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.
Cyndi Cain is a superstar. I could hear her voice booming loud and clear for blocks before I reached the venue. Serving up tunes that had a funky soul vibe, Cain's pipes were a force to be reckoned with last night. Her body moved with her voice, and she waved her hands and bobbed her head with every riff. And Cain wasn't the only one moving; the powerhouse vocalist had the crowd inside the Squeezers stage tent grooving and buzzing.
Unfortunately, Cain's bandmates did not match her intensity. Her two background singers moved robotically to the beat with bored looks on their faces. Even the instrumentalists who joined her on stage seemed unenthused. With the passion and confidence that Cain was giving, the nonchalant attitude of her fellow musicians detracted from the overall vibe. You've gotta sell the gig, friends - even if you're not in the spotlight.
Still, the show was a quintessential Jazz Fest good time. Outdoor venues are the heart and soul of the fest, especially when the weather is nice.
I'm seriously looking forward to tomorrow. For one, I'll be hitting up some laid back venues like Montage and the outdoor stages. But most importantly, I get to see Ibrahim Electric - a Danish trio known for epic and awesome weirdness. Can't wait.
Jazz Fest 2014: Cyndi Cain
Cyndi Cain performed at the Squeezers Stage at the Inn on Broadway on Thursday, June 27 as part of the 2014 Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival.
PHOTOS BY MARK CHAMBERLIN
Watching the blur of mallets in the hands of Warren Wolf at Max, I realized that great vibraphonists are a special breed. They are striking bars that are something like a double piano keyboard, but they’re doing it from a distance with sticks that have little balls on the end. They’ve got to be as fast as a great drummer, but they’ve also got to hit the right targets.
Wolf hit his targets at lightning speed on uptempo tunes and made the bars sing on ballads. He wasn’t flashy; he only used four mallets when he was backing a bass solo, but he sure knew his way around that instrument.
When I entered the Harro East Ballroom to see the Mike Stern/Bill Evans Band, the crowd was heavy with the hump-day blues; they were clearly thirsting for something more than happy hour cocktails.
The band brought the tonic. Midway through the first song, it was clear that the crowd’s energy had been renewed. Men and women dressed in business casual clothes hooted and hollered. It was deserved. Stern and Evans — with bandmates Tom Kennedy and Steve Smith— are as technically impressive as they come. And they make it look easy.
Standout moments included Evans on soprano saxophone. As a former sax player myself, I know how difficult it is to make the high-pitched soprano sound bearable. Evans produced a clear but smooth sound that was not just bearable, but beautiful. Both Stern and Kennedy moved their fingers with near-impossible speed in their solo moments. Their talent is undeniable.
Overall, the band’s sound was more rock-infused and less refined than other acts. They brought a blue-collar vibe to the venue, allowing themselves and the audience to let loose. More than anything, it was clear they were having a good time on stage. And as a result, the rest of us had a good time, too.
Diane Schuur has the voice of an angel with a rusty halo. That is to say, it’s angelic but Schuur flexes it with sex appeal and impish glee. She’s one hep chick.
Opening so wonderful and swinging, the first lady of vocal jazz went from scat to lyric, from contralto squeal to a hooker appeal —- “how, how, how.” If there is one word to describe her early set at Kilbourn Hall tonight, it's “control” —- control on the range, control on the rhythm section’s hairpin turns and deep dish groove. And can I just say Ulysses Owens is the man!
Despite her vocal range on love songs or love-lost songs, Schuur hovers around heartache and heartbreak in a way that is palpable and contagious even in the face of her obvious joy.
Squeezed my way into The Squeezers stage to dig 5Head continue its “We’re only getting back together for one show" shuck ’n’ jive from two years ago. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad Rochester’s ska heroes are back… and apparently so are a lot of people who squeezed their way in as well. The joint was nut to butt by showtime.
The band sounded absolutely great and looked great, too. (Dancing girls in checkerboard halter tops feverishly go-going on stage didn’t hurt.) The horns were big and bad and the band's accelerated dynamics flooded the asphalt dance floor with happy feet. Best show I’ve seen the band put on. They were prime; they were choice.Christine Ohlman brought the low down and dirty rock ’n’ roll to the Abilene stage with her band, Rebel Montez. People are always bumpin’ their gums about Ohlman’s sky-high platinum beehive, and though, yes, it’s cool (the higher the hair, the nearer to God), but I dig her sky-high vocals and the storied lyrics of a life that made that voice.
Albany's The Lustre Kings are a fine example of more than one style of music living together in harmony. Yes, the band offers vintage classics, or a vintage lens which to listen through. But the hillbilly side of the Lustre Kings goes toe to toe with its jazzier/swing side. Generally that equation would equal rockabilly -- Gene Vincent et all -- but the Lustre kings play as varied as the music is frenzied, like a rock 'n' roll encyclopedia.
The band laid this knowledge at the dancing feet of two packed Abilene tents. The band's towering front man, Mark Gamsjager led a swinging arsenal -- guitar, doghouse bass, drums, two saxes, and a lap steel -- as it chipped away at a mostly original set peppered with twang-tastic takes on stuff from Link Wray and Louis Prima. The Lustre Kings are about as much fun you can have with your pants on.
The rain dampened my tramping about with a bag of cameras, but I was able to deftly dodge the drops and catch Lucky Peterson at the Harro East Ballroom. I watched the former Buffalo native burn the joint down. Holy shit, he was amazing.
Starting off on the organ and dressed like a day-glo Easter egg, Peterson and his band thundered and roared mightier than the weather outside. A few tunes into the set, he picked up his big, red guitar and that's when the blue sparks really flew.
And Peterson, who is quite nimble for such a corpulent gentleman, jumped off the stage and into the crowd where he strutted and preened calling upon SRV and Willie Dixon. By the time the man was finished, the weather outside had relented, replacing its stubborn inclemency with the biggest rainbow I've ever seen.
Diane Schuur tomorrow, oh boy, oh boy, oh boy!
I began Tuesday evening in Kilbourn Hall with Louis Hayes & The Cannonball Adderley Legacy Band. I found out later that Hayes had a medical issue and the 10 p.m. show was cancelled. But he seemed fine, if a bit subdued, during the 6 p.m. show.
Because Hayes had actually played with the Cannonball Adderley Quintet in the 1960's, he was the essential player on the stage. Still, he only took one solo and left the MC duties to saxophonist Vincent Herring, who had played in the band of Cannonball's brother, Nat Adderley (Nat was also in the quintet).
While Herring, one of today's top saxophonists, took on the musical role of Cannonball, the great trumpeter Jeremy Pelt played Nat's parts. They were phenomenal, especially on the closing piece, one of the best-known -- and irresistible -- songs by the Adderley Quintet: "The Work Song."
Though Herring told a funny story about dreading the song because he'd had to play it twice a night when he toured with Nat, he came to appreciate it. Written by Nat, the tune begins with a call and response between sax and trumpet and ends with the two instruments in harmony. In between, there's lots of room for solos, and Herring, Pelt, pianist Rick Germanson, and bassist Dezron Douglas did not disappoint.
Jazz Fest 2014: Louis Hayes
Louis Hayes and The Cannonball Adderley Legacy Band played Kilbourn Hall on Tuesday, June 25 as part of the 2014 Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival.PHOTOS BY MARK CHAMBERLIN
Over at the Lutheran Church, the group Jacob Young & Trygve Seim with the Marcin Wasilewski Trio was simply referred to as Forever Young, the name of Young's new album. Although there were the same instrumentalists on stage -- pianist, guitarist, saxophonist, bassist, and drummer -- as there are in many jazz groups, the players' roles were considerably different.
It was almost more like a classical ensemble with written out parts. There were, of course, solos by guitarist Young, saxophonist Seim and pianist Wasilewski, but they tended to be part of the song rather than open-ended.
Because Young is a gifted composer and all of the musicians were excellent, this prescribed way of playing worked. I preferred when Young played his acoustic guitar rather than his electric and I especially loved the piano forays of Wasilewski.
I ended the evening with Tessa Souter and her special guest, trumpeter Lew Soloff, at Montage. Actually, I had managed to catch the last two tunes of her first set and it was not hard to notice what a wonderful addition Soloff was to Souter's already excellent band. She ended that set with one of her best original songs, "You Don't Have To Believe," which has Middle-Eastern and Flamenco strains running through it. Soloff's solo was short but astoundingly good.
He continued to enhance every tune in the second set, as did Souter's formidable young guitarist, Yotam Silberstein. Her bassist, Yasushi Nakamura, always lent solid support, but the few times he soloed, he was equally impressive.
Of course the star of the show was Souter, who was in great form, enchanting the audience with her gorgeous voice and her vibrant personality. This was Souter's fourth appearance at the XRIJF and she has never been predictable.
While most jazz singers concentrate on standards, Souter did just one, a lovely rendition of "I'll Remember April." Her set was filled with her own adaptations of classical and jazz instrumental works and a beautifully re-imagined version of McCoy Tyner's "Contemplation," renamed "Ancestors" by Souter's friend who wrote lyrics to the tune.
Wednesday night I'll be at Max for the early show of vibraphonist Warren Wolf & The Wolfpack. Then I'll catch the duo Brian Kellock & Tommy Smith at Hatch Hall, and the Jonathan Gee Trio at Christ Church.