There was something in her hands that was prayerful, especially as she tipped her head back, eyes closed, and just let her head rock side to side. Even before she sang a note, it was apparent that Gretchen Parlato would be worth every bit of the long line and the wait outside of Kilbourn Hall.
In a set of nine songs that lasted a good hour, Parlato proved that the voice is an instrument. At times, like during “Holding Back the Years,” her words cried away everyone’s sadness. When she sang “Juju,” there was a smoky French influence and words like “time” were more an exhale that melted into a slight “mmm” of a hum. And in “Alo Alo,” Parlato made sounds and tones and became part of the percussion, with each musician tapping on their instruments rather than playing them, in a sort of a Calypso jazz fusion.
Whether it was coming from Parlato’s performance or because it has been that long since “Breakfast in America” came out in 1979, tonight I heard a different side of Roger Hodgson, the still unmistakable voice of Supertramp, at Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre. Hodgson didn’t talk much during his two hour, 22 song show, but when he did, it was in reference to writing song lyrics from deep within during times of personal challenges or struggles.
Hodgson was with a four-man band, and for “The Awakening,” Hodgson sang with the bass player and the winds player, and their well-blended voices offered a fresh insight into what the future may sound like. The harmonics of Supertramp was certainly one aspect of its playing that I enjoyed, so when Hodgson said he’d like to record the song someday, my vote would be yes.
Hodgson did not seem to disappoint the audience filling the Eastman Theatre, several of whom (including me) carried original albums with them. He opened with “The Long Way Home” and played many favorites, including “Breakfast in America,” “The Logical Song,” “Dreamer,” “It’s Raining Again,” and a dancing-in-the-aisles version of “Give a Little Bit.”
As Eastman is generally my venue for covering the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, I put up a big cheer when Hodgson said he might like to come back to perform here with the RPO (perhaps for “Fool’s Overture” or, better still, an orchestral version of “Death and a Zoo?”). Last year, Sarah McLachlan performed with the RPO at CMAC, so I can imagine a collaboration for them with Hodgson.
And with that, another day of this year’s Jazz Fest comes to a close. Tomorrow is already Thursday, and I’ll be out for Brad Turner (Montage) and the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra (Xerox Auditorium), and more. Hope to see you there!
Alright youse guys, let’s talk about life and the quartet of want, expect, need, and get. Tonight’s foray into our beloved downtown — a city resurrected to look like a city we want, expect, and need, but only get one time a year — brought me and the Tin Man, riding shotgun in a blue cloud of exhaust thanks to the Gray Ghost, to the scene of the Jazz Fest. Good day, and welcome to day six (I thought John Nugent would appreciate this salute to his fatherland via a dusty Bob and Doug McKenzie reference).
Anywhen…we first darkened the door at Harro East Wednesday night for a greasy fist full of salacious and sexy, mid-tempo soul grind ala Lee Fields & The Expressions. In a lilac-colored sport coat he borrowed from the Easter Bunny, Fields worked the room relentlessly, emphasizing what he wanted and expected us to hear. The audience needed it (I know I did) and we got it, baby! Fields is one hell of a soul shouter and soul sender. His voice was powerful and urgent, and his band stayed in the pocket coming on strong and period correct in tempo and equipment, right down to the old telephone-style coil patch cords. I needed that.
Soweto Kinch’s switch between hip-hop militant and exploratory jazz astronaut was just the kind of secular juice I needed to get me into a church – Christ Church specifically. However, something I didn’t expect was Kinch’s theme for the night; sin. The seven deadly ones, to be exact. I’ve mastered them all, how about you? Alas the sound was entirely too boomy to catch the tight punch of his rap — which included invited shouts from the audience — but served his saxophone well as it bounced and careened about looking for a way out. It turns out it’s what I needed…and what I got.
After leaving the air conditioned tundra of the lounge we headed to the Little Theatre to catch Rocky Lawrence do Robert Johnson and related masters. I love this kind of blues, and I remember telling the Tin Man, “I really want his to be good…need it to be good.” I got one look at Lawrence in his natty duds and expected it to be good, but I gotta tell you, it fell flat. His patter was banal, his playing — though proficient — wasn’t that varied, and it was essentially mediocre and underwhelming. In his defense, I only stayed for about half the set, but really didn’t see it going anywhere. Lawrence sang of the devil, but for those who saw John Mooney a few nights ago, they saw the devil himself with sharp teeth and a six-foot hard-on. That’s what we wanted from Lawrence, what we expected, and what we needed, but not what we got. But if you try sometimes…
Goldings-Stewart-Bernstein took the stage to a full house at Montage Wednesday night and proceeded to play a couple of original songs. The band is, of course, B3 organist Larry Goldings, drummer Bill Stewart, and guitarist Peter Bernstein, three top players on the national jazz scene.
The tunes, by Goldings and Bernstein respectively, gave them an opportunity to showcase their prowess on their instruments. Especially Bernstein, who played an excellent solo on “Roach,” Golding’s tune dedicated to the great drummer, Max Roach.
But it wasn’t until they took on Stevie Wonder’s “Big Brother” that the sparks started to fly. There is a tradition for organ trios (like Charles Earland’s) to take pop tunes and make them swing. But “Big Brother” already swings, and it was the perfect vehicle for Goldings and Bernstein to cut loose on.
There’s another way of looking at the Aaron Goldberg Trio, a group that delivered a fine set at Max of Eastman Place: It’s the Joshua Redman Quartet without Joshua Redman. That’s why Goldberg, bassist Reuben Rogers, and drummer Gregory Hutchinson are such a tight unit.
It even played a tune Goldberg wrote dedicated to Redman. The title, “Shed,” implies that Redman practices a lot. (It’s short for the “woodshed,” where one presumably goes to practice. Who knows where jazz lingo comes from, but this term’s been around a long time.)
The group played two Thelonious Monk tunes, but its most striking composition was one left untitled. It was a beautiful, delicate ballad, featuring some wonderful arco bass playing by Rogers and sensitive drumming by Hutchinson.
I arrived at the Lutheran Church to find that two members of the Jacob Karlzon Trio were stuck at an airport somewhere. The trio is now scheduled to play Thursday night in place of Jacob Karlzon & Viktoria Tolstoy, who took the stage tonight instead.
I’m more attracted to jazz instrumentalists than singers, but I have to admit Tolstoy can put over a song. Her selections ranged from Peter Gabriel to Herbie Hancock. I still found myself appreciating the instrumental solos Karlzon would take in the middle of each song. Maybe it was because he only had a minute or two, but each solo was a tour de force.
My favorite composition it played was by one of my favorite songwriters, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. It was one of the most beautiful parts of “Swan Lake,” but with new lyrics.
Thursday I’ll start the night with saxophonist Ravi Coltrane at Kilbourn Hall. I’ll then head over to Christ Church to catch pianist Zoe Rahman, and I’m looking forward to hearing Rudresh Mahanthappa’s GAMAK at the Little Theatre.
Writing is a process I cherish, and I thoroughly enjoy the challenges that it brings. But I've tried to write this review three times and I still have no clue where to start. Philosophically? Historically? Metaphorically? Blow-by-blow account?
I've done a lot of letting go as of late, yet find myself still holding on to the music I love in lieu of adventures outside its walls. So it's swell when someone can take what I love and supplement it with what I've never heard, all without losing me. David Byrne and St. Vincent blew my doors off Tuesday night at Kodak Hall by taking elements of what I love and somehow hammering them into something I can only think to call breathtaking. That is, unless I opt to go back and start Version 4.0 of this ramble.
You see, I knew what to expect. Yes, I did. David Byrne's cockeyed, theatrical slant augmented by a woman who appeared to be part performance artist, part musician. It was a toss-up between minimalism and maximalism. I knew something was up when I first saw the stage littered with the 12-piece band's instruments, strewn haphazardly about on the floor. What followed was mindblowing; part parade, part interpretive dance, part robotic, part vintage Hollywood, with an entirely epic wall of sound thanks to the brass-tastic arsenal of horns.
St. Vincent is the stage name of Annie Clark, a Manhattan musician that has Byrne's affinity for quirk but is a little less off-putting with her striking beauty. She tippy-toed about the stage like a bottle-blonde geisha wind-up doll in heels. She sang with a beautiful innocence that harmonized both musically and visually with Byrne and his star power. And her guitar was ragged and entirely out there with beautiful sonic bursts of dissonance, like a cross between Diana Dors and Adrian Belew, or like a Blues Explosion cabaret.
With the exception of its esteemed leaders, the band was almost exclusively brass, and performed with an odd choreography that looked like Tai Chi, or pawns on a life-sized chessboard.
The band didn't rely on Talking Heads material, but let fly with a few gems to placate the rabid crowd, like "Burning Down the House" and "This Must Be The Place." Two encores later, the crowd still screamed for more. This was utterly fantastic music. I'm not sure I've done it justice here. Perhaps I should start again...
It was a dark and stormy night...
Repeat after me: Michael Wollny. There were no CDs for sale at a table on the way out, but there are more than a dozen albums since his first cut in 2005. There’s a smattering of European awards, but there were empty seats for his 10 p.m. at Max at Eastman Place Tuesday night.
Wollny inhabits a body that is little more than a container for an insanely great pianist. The intensity of Wollny’s expression leaves him barely able to sit still on the bench as he leans so far over that his hair brushes the keys, his elbows splay out, his left leg pumps rhythm at the hip joint, and the right leg curls up until his foot is nearly what is on the bench.
So here’s the thing. Even with all this gyration and even inside-the-case-string-plucking, Wollny’s physical technique is all classical and his line is all jazz. The lilt of his hand as if around a soft ball. The compositions he and his ensemble musicians have written in fits of inspiration to the Austrian composers Franz Schubert (1797-1828) and Gustav Mahler (1860-1911). The way he expresses a full dynamic range, sometimes with a melody, sometimes with abstractions, and every time with direction. This, my friends of jazz and of classical, is where we meet and experience something original.
Completely different, but also on the piano tonight was the John Nyerges Quartet at the Rochester Club. You’ll recognize the name because Nyerges is a pianist with the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra…but do you recognize him without the tuxedo? Nyerges strolled through original compositions like “Monk’s Blues,” “A New Day,” and “Solid as Stone” by loosely fingering his way around the keyboard, eyes closed, uttering what could be a tone poem.
I wasn’t as sold on the other two shows that I went to this evening. My theme for this year’s festival is to seek out performers with a claim of fusing our American jazz with another ethnicity. At the Reformation Lutheran Church, I caught about 30 minutes of The Eero Koivistoinen Quartet. He made his first American jazz concert appearance in 1969 in Newport, but the persistent forte of amplified instruments in such hard acoustics became a wall of sound. I think of jazz as layers between which you can slide a wandering melody. Koivistoinen calls his work “collective cacophony improvisation.”
I had a similar experience listening to Djabe in the Big Tent. Big on the pulsing four drums and four cymbals (the drummer was wearing earplugs), but where was the jazz foundation, and where was the balance between the instruments? The third song, “Dark Soup,” had the feeling of a Hungarian gypsy, but there was an unfinished feeling to the line. And the group simply wasn’t connected to the audience, whether through eye contact or truly stepping forward to deliver a performance.
Wednesday night is a big night combination of pianist Gretchen Parlato (Kilbourn Hall) and then Roger Hodgson, advertised as “the legendary voice of Supertramp” (Kodak Hall). See you there!
Xerox Auditorium is not exactly the ideal venue for a jazz concert. It is, after all, a sterile corporate auditorium. But Tuesday night Anat Cohen breathed new life into it by breathing a dizzying array of wonderful notes into her clarinet and saxophones. She and her band were a joy to watch and hear.
The auditorium had its first-ever full house and Cohen gave the crowd what it came for. She danced, and laughed, and played snake charmer to her drummer, Ulysses Owens. Her enthusiasm was infectious but it would have been nothing without her incredible musicianship.
Starting with Fats Waller’s great “Jitterbug Waltz,” she slinked her way in and around the melody on clarinet. And she was equally adept at tenor sax on “The Wedding,” another great tune by Abdullah Ibrahim, and on soprano sax on a Brazilian song.
Her band was on fire throughout the set. Owens and bassist Joe Martin were excellent and pianist Jason Linder was Cohen’s equal in creativity when it came to solos. At one point he seemed to turn his piano into an electric keyboard by sliding his iPhone over the strings inside as he was playing them. It was the best use of an electronic device I’ve seen at a concert in a long time.
Earlier in the evening I caught the John Patitucci Trio at Kilbourn Hall. Patitucci, a bassist, brought the superb saxophonist John Ellis and a fine drummer whose name I didn’t catch. During the first tune I felt like the group needed a piano or guitar and should have been a quartet. Patitucci seemed to anticipate this, referencing the most prominent leader of a piano-less jazz group (Sonny Rollins) later in the set.
But I forgot my complaint as soon as he picked up his electric bass. It’s a six-string bass that kind of combines guitar territory on the high end with a traditional electric bass. Patitucci was all over that thing, slapping, picking, and strumming magnificently. My favorite tune was “Mali,” composed as a tribute to an African musician he had played with.
I heard another great tenor saxophonist, Julian Arguelles, over at Christ Church. Arguelles’ quartet, from England, boasted pianist Kit Downes. Both he and the leader turned out nicely shaped solos every time. But what I liked best about Arguelles were his compositions, which were always distinctive and never predictable.
After knocking his use of electronic vocal gimmicks in Monday night’s blog, I wanted to hear Alfredo Rodriguez play solo at Hatch Hall. What a difference a day makes; he was wonderful. He played Cuban songs and original compositions, but he played them in a style recalling Keith Jarrett.
The audience was transfixed as he combined super-human technique with exquisite sensitivity. Every tune he played was a journey, and although he had played them before, there was a sense that he was rediscovering them, exploring from different angles. For instance, when he played possibly the best-known Cuban song of all, “Guantanamera,” it was more like pianistic Paganini Variations on “Guantanamera” showcasing myriad possibilities.
Wednesday night I’ll begin with three young giants, Bernstein/Stewart/Goldings, at Montage. I’ll also hear two pianists, Aaron Goldberg at Max of Eastman Place and Jacob Karlzon at the Lutheran Church.
With the casual air of a felon who knows he’s guilty, but doesn’t care, The Dave Spinner B3 Band swung vibrantly nonchalant and tasteful in the Big Tent Monday night. The band came out with its take on the Funky Meters before moving into Herbie Hancock territory. The set was even-keeled and steady in the heat. And the band made it look so damn easy…
The crowd was a little light last night throughout downtown, but managed to congregate big and noisily again in the Big Tent for The Sicilian Jazz Project. Despite the inconsiderate level of chit-chat from the hoi polloi, the group came off as just that -- a project. Not a band, an assembly, a group, or an experience, but a project with a mystical flair.
The project assembled slowly with members coming and going, ebbing and flowing as needed. At times a duo — ethereal vocals and really ethereal guitar — to a full out frontline of two vocals, guitar, and horns above a drummer who sporadically exploded when not plugging away beneath the band’s -- I mean, project’s -- slithering exotic tone. It had a gentle seductive wail that added to its Mediterranean swelter and linen-ensconced charm. Dramatic and beautiful.
Violet Mary’s set at the RG&E-LiDestri Spirit Tent was the best I’ve seen the band, ever. It was loose and totally plugged in as the audience — of all ages — lapped it up. The guitar had amazing tone and attack, and the band’s rockin’ boogie was a nice respite to the Jazz Fest’s tuck and pleat.
Never seen The Fabulous Thunderbirds? Seeing The Chris O’Leary Band at Abilene was the next best thing after the band’s classic “Girls Go Wild” line-up. Freight-train harp, twin sax attack, and a guitar player with a huge twang-cabulary had the place jumpin’ Texas blues style and the walls sweating like those felons I told you about earlier.
The Alfredo Rodriguez Trio started off well enough at Kilbourn Hall Monday night. During the group’s first tune the dynamics were off the charts. Rodriguez, his bassist, and drummer never fell into a standard pattern. The piece rose and fell like Rodriguez’s hands springing off the keyboard. The sound was impressionistic, with flurries of notes and surprising turns in the melody.
The second composition began nicely with hand percussion and a simple repeated phrase that gradually grew more complex. But halfway through the piece, Rodriguez opened a laptop computer and moved a microphone to his mouth. He then proceeded to add gimmicky vocal effects to the mix. I thought we were a couple of days away from Peter Frampton.
I headed over to catch Geoffrey Keezer at Hatch Hall where, thankfully, there were no mics or laptops in sight. If you imagine a great jazz pianist like Keezer spending years in a garret listening to nothing by Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell, and Duke Ellington, consider the first three compositions on his set list: a Stevie Wonder tune, a Peter Gabriel tune, and a Rush tune. But, I must admit, they were played in manner more like Monk, Powell, and Ellington.
Keezer was wonderfully engaging, telling stories between each tune. He can seemingly convert any pop song into compelling jazz. But my favorite of his selections was “My Love Is Like A Red, Red Rose,” based on a poem by Robert Burns, which was probably a hit in 1794 when it was written.
The most arresting music of the night for me was provided by the Kurt Rosenwinkel New Quartet at Xerox Auditorium. The band not only had Rosenwinkel, one of the most distinctive guitarists in jazz, but also boasted Aaron Parks, one of the genre’s finest young pianists. These two were supported by the superb rhythm section of Eric Revis on bass and Justin Faulkner on drums, two musicians who where so in sync, they played as one.
Every one of Rosenwinkel and Parks’ solos was an adventurous flight but, I must say, they saved the best for last. The second-to-last tune was a gorgeous ballad on which Rosenwinkel would play fairly exotic chords and then play runs over them while they resonated. His tone was perfectly clear, his lines beautifully articulated.
On the last tune, “Star of Jupiter,” Park played his finest solo of the night. And Faulkner, who, in retrospect, had been holding back for most of the night, unleashed a solo as masterful as it was powerful.
I ended the night with Eric Alexander and Harold Mabern at the Montage. Because I was late, I was stuck in the bar portion where they don’t seem to know there’s a jazz festival going on. Maybe, with the variety of venues, bar ambiance (read noisy people) is what they’re going for at Montage, but it’s kind of annoying to hear really loud people even when I’m inside the music area.
Still, Alexander proved to be his usual muscular tenor-sax-playing self (he’s one of the best). And it was good to hear Mabern, one of the last of the greatest generation of jazz players. This guy played with Miles Davis, Lee Morgan, Wes Montgomery -- the list goes on and on. On a ballad at Montage he played one of the most beautifully constructed and melodic solos I’ve ever heard.
Tuesday night I’ll be checking out the John Patitucci Trio at Kilbourn Hall, saxophonist Julian Arguelles at Christ Church, and Israeli clarinetist Anat Cohen at Xerox Auditorium.
UPDATED 6/25/13 with the name of John Sneider, the guest trumpet player who performed with the Eastman Youth Jazz Orchestra.
Monday was Day 4 of the 2013 Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival, but for me it was the first night out.I’m contributing coverage to City this Monday through Friday.
I arrived early and got to take in the sounds of the West Irondequoit High School Jazz Band on the Jazz Street Stage (more commonly referred to as “Gibbs Street”). No fewer than 21 high-school bands were scheduled to perform in this year’s festival, and I’m giving a shout out to the West Irondequoit student playing alto sax for his natural rhythm and strong line.
The first show I was assigned to cover was also the best of the night, a UK jazz artist with Jamaican parents, Courtney Pine. He took to the stage at Harro East in an official Great Britain team shirt and let loose with a wail on his straight soprano saxophone. Pine is not traditional, or even American jazz. There was an obvious Caribbean influence that included steel drums. By the third song Pine’s entire group was grooving and dancing upon the stage, and I couldn’t fathom how the audience remained in its seats.
What a switch to then head over to Max of Eastman Place, which was full to capacity for the early show by Hiroya Tsukamoto and Satoshi Takeishi. Tsukamoto played an acoustic guitar (amplified) and sang. Takeishi delivered percussion, from a drum with a tambourine fixed inside, a large handful of wind chimes that he stroked against the drum, brushes that he used on the snare drum, small bells and cymbals, and a round drum with perhaps dry rice inside. Tsukamoto’s songs, like “Gemni Bridge,” were sublime, with the voice sounding as if off in a distant memory, adding an arc to the instrument and percussion.
Then, it was over to Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre for the ESM-XRIJF Gerry Niewood Jazz Scholarships Performance, featuring the Eastman Youth Jazz Orchestra and the Eastman Jazz Ensemble. When I arrived, the Eastman Youth Jazz Orchestra was already bopping around a number with Sage Melcher (Allendale Columbia) on vocals. Melcher definitely has it bad for jazz, and her stage presence was infectious. I was also impressed by guest trumpet player John Sneider, who joined the Eastman Youth Jazz Orchestra along with his guitarist brother, Bob Sneider. John's trills and other finger-flutters left me saying, "Wow!" The pure sound he brought forth from his instrument just sailed through Eastman Theatre. If there’s another opportunity to hear him, we need to figure it out -- and fast!
Special congratulations also to the two winners of the scholarships, Ryder Eaton (School of the Arts) and C.J. Ziarniak (Aquinas Institute). Both Eaton (bass) and Ziarniak (saxophone) will matriculate at ESM this coming fall to pursue their studies.
And with that, I’m checking my schedule for tomorrow, a line-up that includes John Nyerges (Rochester Club), Djabe (Big Tent), and Michael Wollny (Max of Eastman).For this year’s festival, I’m looking for jazz blended with other cultures to create unique sounds.
Of all the bands that I wanted to see on Sunday night, and of those I hadn’t seen before, The Stretch Orchestra at Montage Music Hall was at the top of my list. I've seen this Canuck trio in parts — as solo artists or sidemen — and knew the total would surely outweigh the sum. Well, these cats took the stage, took a bottle of quirk and mixed it with some carbonation, shook it, and popped the cork.
Leading the charge was multi-instrumentalist Kevin Breit (Norah Jones, Sisters Euclid, etc). If it’s got strings, barring yo-yos, he can play it. Breit’s attack was just that; an attack, visceral and intense and yet he could coax utter beauty (I forgot to mention heartstrings) from a baritone guitar as quickly as he could pummel the low end and send the upper register up, up, and beyond. There were periods of confusion, chaos, and elation for all in attendance.
Matt Brubeck added the bottom end, working his cello as a bass with an equal affinity for soaring forays into madness, and an added bowed beauty. Drummer Jesse Stewart was solid and on the same page as his band mates, but didn’t come off as left of field as the other two. Perhaps I’ve grown to expect drummers to be rather crazy. It’s a bit premature, I know, I know, but this was one of the best shows of the whole Festival.
Christine Tobin sang her poetic interpretations from the altar at Christ Church with a gentle lilt that was entirely too precious for the mood The Stretch Orchestra had put me in, so I skedaddled. Besides it was in a church and God and I have an understanding; he stays out of my house and I stay out of his.
I usually don’t truck on the negative side of the street, but the Louis Armstrong Jazz Society Band left me wanting Satchmo. Don’t get me wrong — or do if you want, I dare you — this band was top notch; heavy hitters playing jazz from the very top of the pyramid as Jack Garner so aptly put it in his introduction. But the band’s singer, who made a splashy entrance from the rear of Kilbourn Hall, made me feel as if I was in Vegas or on a cruise ship. So I set sail for Abilene with The Stretch Orchestra still rattling around my skull. Goodnight Miss Calabash, wherever you are…