All the original Ramones are dead and gabba gabba hey gone and yet Kanye still walks the earth. Who’s in charge here?
So, I Mounted the two-wheeler and dodged the drizzle to hit the outside scene.
The Corn Hill Arts Festival is such a cool event. As folks milled around buying lawn ornaments they didn’t need, there was music, music, music. It’s clear the people that book this thing are music fans (Woody this means you, big daddy) as the line-up was eclectic and genuine.
Under a canopy of trees at the cool and serene Gazebo Stage, I caught Buffalo’s The Love Parade, as they rocked rootsy, Grateful, and Dead. There was even some blues in there as the guitar players traded tasty licks.
Danielle Ponder and the Tomorrow People brought the big and pretty soul to knock the crowd out. Ponder’s voice isn’t just powerful and explosively sanctified and sexualized, the lady knows how to use it. Have mercy!
Joe Beard’s big red guitar and big, bad voice were bouncing as I rolled up on The Big Rib Fest in Highland Park. I dined on smoky swine as Beard finished his set and made way for NYC’s Willie Nile. Nile and his band were outstanding as they brought the Bowery to the people in the park. It was straight ahead rock 'n' roll chop and bop with the ragged energy and poetry of say, Lou Reed. The band was brash and energetic in its black-clad approach. Excellent set.
Got to see one of my faves Saturday night rock the joint as the Buddhahood rocked the Memorial Art Gallery. I sense a shift in the band from poly-rhythmic drive to funky horn band. Either way I like it, like it, like it.
Cyrille Aimee was as sweet as can be during her early set at Max. The French vocalist started out rather standard where her talent and tone shone on tunes such as “Young At Heart” and Nina Simone’s “Love Me, Leave Me.” But from there she morphed from storied songstress to scat princess.
Her scat was less percussive than most --- I think it’s because she didn’t plug a lot of Z’s or B’s. She even went head to head with the string bass riffing in unison until they hit a fork and each went their own way before returning to weave around each other. This was jazz the way I like it: exploratory, fresh, rooted in a certain amount of vintage voodoo, and cool, cool, cool.
No matter who you put behind Rochester bluesman Joe Beard the man rises to the top, as he did on The Squeezer’s Stage. With his tight, terse twang and soulful croon and bellow, Beard played his heart out and laid it down with casual cool and savvy.
With the stage looking like a giant fireplace, George Thorogood took the Chestnut Street stage with the Destroyers but without his (gasp) guitar, and just sang the opening number “Born To Be Bad.” George Thorogood without a guitar; now that’s a sure sign of the apocalypse, daddy-o.
He picked it up the next tune and proceeded to take care of business. He primped and preened and flirted with the enormous crowd, letting the mighty black Gibson roar. I’ve seen Thorogood roughly 20 times and though I love him --- he turned me onto Hound Dog Taylor, after all --- this wasn’t his best show.
The band sounded a little tired and even lost Thorogood for an instant during the opening of “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer,” a song that Thorogood used to take forever just to get through the intro, really working the audience into a lather. But now he plays it short. I just loved -- and miss -- the part where Thorogood would say “Everybody’s funny, now you funny, too.”
George Thorogood has played some magical shows that stick in my brain, like the War Memorial with Johnny Winter circa 1984. He knocked my sox off. Unfortunately tonight, they stayed on.
Took one more traipse down Chestnut to Abilene as Chuck Mead and His Grassy Knoll Boys were laying it down thick and swingin’ like Bob Wills with a death wish. It was a rockin’ scene-and-a-half as the music spilled out to the crowd outside as well as those boppin’ inside.
I took my last photo of this year’s most excellent Jazz Fest then spiked my camera like a football. What a great nine days for Rochester music fans. I’m here to remind you that it doesn’t have to stop here. Well, actually it does. I’m worn out. Adios. Elvis has left the bathroom.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This story was corrected to reflect Cyrille Aimee's nationality. The singer is French, not Canadian as was listed previously.
Imagine Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and Spider-Man all working together. That’s what it was like when the Newport Jazz Festival All Stars took the stage to celebrate the great festival’s 60th anniversary at Kilbourn Hall Saturday night.
There was trumpeter Randy Brecker, clarinetist-saxophonist Anat Cohen, singer Karrin Allyson, pianist Peter Martin, guitarist Mark Whitfield, bassist Larry Grenadier, and drummer Clarence Penn. Most of them had led groups at the XRIJF before; now they were a supergroup.
The configuration varied from full band to a beautiful guitar solo by Whitfield. Allyson performed a haunting rendition of “’Round Midnight” accompanied only by Grenadier. Every solo was excellent; Cohen’s and Brecker’s were outstanding.
The highpoint of the show came midway through when Penn introduced a tune with a riddle: What song was covered by Donna Summer, Grace Jones, Louis Armstrong, and Pavarotti? If you haven’t guessed, it’s “La Vie En Rose.”
The song, written in 1945, was the perfect vehicle for a tribute to the longevity of the Newport Festival. Cohen, who had been playing saxophone, picked up her clarinet and blew everyone away, only to be matched in a solo by Brecker. The result: the crowd went wild and gave the group a rare mid-set standing ovation.
At the end of the show, the group returned to the stage after the second standing ovation in a loose, anything-goes frame of mind. Allyson took over at the piano; Cohen and Martin danced. But that didn’t stop them from making more great music.
Jazz Fest 2014: "Newport Jazz Festival: Now 60"
"Newport Jazz Festival: Now 60" - an ensemble of musicians celebrating the Newport Jazz Festival's 60th anniversary - was performed at Kilbourn Hall on Saturday, June 28 as part of the 2014 Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival.
PHOTOS BY MARK CHAMBERLIN
Over at Hatch Hall, Stephanie Trick led an appreciative crowd through the history of piano music in the 1920's and 1930's. She played some boogie-woogie and ragtime and even a samba, but the majority of her tunes were stride piano compositions by greats such as James P. Johnson and Fats Waller.
Trick’s technique is as fascinating to watch as it is to hear. While her left hand was busy hopping from side to side, providing rhythm and bass, her right hand spidered over the high keys playing intricate melodies.
I ended the festival at the Little Theatre with Scott Feiner & Pandeiro Jazz. It was an unusual concert because the only percussion was provided by a pandeiro, a small Brazilian hand drum shaped like, and about as big as, a tambourine. But it could do so much more than a tambourine, especially in the hands of Feiner.
If you closed your eyes, you could almost hear a whole drum set. If you opened them you saw a man continuously angling and positioning the drum with his left hand and doing all manner of things with his right hand to create a wide array of percussive sounds.
Feiner had great support from two superb players, guitarist Mike Moreno and keyboardist Vitor Gonçalves. They played mostly evocative originals by Feiner, but ended with a wonderful rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “Big Brother.”
Looking back over the last nine days it’s clear that the XRIJF is Rochester’s premier event. Nothing else comes close to bringing as many people of all ages downtown day or night.
There is usually one standout new star at the festival (think Norah Jones at Max at the very first festival 13 years ago). For me, this year’s runaway star was Cecile McLorin Salvant, who played Kilbourn Hall.
But there was no shortage of great performances. Some of my favorites were vibraphonist Warren Wolf at Max, pianist Manuel Valera at Hatch Hall, and the Anders Hagberg Quartet at the Lutheran Church.
I celebrated the end of the week by partying with Ester Rada in the Unity Health Big Tent. Rada and her bandmates brought a highly contagious, joyful energy to the stage. Her rumbly vocals were backed by a full band of keys, bass guitar, guitar, tenor saxophone, trombone, trumpet, and drum set. They came all the way from Israel to share their love with us, Rada said.
The breezy venue is the perfect location for such a lively show, and the crowd was extremely attentive. Indeed, Rada was the first act I saw that legitimately had me dancing beyond just a polite back and forth. Her sound is a mix of soul, jazz, and pop & something that could have mainstream appeal here in the US. I imagined hearing her music on the radio alongside Top 40 hits.
As I looked around the venue, it became clear that these kinds of shows are the heart and soul of Jazz Fest. People were enjoying the breeze blowing in from outside and visibly having a great time. Rada could clearly feel the energy and fed off of it. The more she sang, the more engaged she became and danced with even more enthusiasm. It was the highlight of a wonderful week, and the perfect way to close out an amazing experience.
I made my way back to Xerox Auditorium to see British vocalist Norma Winstone, who offered up a set of musically intricate pieces; her performance was one of the more sophisticated I'd seen at Jazz Fest. Her voice is reminiscent of Joni Mitchell, and her first tune supported the comparison. It was lyrically driven and focused heavily on Winstone's raspy melodies. The whole affair was composed and reserved -- making it starkly different from other festival performances.
The most interesting component of Winstone's set was undoubtedly the non-lyric vocal play. Between lyrics, she sang a combination of nonsense syllables, glottal sounds, and stop-plosives. Each line weaved deliberately between the melodic lines played by her trio-mates on piano and bass clarinet. The resulting sound was something tribal and ethereal, quite haunting, and strikingly beautiful.
Though quite lovely, Winstone's music is clearly a divergence from the Jazz Fest norm. This was made apparent by the way audience members seemed unable to take in a full song without entering or leaving Xerox Auditorium. Again, I found this to be incredibly distracting. The festival's many tent venues and outdoor stages clearly lend themselves to a more social environment. If that's what you're looking for, see a show there.
With all of the national and international jazz luminaries in town, it’s easy to overlook Rochester’s local jazz greats.
Eastman School of Music professor Harold Danko played with Chet Baker, Lee Konitz, Gerry Mulligan and others before he became a professor. In his Hatch Hall concert he told stories about his evolution as a pianist-composer and put his tunes in context.
Danko has written some gems over the years. “Mirth Song” has a beautifully quirky melody reminiscent of one of Eric Satie’s Gnossiennes with the addition of some forays under the hood to strum and pluck strings. His “Blue Swedish Wildflowers” was beautifully impressionistic from start to finish.
Ever the professor, Danko had the audience supply a vital D through the parts of a tune that, as he explained, had an augmented chord and a diminished chord, both of which needed that D. And he taught us more than most of us ever knew about the middle pedal on the piano.
But it was his compositions, and his brilliant technique playing them, that won the day, especially the one he saved for last. His “Tidal Breeze,” which was covered by Baker, Konitz, and others, is a lilting and catchy classic despite its harmonic complexity.
Earlier in the evening I heard bassist-singer Phaedra Kwant and her group at Max. Kwant sang several of her tunes in a manner that recalled late-period Joni Mitchell, but I preferred the instrumentals where she showed off her bass chops. Especially strong was the set’s funkiest number, “Action Hero.”
I ended the night with The Wee Trio at the Little Theatre. The most striking thing about the group was the simpatico between the three members. While many groups come across as a collection of disparate musicians, these guys played as one.
That might be because of mutual respect; all three are phenomenal players. James Westfall was the latest in a series of top vibraphone players at this year’s festival, Dan Loomis took great bass solos, and Jared Schonig saved his showcase solo till the end. All three provided excellent compositions, but the band was best on Ray Noble’s classic, “Cherokee.”
Jazz Fest 2014: The Wee Trio
The Wee Trio performed at the Little Theatre on Friday, June 27 as part of the 2014 Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival.
PHOTOS BY MARK CHAMBERLIN
I’ll start the final night of Jazz Fest at Kilbourn Hall with Newport Jazz Festival Now 60. Clarinetist-saxophonist Anat Cohen is the musical director of this crew and that’s enough to get me there early. Later, I’ll catch up-and-coming pianist Stephanie Trick at Hatch Hall and Scott Feiner & Pandeiro Jazz at the Little Theatre.
An eclectic mix of people packed into Montage Music Hall to see Ibrahim Electric's second show. The Danish trio started off with a vibrant swing sound that quickly evolved into something more. There were elements of soul, jazz, and even a healthy amount of rock in each tune. Some songs were strung together with interludes, reminiscent of the kind of rock-centric acts that often take the stage at Montage.
The members of Ibrahim Electric were dressed casually and played with a fervor I haven't yet seen at the festival. Each musician was very physical in his playing -- almost frantic. The songs themselves were expertly composed. Every piece had a definite but never predictable direction. Overall, the performance was probably the most dynamic I've seen this week.
Although Montage is clearly the perfect venue for the act, it seemed like some of the audience felt out of place. With such energetic performers on stage, I was surprised to see people motionless in the crowd. A patchwork seating area had been set up where folks would normally be standing, but I wondered if we'd have been better off without the tables and chairs.
Stiff audience members aside, Ibrahim Electric's performance was definitely a highlight of the festival for me. Tomorrow, I'll close out my Jazz Fest experience with two female vocalists whose styles are worlds apart: Norma Winstone and Ester Rada.
The tunes that guitar wizard Bill Frisell selected for his “Guitar in the Space Age” set at Kilbourn Hall were double-dipped in novocain, pumped with helium, and set adrift to cascade and careen about the packed hall.
This was Frisell waxing a little more rudimentary than usual. It’s not to say he is ordinarily tuneless. It's just that he has a heightened sense of melody. Not one to dumb it down, Frisell keeps it trippy and abstract -- except tonight where he adhered to melodies that the average Joe could more easily pluck out of the air.
Tunes by the Kinks, the Beach Boys, the Ventures, Steely Dan, and Lynyrd Skynyrd got the Frisell treatment, which this time meant playing closer to the tune as opposed to taking the six-string expressway to the moon. What didn’t change were the dreamy soundscapes and the master’s curious and picturesque refrain. It was over entirely too soon. What a gas.
And what a mob, what a crowd, what a scene, what a show at Abilene. You see, you take the front man from Nashvegas’ damnation tent-revival rockers the Legendary Shack Shakers, one Colonel JD Wilkes and cross him in wedded and onstage bliss to a Fairport girl, one Jessica Wilkes, and man you’ve got the Dirt Daubers and the one show I’ve truly been waiting for this week.
Wilkes does the majority of the singing when he’s not blowing some hellacious harp through a Green Bullet. He’s an antagonist and a contortionist and knows how to fire a crowd up. So does the missus, as she commandeered the doghouse bass in a tight black dress and heels, only to swap out with her hubby so she could belt the blues and break hearts while he minded the bottom end. They blew the doors off the joint.
The Dirt Daubers have gotten much more ragged and raw, with a sinister slither and twang. They had the crowd in a howling frenzy, inviting a cat on stilts to join them on stage, and a dance floor that looked crammed full of incurables. It all really add to the Pentecostal revival feel in the tent. I think a few were saved. I’m afraid it’s too late if you missed it. I’ll light a candle for you.
The bobbing head with the van dyke be-bopping behind the B3 was its reigning king, Joey DeFrancesco. DeFranceso spent the better part of an hour wringing the instrument out as if it were a washcloth.
With an abbreviated yet capable crew --- guitar and drums --- the cat slathered and slaughtered with exuberant execution and deadly dynamics. While winding a song down into the depths of a lower register conclusion, I swore I could make out words; he made the goddamn thing talk. And he plays the trumpet beautifully a la Mr. Baker. Who knew? That was a pleasant surprise.
I caught just the beginning of blues legend Buddy Guy’s set as the evening’s most excellent offerings had me torn between two lovers, feeling like a fool. The polka-dotted Mr. Guy painted Kodak Hall’s walls blue with his brilliant Strato-twang.
But alas, I had to agitate some gravel and split off the grid to check out Lucinda Williams at Party in the Park. Williams was hot and on top of her game as she drawled her bluesy American over the shag laid down by her awesome band.
The audience, well over 4,000, was filled with sing-along diehards as Williams plucked out hits, new songs --- watch for one called “Protection,” that sucker rocks --- and Neil Young’s "Rockin’ in the Free World.” And as I wiggled my toes in the grass, I didn’t miss the old site at all.
Return to Jazz Fest and Abilene’s asphalt jungle. Selwyn Birchwood brought the Tampa heat and had the crowd out of its seat. These cats were funkier than a porta-potty at a chili cook off. But they also brought the classic swing with tunes like Louis Jordan’s “Caledonia.”
Music was electric and in the air all over town tonight. C’mon sluggo, it can be like this every night. Dirt Daubers tomorrow night. Duck…
Manuel Valera is a native of Cuba, and English is not his first language. His first language is piano and he speaks it eloquently.
Having recently recorded “Self Portrait,” a superb album of solo pieces, Valera was well-prepared for a solo concert. While he played a couple of his own excellent compositions at Hatch Hall on Thursday night, he spent most of his set exploring the works of pianist-composers he admires.
And I do mean exploring. Whether he was playing “Ask Me Now” by Thelonious Monk or “Very Early” by Bill Evans, Valera was constantly reinventing the tune. When he played George Gershwin’s “Summertime” he stretched it out to make room for his evocative tone-poem-like impressions of the season.
His final original tune was dedicated to the ocean, which he said was right outside of the Havana home in which he grew up. As he played, you could practically hear the ripples on the water and the waves rolling in.
At the Lutheran Church, the Anders Hagberg Quartet gave the audience a lesson in the unconventional uses of instruments. Hagberg would often play his flute in a manner that emphasized melodic breaths over notes.
Pianist Joona Toivanen spent a lot of time strumming the harp that’s hidden inside the piano. Bassist Johannes Lundberg played high harmonics and arco bass. And drummer Goran Kroon took an entire solo with his hands instead of drumsticks.
Often, Lundberg would do a kind of vocalese along with Hagberg’s flute, creating an eerie sound. Hagberg was not only superb on flute and soprano sax, he also was masterful on a highly unusual instrument.
At one point he took out an overtone flute, which looked as thin as a straw and had no finger holes. He proceeded to play it beautifully by controlling his breathing and using various fingerings on the one little hole at the end.
Jazz Fest 2014: Ian Shaw
Ian Shaw performed at Christ Church on Thursday, June 26 as part of the 2014 Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival.
PHOTOS BY JOHN SCHLIA
Ian Shaw drew the largest crowd I’ve ever seen at Christ Church and held the audience until his set ended an hour and 15 minutes later. A top-notch pianist and singer, Shaw is also the consummate showman. He performed several songs from an album comprised entirely of Joni Mitchell tunes, but he did them in the bluesy manner of Mose Allison.
The show was one gigantic song-cycle (and comedy routine) delivered in a big voice capable of going anywhere it needed to go.
Shaw is quite the chameleon. He sang “Georgia On My Mind” in a voice that perfectly mimicked Ray Charles. At one point, for laughs, he asked if anyone was going to see Michael McDonald (which was actually last night) and then proceeded to sing and play almost all of “What A Fool Believes” as McDonald.
He followed that by asking if the audience knew Kate Bush and then launched into a spot-on falsetto rendition of “Wuthering Heights.”
Near the end of his set, Shaw sang the beautiful “Ballad Of The Sad Young Men” and it seemed finally to be him singing.
I’ll begin Friday with bassist Phaedra Kwant at Max of Eastman Place. Then I’ll catch pianist Harold Danko at Hatch Hall and The Wee Trio at the Little Theatre.