a bit of major key jazz and clap alongs. Peggi called them a “palette cleanser.”
The London based Troyka at Christ Church was a twenty-first century organ trio led by the guitar player. The drummer was not all that interested in the groove and the bass, the organist’s left hand on a Novation, didn’t provide much of one either so the whole thing fell a little flat for me. When they slowed things way down on the third or fourth song, they immediately sounded three or four times better. In what the guitar player called “a wonky version of the blues” the space, the cathedral-like room, an equal member of any band that plays here, really worked to their advantage.
Ignacio Berroa & Hilario Duran at the Rochester Club Ballroom. Berroa is a marvel on the drums. He effortlessly plays the most complicated parts and then does variations on those while keeping an irresistible rhythm. Duran is no slouch in the rhythm department either. Berroa played with Dizzy Gillespie for ten years so of course they did “Night in Tunisia.” These guys didn’t need the sax player because there was plenty of melody in the piano and bass. Berroa played a beautiful drum pattern on “My Funny Valentine,” Roberto Occhopinti took a gorgeous solo and Duran reinvented the tune on piano.
The former First Church of Christ Scientist makes an amazing venue. Now called the Lyric Theater, it is a round room with the floor slanting toward the stage and the acoustics, at least for a solo Steinway performance by Bill Charlap, were perfect. I’ve heard the building is set to undertake renovations. The pews will go and probably the two readings over the doors. “Now is come salvation and strength and the kingdom of our God and the power of his Christ.” “Christianity is again demonstrating the life that is the truth and the truth that is life.”
Maggie Brooks introduced Dave Douglas & High Risk at Harro East. I got worried when I saw the laptop sitting on a table stage right and then more worried when the drummer pushed his earbuds in. Sure enough a guy twiddling knobs and dancing behind a table was an intregal part of their sound. It reminded me of one of those Bill Laswell projects but this was better. Second song the bass player put headphones on and they went deeper into EDM territory. Instead of kids dancing around with glow necklaces, there was a bunch of white hairs sitting in seats. Dave Douglas’ trumpet playing sounded really good on top of all this.
The last time I saw Stanley Clarke he was playing with Return To Forever. I loved it then but it had a short shelf-life for me. Xerox Auditorium was just about full when we got there, about fifteen minutes before the show, so we sat and talked about the huge bass rig, a pile of amps and speakers eight feet wide and six feet high. The drum set included two snares, four rack toms, two floor toms and eight cymbals. A Steinway sat on the left of the stage and Roland and Korg keyboards on the right. The crowd clapped for the equipment guys. Stanley introduced the band, all under twenty five, and they opened with a Return to Forever tune,” Beyond the 7th Galaxy.” Then a George Duke Brazilian song where Clarke popped the strings on the double bass. The piano player was fantastic. The drummer was impossibly good and incredibly fast.
Obara International at the Lutheran Church were like one of those big abstract paintings that Gerhard Richter pulls and scrapes with giant squeegees. You don’t really know where to look. And in this case the sheets of sound wash over you. The bass player strums his bass, the drummer plays machine gun rolls. Of course you eventually find your way into a Richter painting and the saxophone here gives you a way into Obara. They finished the set with an absolutely beautiful, slow dreamy piece. I could have gone for a whole night of that.
Ikebe Shakedown at Montage is from Brooklyn, New York and were here two years ago playing at the Bug Jar. The seven piece band appropriates Afrobeat and is really smart to play only the essentials in fairly tight arrangements of simple parts. Imagine Fela Kuti at a frat party. The horn players were really good, good enough to play with with Sharon Jones last night at Kodak Hall. They got the party going with no misfires.
Before they started their gig at Christ Church, Denys Baptiste said his Triumvirate doesn’t discuss what they are going to play before they start the set and he said he was not really the leader. “The best idea wins.” They play versions of pop songs or iconic songs from the recent past. They don’t stop between songs and their set is one continuous piece. They really take their time skirting around the theme of each song and thhen easing their way out and into another. They were laid back and slightly detached from this material. Their music would work well in a moody Film Noir movie. We realized how narcotic their sound was when we were back out on the street.
Melissa Aldana is a great tenor sax player. Her Crash Trio was doing Ellington’s “I Got It Bad” when we walked in and the drummer was sounding especially good with the brushes. They work well within the tradition of jazz but at the same time their sax, bass and drums trio shows how elastic the form can be as they carved out their own sound. They asked if they could do an additional song and finished with a song she wrote for Sonny Rollins called “Back Home.”
Christine Jensen Jazz Orchestra with Ingrid Jensen at Xerox Auditorium was areal treat. At nineteen pieces you might be inclined to call them a big band but they are an orchestra. Jazz big bands often have too much stuff going on, people popping up for a quick solo in an almost desperate need to call attention to the individual performers. Not so with wiith Christine Jensen Jazz Orchestra. They instead sound like an especially rich combo. Instead of hyperactive they were easy going with solid arrangements that drew you into the tune while the lead trumpeter, Ingrid Jensen and sister Christine soloed. Apparently the festival promotor, John Nugent, was Christine Jensen’s sax teacher. He taught a few of the five sax players in this big band as well. They sounded great.
The young English band with a wacky name, Go Go Penguin, plays jazz influenced by electronic dance music. I usually think of EDM as death of jazz music but these guys pulled it off. Their rhythmic piano reputations and frantic drumming appeared to open some young ears in the packed Christ Church.
It was a thrill just to be in the old Sibley’s building on the second floor, near the corner of Main and Clinton overlooking the old Jay’s Record Ranch. I made my first pot purchase here from the guy that worked in the toy department. A temporary venue for the jazz fest, they have featured the ubiguious “Americana” acts here all week. Well, no one does Americana like Rochester’s own Bobby Henrie and the Goners. “Rockabilly and swing and everything in between,” as Bobby says and that would include jazz. This was a great way to finish out the fest.
Kind of strange to find no one in line outside the Rochester Club Ballroom. The first night of Jazz Fest is usually the most crowded but there was a very slim crowd inside. Did we mix something up? Spevak had Joel Miller picked as a “best bet.” Pegged as hard bop, Joel plays tenor and soprano and is supported by piano, bass, drums. They were fairly conventional with their own tunes from a new album but a good opener.
This young band, playing on the patio of whatever the restaurant is next to the Rochester Club, had a pretty cool vibe. Most likely Eastman students.
I scrambled over to the Xerox Auditorium where I met my brother coming straight from his job at Xerox. As one of the sponsors he had a couple of extra tickets to Janelle Monae at Kodak Hall so I grabbed the tickets through his car window and we headed inside to hear a few songs by the South African Township singer, Lorraine Klaasen. Her band had drums, conga drums, six string bass and guitar and a great groove but we couldn’t stick around.
The Finish group, “Sun Trio,” had some great sound samples so we got to the Lutheran Church early. They have just released a new album, “In The Dreamworlds” and have a very hip and slinky sound. The trumpet player had foot pedals, effects and a sampler on a stand so he could grab snippets to play along with but he mostly played it straight. Their melodic bass player drove the tunes and soloed beautifully. The drummer had a light touch with brushes and plenty of dynamics with sticks. His solo was creative and musical.
The ushers who took our tickets at Kodak Hall asked, “Are you sure you want to go in there?” People were already out of their seats and in the aisles. Those that weren’t were swaying with their arms in the air. Prince sang on Janelle Monae’s “Electric Lady” single and she got her start with Outkast but all we knew about her was her cover of David Bowie’s “Heroes.” No backing tracks, just bass, drums, congas, keyboards, guitar, two horn players and a couple of back-up singers who looked like they stepped out of a Ronettes video. This was old fashioned dance/pop/funk with JB and Michael in the mix.
We took seats in the front row of Xerox Auditorium for the Belgium big band, Flat Earth Society, and tried to guess how many members would be in the band. The stage was full of equipment and music stands. We guessed ten and it turned out to be 14. The drums and bass were front and center flanked by guitar and keyboards and the horn section ran all across the back. FES is a wackier, more rambunctious Willem Breuker Kollektief. Never mind the movie. This is vivid, action-packed, cinematic soundtrack music.
I would love to hear Sunna Gunnlaugs unaccompanied in Hatch Hall. She is a beautiful, melodic piano player with plenty of rhythm to propel the songs. The tune is complete in her hands and she just doesn’t need bass and drums rattling about. I think I said something like that when we heard her two years ago.
We were sort of mixed up tonight so we came back to Xerox for The Flat Earth Society’s second show. They introduced a song called, “Broadway Boogie Woogie,” saying “We play the painting” and they did! And then came “the name of the next song is ‘The Previous Song.'” They’re playing again tomorrow.
Couldn’t get to the car without checking out local boy, Lou Gramm, on one of the free stages. We heard part of “Cold As Ice.” Comfort food for burned out bikers. Shai Maestro Trio was highly recommended to us by a couple that we only see at Jazz Fest each year. The band was at the Rochester Club at 10 but we couldn’t hang in there so we came home and listened to them on YouTube. I wish we had heard them live.
OK, Bobby Henrie and the Goners are not part of this year’s Jazz Fest but they could be. We caught them out back at Marge’s Lakeside Inn on Sunday afternoon where they were playing to a packed beachcomber crowd. Bobby puts the jazz in rockabilly.
Rochester’s salsa champions, Calle Uno, got the party going in the new Squeezers tent next to the Inn On Broadway. I counted fourteen people on stage including the little kid rockin’ the mic. The bass player had seven strings on his bass and festival co-promoter, Marc Iacona, was standing in on trumpet.
Jon Ballantyne has played with so many people, big names like Joe Henderson, that you wonder how he put this trio together. Was the bass player a pick-up? Drummer, Adam Nussbaum, looked like Mike in “Breaking Bad” and was equally rough around the edges in an engaging way yet Jon Ballantyne is fluid and lyrical. Maybe they are a unit but it was a delight to watch them play like they were gettig to know one another. They started with the standard, “I Fall In Love Too Easily,” and then went into a rambuctious version of Ornette’s “When Will The Blues Leave” with a beautiful bass solo.
Harris Eisenstadt Golden State is the most unique act we have seen at this year’s festival. A drummer- led quartet or more aptly, a chamber jazz ensemble, they have a gorgeous combination of instruments. A bassoon and a clarinet along with the standup bass and Harris Eisenstadt’s crisp, clear and airy drums make an especially pleasing pallette for their detached edition of cool jazz.
Considering the D&C’s Spevak wrote that you will have to sell your first born to get into Vijay Iyer Trio, the line for the 6 o’clock show was approachable at just past four so we hung in there. We took an unfortunate position between the rows of port-o-potties on Barrett Place. We brought dinner and a beer and made the best of it. We chatted with passers-by and took some constructive criticism from Hal about the roundabout path to my jazz fest entries.
Downbeat’s “Jazz Artist of the Year,” Vijay was studying violin when he grew up in Rochester and his entire family was in the house tonight. Despite the line, we were able to score front row seats in the mad dash. WXXI was doing a dry run before recording the 10 o’clock show so there were cameramen all around us.
Stephan Crump, who was just at the Bop Shop with his own group, was on bass and Marcus Gilmore on drums. They ran a string of tunes together and didn’t come up for air for a half hour. The trio is recording an album in a few days and they did a song from it, a Monk tune called “Work” and a tune off of “Accelerando.” Gilmore played with amazing, military precision but I was knocked out by the interplay between piano and bass. Iyer goes from delicate and melodic to rollicking and Crump not only complements but re-shapes the dialog. His bass solo was beautiful and a gorgeous ballad that Iyer wrote for his wife knocked us out.
Scandanavian musicians play like they are determined to strip jazz of the blues but at the same time they infuse it with centuries of European musical influences. Instead of guttural, it is shimmery, esoteric and sensitive. Kari Ikonen Trio played well together. The bass anchored some delicate piano melodies and their song based on an Armenian folk song was especially pretty.
When we first walked into Christ Church I thought we were only going to last a few minutes. The low end of the B3 organ was eating up every bit of available air in this cavernous space. But the closer we got to the Paul Towndrow Trio, the clearer the sound was and by the time we sat down, the sax player was soloing on a ballad, one we recognized from Coltrane’s “Ballads” album but we couldn’t identify by name, and the ambiance on the horn sounded greatl. Unfortunately only the slower, more spacious material worked in this setting.
It seems like there is a Django influenced, gypsy jazz band on every corner these days but some are better than others. The guys on either end of the French band, Les Doigts de l’Homme, traded speed demon solos, the middle guitarist strummed and the accordion player added relief. He kept motioning to the sound man to turn up his instrument so Peggi stopped by the soundboard on her way to the bathroom and asked him to turn up the accordion. The soundman said the the guitar players want the guitars to be “more present.” The band was thoroughly enjoyable and the perfect nightcap.
Louis Hayes and the Cannonball Legacy Band at Kilbourn were doing exactly that, carrying on the legacy of old fashioned, straight ahead jazz. Led by a drummer who was there the first time around and played by a professional, scholarly band of men in suits.
Etienne Charles plays the kind of trumpet you’d want to hear if you visited, say, Trinidad. Warm and breezy, qualities you don’t usually associate with a trumpet. He plays the conga drums and a djembe when he’s not playing his horn. We started thinking about Kid Creole and the Coconuts and how much fun they were. These guys were more interested in taking their solos. I hope bands don’t feel like they have to hire guys with chops when they take a gig at a jazz festival. It doesn’t help.
We were just talking to an artist friend, someone who used to teach at RIT, and he was telling us he had joined a band called “New Horizons,” (doesn’t that sound like something out of Roz Chast’s book?) made up of retired people who play music. Well, New Horizons was playing in the street and we were expecting to see Jim Thomas on trombone but there were no trombones in this band even though the only song we heard, “When The Saints . . .,” could have used one.
Sophie Bancroft & Tom Lyne were as wholesome as they look here. She has a beautiful voice and could sing anything. He played five string electric and a double bass, playing the entire tune when Sophie put her guitar down to sing one with him. They don’t look it but they could swing too as they did on a Bossa Nova tune.
Forever Young is a five piece, piano, sax, bass, drums and led by the guitarist, Jacob Young. They played it relaxed and lush and opened with their namesake tune. It had all the earmarks of the ECM label. No rough edges, no angularity, understated rhythm, everything in check and near perfectly executed but less austere than the signature European sound. It worked especially well in the Lutheran Church.
You know you are in trouble when the musicians are wearing ear protection. Bonerama is loud, festival tent, party music. They have been here before but they look like all new recruits.
No idea who this band is but they were doing Coltrane’s “Green Dolphin Street” in a tent next to the restaurant, 2 Vine.
Blind Boy Paxton had a full house over at the Little Theater. He wears a yarmulke and plays guitar, banjo, harmonica and fiddle really well. He sings old time country blues songs, most laced with mildly bawdy humor. He is the black David Bromberg and since Bromberg borrowed his schtick, Paxton is only taking it back while playing with all the racial stereotypes. It is great to hear someone keeping the blues alive.
We started the evening at the Rochester Club with Jamey Haddad, a percussionist who has toured with Paul Simon and Joe Lovano. His group included Roberto Ochopinti on bass, saxophonist Billy Drewes and Venezuelan pianist, Leo Blanco. Drewes and Blanco wrote the tunes. Haddad played mostly trap set and along with Blanco they put a Latin spin on the Wayne Shorter like affair. Bill Dobbins was in the house. Everything was cool.
A Swedish / Danish group called “David’s Angels” was holding court at the Lutheran Church. They started slow with bowed electric bass and pretty quickly sounded like Portished mixed with with a healthy dose of Bjork but the spacious bass lines and the jazz drums and melodic Fender Rhodes had loads of promise.
Most notable for her beehive, Christine Ohlman & Rebel Montez did a good job of rockin’ the tent at Abilene. Ohlman’s banter reminded us of Cheryl Laurro from Lilly’s Buffet and the band had a bit of Springsteen in their arrangements. They couldn’t miss with “Take Me To The River” and finished with a Bo Diddley beat song that had something to do with Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf, some solid touchstones.
We hear a little bit of these guys every year but tonight they hit the sweet spot. “Summertime” with just sax and djembe, played while the drommer smoked a cigarette.
Brian Kellock & Tommy Smith were a tenor sax and piano duo from Scotland who admirably played without mic or use of the PA at the Rochester Club. They took charge and played the room with songs from the twenties and forties, a slow moody Hoagie Carmichael song and Glenn Miller’s Moonlight Serenade and Chattanooga Choo Choo. They were great players and and sounded as good as a whole band.
The Joey DeFrancesco Trio were in the middle of a real steamroller when we walked in. The guy is a powerhose and hardly needs a band. What followed was a funky number that sounded like something off of Bitches Brew. A killer groove with weight to the space, remarkable in that it needed no bass other than DeFrancesco’s foot pedal but then he switched to muted trumpet and it even got heavier.
“Hey Mavis” was a cool and relaxed four piece with fiddle and banjo. They had no drummer and skipped the whole incessant strumming routine that so many bands do. This left all sorts of room for the bass player to move around in the songs or bow the double bass instead of just playing the root. The bass player also played a tambourine with his foot and the rhythm guitar player played a bass drum with his. The woman had a real country voice and the whole band wasn’t afraid to let their rough edges show. We liked them.
The back up singers came out before Cyndi Cain made her grand entrance and they didn’t look real. They might work with Kraftwerk though. Cyndi Cain had a voice like Aretha and and she had the authority to deliver a song. I think that towel was some sort of security blanket because she held onto it for her first three songs.
Flute has to be one of the hardest instruments to play on the street.
This was an interesting looking duo in front of Greenwood Books. They were playing amidst the cigar smoke from the smoke shop next door.
We have watched this kid grow up at Jazz Fest. I don’t see his mom lurking anymore and the kid is playing like champ. He was doing a perfectly acceptable version of “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore.”
We stopped in Hatch Recital Hall for Manuel Valera’s last song. It’s worth stopping in there for the acoustics alone. Imagine a Steinway grand in a perfect setting. You close your eyes and can’t picture a room or a hall or any environment at all. It is just a piano and you. I have no idea what Valera was playing but the piece was especially pretty and I drifted away.
We queued up for Bill Frisell’s “Guitar In The Space Age” at Kilbourn and ran into our jazz buddy, Hal, who was recovering from a sports injury. We compared notes on the upcoming acts and broke into the dinner we had packed. Hugh from Nod was up from Ithaca and in line ahead of us. The time went fast.
Kenny Wollesen was on drums. Tony Scheer, who has played with everyone from The Lounge Lizards to Willie Nelson, was on electric bass and Buffalo native, Greg Leisz, played pedal steel guitar and additional guitar. Frisell’s idea of guitar in the space age is decidedly American. We probably do have more junk floating around up there than any other country. The band toyed with Western swing with Hawaiian touches, a two-beat Americana thing, the Kinks “Tired of Waiting” and something funky that sounded like “Mustang Sally” or “Walking The Dog.” Leisz sounded fantastic on slide but he switched to guitar for the middle of the set and that somehow managed to dilute what we came to hear. Brian Wilson’s “In My Room” was rich, “Telstar” was perfect and their version of “Surfer Girl” almost made me cry.
“I tell you this every time I play here. They wouldn’t let me in this school,” Frisell said from the hall in the Eastman School of Music. “45 years later I come back playing surf music to a standing ovation.”
The Wee Trio had a crisp sound with fairly tight arrangements and their enthusiasum made it all seem fresh. The bass player and drummer met at the Eastman and they were great players and adventerous, reimagining David Bowie’s “Ashes To Ashes.” The vibes in “Queen Bitch” nodded to the Velvet Underground as well.
On our way in to the church we overheard some of the people streaming out saying, “You couldn’t get out of there fast enough either?” The Deciders were somehow reading charts yet loose and frantic. They were clearly having a great time on stage in contrast to most of the acts in the pristine Nordic venue. They started a tune with just bass, drums and sax and another with just the three horns making the most out of their arrangements. They played with sound. Nothing was precious. They turned the church over a few times during their avant garde set.
We had already heard three groups tonight and I was in cruise control when we sat down at Christ Church. I don’t remember even checking out the sound sample for this group so I just relaxed and took it in. The band sounded great in here. Tthe first group that I can say that about in this venue. The bass was big but punctual, the piano was rhythmic first and Mark Lockheart, the tenor sax player and leader, was just sensational. They worked a tune into a controlled frenzy before I realized they didn’t even have a drummer. A slow tune, written by the piano player, was so pretty it slowed the whole world down. The bass player, Jasper Hoiby, has been here a few times with his group Phronesis and he is just fantastic.
Marcus Miller played on some late Miles lps and I never cared for those. But I’m happy the Festival booked a jazz band for the big, free outdoor stage instead of boogie band.
We didn’t last long at Ibrahim Electric. Montage was packed, the band was loud and I was not in the mood for a guitar solo. I liked them last time around.
Going on the blurbs and sound samples we didn’t really have any must see/hear acts for the final night so we just headed out. We always find something. We got in line for the French vocalist, Cyrille Aimee, at Max’s keeping tabs on the Colombia/Uruguay game while we waited to get in. With two guitars trading gypsy jazz she sang scat and a few too cute numbers like “It’s A Good Day” and then a nice version of Nina Simone”s “Love Me or Leave Me.”
t doesn’t seem like a good idea to put the word “jazz” in the name of your band but the Messengers, Passengers, Crusaders and Jacob Fred Jazz Odessey have all got away with it. Scott Feiner & Pandeiro Jazz feature a Brazilian hand drum, called a Pandeiro, accompanied by a Fender Rhodes player from Rio and a guitarist. Brazilian rhythms on a day when Brazil barely held onto a position in the World Cup’s elimination round. The sounds Feiner could get out of that tambourine- like drum playing it with only one hand were amazing. They were at their best when they stayed away from the noodling.
Is there such a thing as goth jazz? Susanna sang slow tempo, minor key songs whie playing piano. The guitar played Bob Martin style (is that really a guitar?) with plenty of reverb. The drummer sang harmonies and played mostly with mallets. Susanna sang a beyond the grave version of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene ” and Leonard Cohen’s “Who By Fire.” I’m surprised she didn’t do Nick Drake’s “Riverman.” And she still looks like Karen Black.
For me the only false note for Chuck Mead & His Grassy Knoll Boys was his glasses but that is being pretty picky. They sounded great. Pure country honky tonk. If there wasn’t a jazz fest going on I would have made myself comfortable for a few at Abilene.
Ester Rada and her ensemble do Ethiopean jazz, funk, soul and R&B and they had the big tent in the palm of their hand. Ester did a great job with the second Nina Simone song of our night, “Four Women.” She has an unbelievable drummer who did rolls with his foot as a prelude to a completely unique drum solo.
We stood behind members of the Radical Pigs bikers while we listened to part of George Thorogood’s version of “Who Do You Love.” Festival promoter, John Nugent, was playing sax if you can believe that. The flames projection behind on the band was pretty cool.
Norma Winstone Trio may have been my favorite act of the whole festival. She certainly stole the night. With only voice, piano and sax or bass clarinet the arrangements were playful and wild with outside touches like the piano player reaching inside the piano and the bass clarinet popping his pads. The song selection was stunning. Nileson’s “Everybody’s Talkin,'” Tom Waits’ “San Diego Serenade” and songs like they just don’t write anymore. But her own song, the title song from her new album and one the bass clarinetist wrote the music forentitled “Dance Without Answer”, was the bomb. Norma Winstone Trio, like Peggy Lee, was quite exotic and intoxicating. Here’s a live version of that song.
The Deciders were back for a second night, an unlikely booking considering they only had a handful at the Lutheran Church for their second set last night. We had to stop in and cheer them on. There are so many adventurous groups out there and so few at the festival. All in all, another good year though.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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?”
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.
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 (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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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 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/
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 (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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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 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.
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 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, 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 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.
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.
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.
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.