Despite her sunny looks, Bria Skonberg harbors a little darkness. She played around in minor keys, and introduced me to my new favorite tune, Sidney Bechet's "Egyptian Fantasy." The way she worked around its haunting Duke Ellington-esque elegance was tres cool.
I couldn't make up my mind if I liked her horn playing or her singing more. Skonberg's horn was clean with a lot of presence from her perfect armature to the way it lead the charge for her band, especially her clarinet player who snaked around with the trumpet to create a breathtaking New Orleans-rooted spectacle. There were faint hints of Dixieland in the air. Her voice was as fresh and clean as frozen Pepsodent, and some of her lyrics were noir-ish in mood and texture but ultimately up-beat and up-lifting. Skonberg was charming in the extreme. And the packed Harro East Ballroom crowd ate her up.
Bernunzio's is putting up large pictures on its windows to celebrate Rochester's musical icons, and guess what? I'm an Icon. Thanks guys; I'm floored, flummoxed, and humbled. I performed there tonight next to my picture. I was beside myself.
Meanwhile, back at the party, they were jumping for Joy because she wouldn't get off the chandelier...
And meanwhile, back at the Jazz Fest...
I skated over to Xerox Auditorium (it's a bit of a haul) to dig on some Brubeck Blood playing Brubeck. I'm sure his last name opens doors and answers phones, but Dan Brubeck is a killer drummer who I believe I saw play with his dad, Dave, once upon a time. Though it wasn't the old man playing them, it was still a thrill to hear "Blue Rondo a la Turk" played expertly or "Take 5" with its innovative 5/4 time signature played with the guitar playing Paul Desmond's signature part as there was no saxophone or saxophonist to be found.
I'm just hitting my stride kids. Wednesday night it's Tia Brazda. Weeee!
For me, the sound in Christ Church has sucked, and it's sucked for years: relegated to a kick drum-induced boom-a-thon and vocals that were so reverb-drenched that they sounded backwards. It's never been the soundman's fault; it's just the big room.
Well I'm here to tell ya, that's all changed with Gwyneth Herbert's positively riveting performance. She was playfully curious with a ukulele and kazoo while not coming on too child-like -- it was exploratory but not lost in space. And the woman has the range of a Theremin, her ultra-high notes pinging off the ceiling and dislodging pieces of the Word of God that have been stuck up there since Easter. Of the let's say top 10 singers I've ever seen, Herbert is two of them.
Gwyneth Herbert will perform again Tuesday, June 28, at Max of Eastman Place. 6:15 p.m. and 10 p.m. $30 or a Club Pass will get you in.
Next I took a detour, on my way to get ice cream, through the Big Tent where The Revelers were revelatin' loud and proud Louisiana-style, with a nice Creole, see-saw version of "Clementine" -- "Oh my darling, oh my darling ..."
Bill Kirchen, the Telemaster, the former Lost Planet Airman, was bangin' and twangin' outside at Abilene Bar and Lounge, so I slid off the grid to take a gander. Kirchen is a no-frills player -- waxing cooler than the Harro East Ballroom's air-conditioning -- even though he frequently spanks the plank like a maniac. He looks and sounds as he always has: rail-thin and rockin'. Even though, as he intoned in his last tune, "The times, they are a-changin'.
Bria Skonberg is performing Tuesday night, baby!
We're only half-way through the 2016 Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival, and there's still a lot of music to hear. To make it a little more digestible, our music critics pick their top concerts for each day.
And if you're still looking for a full schedule of performances, or bios on each day's musicians, keep an eye out for our Jazz Festival Preview Guide (on stands now), or check it out here.
Russell Malone (Hard bop jazz) Maybe a decade ago, I was cruising along listening to the car radio, when the most irresistible tune I'd heard in a long time came on. It featured an electric guitar playing a catchy but sophisticated, soul-inflected melody. When the DJ came on, he said it was "Sweet Georgia Peach" by Russell Malone, and I've been hooked ever since. Malone's first job in jazz was a stint with legendary organist Jimmy Smith. He moved on to Harry Connick Jr. and Diana Krall before going out on his own. I can't wait to watch his fingers fly over the fret board at Kilbourn. 6 p.m. and 9 p.m.; Kilbourn Hall; $35 or a Club Pass; vervemusicgroup.com/russellmalone -- BY RON NETSKY
Nikki Hill (R&B, rock 'n' roll) The reigning queen of rock 'n' roll, Nikki Hill picks up where Ruth Brown and Etta James left off. You've just gotta hear this lady jive and wail while her hubby, Matt Hill, strangles his guitar like Tarheel Slim. 7:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.; Jazz Street Stage; Free; nikkihillmusic.com -- BY FRANK DE BLASE
Jumaane Smith (Straight-ahead jazz) Trumpeter Jumaane Smith is a force. The guy is musically flexible, has played with a laundry list of jazz and pop greats -- Natalie Cole, Ravi Coltrane, Stevie Wonder, Michael Buble -- and got the stamp of approval from Wynton Marsalis. If you love trumpet, or want a jazz set that's going to be dynamic and rich, Smith at Max of Eastman Place is your concert Wednesday. 6:15 p.m. and 10 p.m.; Max of Eastman Place; $30 or a Club Pass; jumaanesmith.com -- BY JAKE CLAPP
Claudia Quintet (Progressive jazz) As jazz has blossomed over the past 100-plus years, different strains of the music have emerged. One of those branches is a form of jazz that fuses free-form improvisation with an almost classical approach to composing and arranging. Since moving to New York in the early 1990's, drummer John Hollenbeck has gained a reputation for his adventurous work in this genre. His group, The Claudia Quintet, plays Hollenbeck's avant-garde-leaning tunes and features top players like Drew Gress, bass; Matt Moran, vibraphone; Chris Speed, clarinet and saxophone; and former Rochesterian Red Wierenga, accordion. 6:30 p.m. and 9 p.m.; Xerox Auditorium; $30 or a Club Pass; claudiaquintet.com -- BY RON NETSKY
Chris Botti (Pop jazz) I'm not big on pop jazz, but you've got to admit, Botti draws the crowds like a pied piper -- I've even seen him weave through the twitterpated audience. His retro tone and boyish good looks might remind you of Chet Baker before the fall. Smooth and creamy, man, smooth and creamy. 8 p.m.; Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre; This show just sold out; chrisbotti.com -- BY FRANK DE BLASE
Emefe (Afrobeat, pop, electronica) There are a lot of surprises to unpack in Emefe's music. Underneath the New York City band's New Wave-style electric-rock is funk, Afrobeat, cinematic pop, dance grooves, and just a lot of interesting ideas. It's at once immediately accessible, fun, thought-provoking, and deep. 8:30 p.m. and 10 p.m.; Rochester Regional Health Big Tent; $30 or a Club Pass; emefemusic.com -- BY JAKE CLAPP
Helen Sung (Straight-ahead jazz) Ever since I heard pianist Helen Sung's early albums, "Helenistique" and "Sungbird" a decade ago, I have been a fan of her lyrical keyboard style. Over the last two decades, Sung has performed with a Who's Who of jazz, including Wayne Shorter, Ron Carter, and Clark Terry. She also won the Kennedy Center's 2007 Mary Lou Williams Piano Competition, and has appeared on Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz. But put the resume aside and just listen to this woman play. It won't take long to understand why she has emerged from a crowded field of pianists. She'll also be performing with her quartet Saturday at Montage. Friday's performance is 5:45 p.m. and 7:45 p.m.; Hatch Recital Hall; $30 or a Club Pass; helensung.com -- BY RON NETSKY
Gregg Allman (Classic rock) One of the godfathers of Southern rock and blue-eyed soul -- not to mention his relationship with Cher -- Gregg Allman and his slide guitar genius brother, the late Duane Allman, formed The Allman Brothers out of their earlier garage band, The Allman Joys. The band was one of the saviors of the Muscle Shoals sound, which they packed -- and Allman, at 68, still packs -- into their legendary, incendiary shows. 8 p.m.; Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre; $65-$85; greggallman.com -- BY FRANK DE BLASE
Red Baraat (Brooklyn bhangra) The music of Red Baraat is rooted in joy -- a baraat itself is a groom's procession during North Indian weddings. And the eight-piece band delivers it in a high-energy blast of North Indian bhangra, D.C. go-go, jazz, hip-hop, and New York City edge. While the percussion and rhythms of India drive the boat, everything is glued together by funky horns and a little rockin' guitar. 5:30 p.m. and 7:15 p.m.; Harro East Ballroom; $30 or a Club Pass; redbaraat.com -- BY JAKE CLAPP
Dizzy Gillespie Afro-Cuban Experience (Afro-Cuban jazz) Once you catch a glimpse of trumpeter Freddie Hendrix's bent-bell trumpet aimed at the sky, there is no doubt about who he is emulating. No one did more to bring Afro-Cuban music to the United States than the brilliant trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, who distinguished himself with his incomparable technique, his wonderful style, and that funny looking bent trumpet. The Dizzy Gillespie Afro-Cuban Experience pays tribute to that legacy by playing vintage arrangements of tunes like "Manteca" that sound as fresh today as they did when Gillespie and his band played them decades ago. 6 p.m. and 9 p.m.; Kilbourn Hall; $35 or a Club Pass; inadittke.com/dg-ace -- BY RON NETSKY
Flat Earth Society (Progressive jazz orchestra) By playing the Lutheran Church, each artist is given a pass to go "out there." It's the land of the free, the home of the weird. It is a fitting stage for the Belgian big band of innovative madness that is so into its own version of the truth you'll leave believing you could seriously walk off the edge. 7:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.; Lutheran Church; $30 or a Club Pass; facebook.com/flatearthsoc -- BY FRANK DE BLASE
Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue (New Orleans rock) There are a lot of reasons to catch this show: it's free; it's at the new Midtown Stage; Trombone Shorty has been a consistent Jazz Festival favorite and is sure to bring the energy; and simply, the band rocks. Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue has figured out a way to distill down the best of New Orleans music -- from the brass bands and jazz outfits joyously playing in the streets to classic NOLA funk and rock -- put its own flair on everything, and then throw a party. 9 p.m.; Midtown Stage; Free; tromboneshorty.com -- BY JAKE CLAPP
Lizz Wright had the sold-out Harro East Ballroom crowd in the palm of her hand Monday night. Maybe it was because, with the room's large windows, there is no way to turn the house lights off while it's still light outside. She could see the audience, so Wright engaged with it throughout her show. She said she hadn't played two shows a night since she was in her 20's, and the band's attitude toward the second set was "let's just scrape the bottom and see what's left."
There was a lot left. Wright's voice is gorgeously smoky and her stage movements, gestures, and facial expressions are just right. She performed songs from her recent album, "Freedom & Surrender," and even though they weren't as familiar as her covers, they went over beautifully. Between tunes, Wright spoke about what she was trying to say in the lyrics: the stories mostly involved her upbringing in a strict church atmosphere with her father, a minister.
But it was some of her personality-infused covers that got the biggest responses from the audience. Her renditions of Neil Young's "Old Man" and Gladys Knight's "I've Got to Use My Imagination" (written by Gerry Goffin and Barry Goldberg) were definite crowd pleasers.
Jazz Fest 2016, Day 4: Lizz Wright
Over at Xerox Auditorium, the 16-piece Moscow Jazz Orchestra walked onto the stage wearing suits with red, white, and blue-striped ties. But that was nothing compared to the obvious immersion of the group's members in American jazz. Vladimir Putin may be doing some saber rattling, and a new Cold War may be on the horizon, but the Moscow Jazz Orchestra is as American as apple pie.
The Orchestra is led by Igor Butman (who plays with his quartet Tuesday, 6 p.m. and 10 p.m., at Montage) and he was every bit the showman. Like Benny Goodman or a leader from the classic big band era, Butman would rise from the reed section and wind his serpentine saxophone solos over and around the sound of the whole band. But that's not to say the group was retro in any way. The music ranged from a composition based on a Russian folk song to an arrangement of Billy Strayhorn's "The Intimacy of the Blues" -- the treatments were all contemporary.
Despite all of the fireworks on stages all around downtown Rochester, there is a place for subtlety at the XRIJF. Mika Pohjola's trio provided some of that Monday night at the Lutheran Church. When the trio's saxophonist took a solo, sometimes the drummer would drop out completely. And when the drummer soloed there were no pyrotechnics, just an exploration of the tune's percussive possibilities.
A superb pianist, Pohjola played some of his own tunes, including "Sleep," based on a poem by a famous Finnish writer. The trio ended the set with Ornette Coleman's 'Humpty Dumpty," and even that was not enough to stir things up.
Tuesday night, I'll be checking out Christine Tobin at Christ Church. Then I'll head over to Kilbourn Hall to hear Nacka Forum.
Just about every pianist I've seen at Hatch Hall over the years has been excellent, but Eldar is in a class by himself. He's the Vladimir Horowitz of jazz, or for the younger generation, let's say Lang Lang. The point is, Eldar is one of the world's greatest pianists -- and we had him all to ourselves tonight.
Eldar, whose last name is Djangirov, was recognized as a prodigy when he moved from the former Soviet Union to Kansas at 10 years old. In his teenage years, he was talked about with the same sense of awe that Joey Alexander now enjoys. Now 29, he has developed into an absolutely thrilling performer.
He started his set with a frenzied rendition of "A Night in Tunisia," in which snippets of melody would float over his impressionistic foundation. (Eldar revisited this mode of improvisation throughout the set.) He began The Beatles tune "Blackbird" more like a woodpecker, pecking at one note repeatedly while building up the chords and melody around it. And he actually slowed down for a while on "Willow Weep for Me," but it didn't last for long as his right hand took off on another flight.
Eldar played other standards, like "Take the A Train" and a player-piano-inspired version of "Body And Soul," but my favorite moment was when he took on a Bach prelude, but not without providing his own wildly imaginative variations.
The three other musicians in Pedrito Martinez's quartet at Kilbourn Hall waited until the second to last tune to leave the stage and let Martinez demonstrate why he is regarded as one of the hottest Afro-Cuban percussionists working today. With four conga drums in front of him, Martinez filled the hall with wave after wave of complex polyrhythms.
Throughout the set, he had shown his prowess as an expressive singer who got his songs across despite the language barrier -- although attempts to involve the audience in singing part of a tune didn't quite work. The songs were infectious and the group often used four-voice harmonies.
But Martinez's quartet played one of the loudest sets I've ever heard in Kilbourn. The group obviously wanted it that way, complimenting the soundman and even giving him a shout out. I controlled the volume with the earplugs I always have with me, but the audience didn't seem disturbed by it.
At the Lutheran Church, bassist Arild Andersen began his trio's set with bowing in the higher register of his double bass. He was playing into electronic devices that would form harmonies and counterpoint as he layered his choruses, and he eventually began to pluck and strum, building to a ferocious solo. Anderson was eventually joined by drummer Paolo Vinaccia and tenor saxophonist Tommy Smith -- each equally experimental.
Smith, a long-time collaborator with Anderson, played with more of an adventurous edge than he did in his straight-ahead Kilbourn Hall set Saturday night in a duo with Makoto Ozone. This trio went on to explore the more avant-garde side of jazz that seems to have found more of a home in Europe than it has in the United States.
Monday night, I hope to catch Lizz Wright's set at Harro East. Then I'll take in the Moscow Jazz Orchestra at Xerox Auditorium, and end the night with Mika Pohjola at the Lutheran Church.
Okay, so I'm paraphrasing here, but my "what for," "why is," and "when by" of jazz was serendipitously solved by guitarist John Abercrombie. During his 10 p.m. slot to a packed and lively crowd at the Montage Music Hall, he said, "I don't like to know where I'm going. That's why I play jazz."
But clearly Abercrombie, his organist, and his drummer knew exactly where they were going even when they opted to send the soundman to get some music from their dressing room after their first Irving Berlin number. Abercrombie's playing was big and sweet with its notes not so much fat as they were chubby and slick. But honestly, it was overshadowed by the organ in spots. 'Twas pure and beautiful all at the same.
As I proclaimed in the hallowed pages of City last week: The Majestics are back, Jack. The band celebrated its history with a bouncy set of serious reggae in a packed Little Theatre. It was hard to get up and dance when the size of the place served up the sardine treatment. Consequently it was a laid back, chill affair. Just when you thought the set couldn't possibly get any better, The Majestics invited up a few Prime Time horns for some seasoned and salacious sass and brass. What a solid show; I can't wait to see them again.
After the Majestics and right before Abercrombie's gracious set, I set foot in the Fusion Tent to catch Madeleine McQueen and the Breeze. I remembered liking her CD and her voice in particular: it's bright and sweet and reminiscent of Mikaela Davis. The problem was her guitar player, or more specifically, how he was mixed. It was big and shrill like a dentist drill as it overshadowed McQueen. I liked what he was playing, just not its molar-cracking treble and volume.
And all the way back at the beginning, I started the evening at Max for drummer Charles Ruggiero's 6:15 p.m. set. He described the jazz approach of taking a brief, succinct, and recognizable melody as fodder for improve once it's been identified like, say, the theme to "Law and Order." It was a homecoming of sorts for the brash beater who gave the people what they knew before taking it out of bounds.
But the true inspiration that prompted me to write this review backwards was from Abercrombie's reason for jazz. I truly didn't know where I was going with this until I sat down to bang it out. And you know what? I still don't know.
Check back Tuesday morning to hear what I thought about the Monday sets with Gwyneth Herbert (at Christ Church) and Judith Hill (at Anthology).
I said it was all about Junior Brown, and that's precisely how things rolled out for day two of the Jazz Fest. Weather-wise it was the kind of conditions that weathermen take credit for. And inside, it threatened to get hot since the buzz was buzzin' for Nashville's super-afroed lady at the keys, Kandace Springs.
As Springs dug into some Coltrane and a little Peterson, along with some of her own designs, she was charming to the max. And she possesses quite a range, which got sultrier the closer she dove into alto territory. But all of this and I just couldn't connect with her.
Springs was sincere and authentic, but her material was too all over the place; there just wasn't a root or thread through the set. She showed the packed Harro East Ballroom (which had simply amazing sound pumping out of the mains, by the way) what she likes -- I would rather see and hear more of who she is next time.
Kandace Springs will perform again on Sunday, June 26, at Anthology (336 East Avenue). 7:45 p.m. and 9:45 p.m. $30 or a Club Pass will get you in.
Erykah Badu took a wrong turn at Albuquerque and was late by a couple hours, and I sure as hell wasn't going to miss Junior Brown at Anthology. So I forwent Badu and got down with Brown.
After meeting the man backstage and pressing the flesh, I settled in to an amazing show full of deceptively simple rhythm and time signature shifts by Brown and his able band. I don't know which half I like hearing from more: the guitar or the steel guitar. Both are part of his double-necked Guit-Steel -- the instrument equivalent to conjoined twins.
Brown switched off between the two liberally, with some string bending hi-jinx, and played with the low string tuner peg so it would plunge multiple octaves that almost came close to his beautiful baritone. Speaking of his voice: the ghost of Ernest Tubb lives there.
It'll be Charles Ruggerio, The Majestics, and John Abercrombie tomorrow night, along with lots of people watching.
About three-quarters of the way through their energetic set at Kilbourn Hall, Tommy Smith aimed his tenor saxophone right into the open lid of Makoto Ozone's grand piano. The sounds that came out for the next several minutes were magical.
Smith, who had a gorgeous tone and a voluminous dynamic range, played clusters of notes that did far more than create compelling melodies. Each phrase he played also added up to a chord that would gradually build in the piano's improvised echo chamber and resonate for five seconds or so -- enough time for Smith to begin to create the next note cluster. After the piece, much of the audience gave a rare mid-set standing ovation.
Each member of the duo had referred to the other as a genius during the show, which is kind of a dangerous thing to do; at the very least it sets a high standard. But with Ozone's dexterity and adventurous exploration at the piano and Smith's ability to shape his saxophone's sound from low register growls to beautifully controlled high squeaks, it was hard to argue with either of them.
I always sit on the left side at Hatch Recital Hall so I can see the hands of the pianist as they roam over the keyboard. Music is often both a visual and aural experience and Jon Ballantyne's hands did not disappoint. While his left hand held down the fort, maintaining complicated bass lines, his right broke free, spidering frenetically over the keys. As free as it seemed, there was never a hint of a note gone astray; Ballantyne was in complete control.
His playing was so strong and his set so varied, the hour went by quickly. On a medley of "Monk's Mood" and "Round Midnight," two classics by the great Thelonious Monk, Ballantyne not only traversed Monk's quirky melodies wonderfully, he filled many of the spaces in between the lines with his own quirky runs and flourishes.
You can catch Jon Ballantyne again when he performs with his trio on Sunday, June 26, at the Rochester Club (120 East Avenue). 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. $30 or a Club Pass will get you in.
Over at Christ Church, transplanted British guitarist Phil Robson (he spoke of his recent move to Weehawken, New Jersey) filled the sanctuary with a languid, upper-register sound reminiscent of Pat Metheny. Robson played mostly original compositions, giving the audience little to hang on to, and sadly, most of the crowd left before he got around to a standard, "You Stepped Out of a Dream."
Robson and his excellent band mates, bassist Joseph Lepore and drummer Tom Rainey, had some strong interplay, especially when Rainey took a wild solo using some sort of miniature drumsticks.
Sunday night, I'll be starting off with Pedrito Martinez in Kilbourn Hall before heading over to Eldar in Hatch Hall, and finish with Arild Andersen at the Lutheran Church. (That was not a bad pun, he's Norwegian.)
It was crazy, I tell ya. People were everywhere in the beautifully controlled chaos. Opening day: Jazz Fest 2016. Be still my beating heart as it keeps time with the rat-a-tat-tat of my rickety keyboard as I type away this report from the frontline.
John Mooney and Bluesiana kicked off my musical intake on the Gibbs Street stage with a solid body punch of his slide-driven, electrified guitar. Mooney and crew, which included Rochester’s top cat on the bottom end, our man just back from Amsterdam, Brian Williams on the galloping bass. But alas, this show wasn’t on my list of things to cover, so I regrettably dragged my ass to see Grace Potter.
Well ho-ly shit, Batman, what a knockout show. My regret melted away and was replaced by a spellbound enthusiasm that came on like a rash. Potter came out whipping her hair in a frantic, follicle frenzy that would have made an astronaut toss his cookies. This was nothing like when I saw her with The Nocturnals at Water Street Music Hall a few years back. Then, Potter was more ensconced in somewhat lengthy jams. But not this show.
And though it was like following a pinball on stage, it was impossible to take your eyes off of Potter, unless you took some time to look at the stage right guitarist who served up some bawdy picked licks in response to Potter’s siren call.
By the time we made it out of the Eastman Theatre, Mooney had the massive crowd shaking their collective moneymaker in a sweaty display of hell bound joy.
Next it was pop sensations Fitz and The Tantrums. This band was an ode to energy, and it played as if it were The Thompson Twins leading an aerobics class. Every one of the Tantrums’ songs got immediately lodged in your brain, and the kids piled before the stage couldn’t stop pogo-ing. You remember the pogo, don’t you?
We arrived at Anthology just in time for Davina and The Vagabonds’ second set of New Orleans rock ‘n’ roll stomp. Davina is a dynamite dame, an animated singer, and a master of disguise. Her face contorted and cajoled as she sang out a set of original tunes. I didn’t mind at all when she detoured to belt out a request for a little sugar in her bowl a la Nina Simone, and for Fats Domino’s “Ain’t that a Shame.” If you missed it, then yes it was … a goddamn shame.
I keep going Saturday by checking out Kandace Springs and Erykah Badu. But I have to apologize ladies, in the end, tomorrow night is all about Junior Brown and his Guit-Steel.
You can still catch John Mooney and Bluesiana play a free show on Saturday, June 25, 7 p.m., at the East Ave. and Chestnut St. Stage.
Jazz Fest 2016, Day 1: John Mooney, Grace Potter, Fitz and the Tantrums, Davina and the Vagabonds
The Scofield-Lovano Quartet got right down to business at Xerox Auditorium Friday night. The two stars -- guitarist John Scofield and saxophonist Joe Lovano -- walked onto the stage, along with the excellent rhythm section of Ben Street (bass) and Bill Stewart (drums), and launched into Lovano's "Symbolism." Scofield played gorgeously, even slipping into some Wes Montgomery-style octaves, while Lovano let loose torrents of notes from his tenor saxophone.
Throughout the set, Scofield and Lovano would begin and end tunes with harmonized heads, played in the manner of a sax and trumpet horn section. Every tune, including Scofield's "Museum" and "Slinky," and Miles Davis's "Budo," was filled with great melodic ideas that would hang in the air during improvisations by the two leaders.
Lovano and Scofield played off of one another nicely, each bringing decades of musical personality to the stage. The set was tight, allowing for only one solo each for Street and Stewart, but both were excellent throughout.
Jazz Fest 2016, Day 1: Scofield-Lovano Quartet
After playing the first composition at the Lutheran Church, singer and saxophonist Sissel Vera Pettersen introduced the members of Mikkel Ploug's Equilibrium, and pointed out that she is from Norway, Ploug is from Denmark, and clarinetist Joachim Badenhorst is from Belgium. But the audience already knew that the music was from another planet.
Ploug anchored the group with his relatively straight electric guitar playing. He was flanked by Badenhorst on clarinet and bass clarinet and Pettersen on voice, soprano sax, and electronics. I use the term "on voice" because for most of the set she used no words; her voice was her instrument. She moved her head from side to side and back to front, using the microphone like a Theremin.
The ethereal mixture of her voice and Badenhorst's clarinets was perfect for the beautiful church environment, but if you closed your eyes, you could be floating through distant galaxies. A virtuoso on clarinets, Badenhorst's vocabulary included slap tonguing that made it sound like he was playing two notes at once. Pettersen and Ploug used electronics occasionally to deepen the lush textures and adventurous harmonies.
Popular piano teacher and local jazz hero Paul Hofmann couldn't help but teach a bit of jazz history during his Hatch Hall performance. For instance, the audience learned that Miles Davis led generations of musicians astray with his version of Thelonious Monk's "Well, You Needn't." Hofmann set the record straight with his spirited rendition, true to Monk's original arrangement.
Hofmann's performance was dedicated to the tunes of great pianists who were also great composers. He played tunes by Monk, Bud Powell, Duke Ellington, and others, all in his sparkling style, with an Art Tatum-like arpeggio thrown in once in a while for good measure. Perhaps the most unusual aspect of Hofmann's style was the first thing he did when he arrived on stage. He took off his shoes, preferring to hit the petals with his feet in socks.
Saturday night, I'll start with Makoto Ozone and Tommy Smith in Kilbourn Hall. Then I'll head over to Hatch Hall for Jon Ballantyne, and my last stop will be Christ Church to catch the Phil Robson Trio.