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!
Jazz Fest 2014: Bonerama
Bonerama played the Unity Health Big Tent on Tuesday, June 24 as part of the 2014 Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival.PHOTOS BY JOHN SCHLIA
Vijay Iyer was clearly relishing his homecoming during his trio's concert Monday night. It had been a decade since his last XRIJF performance at Max of Eastman Place, and after winning just about every award there is to win in the jazz world, the former Fairport resident was elevated to Kilbourn Hall. His joy clearly came through midway in the set when he asked the audience to "give it up for my entire family" in attendance.
My favorite pieces were Iyer's ballads, but that may be due to the difficulty of hearing the piano clearly over energetic drumming in the acoustic environment of Kilbourn Hall. The same qualities that make it perfect for an acoustic string quartet make it a challenge for a full-tilt jazz trio.
"Desiring," which Iyer said he wrote for his wife, featured a beautiful, haunting melody and a great bass solo by Stephan Crump. Another unnamed piece not only had an excellent solo by drummer Marcus Gilmore, it took several turns including one in the direction of blues and another toward gospel music.
As for Iyer's solos, he was in full command. He has brilliant technique but he's not afraid of simplicity. In fact, he uses the full range of piano projection, from so subtle you can hardly hear him to full ringing tone.
Jazz Fest 2014: Kari Ikonen Trio
Kari Ikonen Trio performed at the Lutheran Church on Monday, June 23 as part of the Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival.PHOTOS BY MARK CHAMBERLIN
Finland's Kari Ikonen Trio -- with Ikonen on piano; Ara Yaralyan, bass; and Markku Ounaskari, drums -- played a high-energy set at the Lutheran Church. Ikonen has an ingenious way of turning the piano into a cross between a clavichord and a synthesizer by placing an object on the strings inside the piano. He used it sparingly but effectively to play repeated choruses on several tunes. The highlight of the set for me was the group's handling of Ikonen's composition "Azure," which nicely evoked the Mediterranean Sea.
My last show of the night was another strong one: guitarists Julian Lage and Nels Cline at the Little Theatre. Cline, who plays with Wilco, used an electric guitar while Lage preferred an acoustic. They are both such virtuosos that sometimes it seemed that their fingers were in a constant series of races to the end of the fretboard. (Cline alluded to this when he introduced the first song, "Racy," which was about something else.) But when they latched on to a great tune, the interplay was sublime. One of those great tunes was "Rosemary," though Cline, who did all the talking, didn't say who wrote it. The set ended with a two-song suite (also unidentified) that was superb from start to finish.
Tuesday evening, I'll begin at Kilbourn Hall with one of the greatest drummers in jazz, Louis Hayes. Then I'll head over to the Lutheran Church to catch Jacob Young with Trygve Seim and Marcin Wasilewski Trio. I'll end the night with one of my favorite singers, Tessa Souter, and her special guest, trumpeter Lew Soloff, at Montage.
Vijay Iyer will perform solo at Hatch Recital Hall on Tuesday, June 24, 5:45 and 7:45 p.m.
Good evening Mr. and Mrs. America and all the ships at sea. Let's go to press: the Big Easy trombone onslaught was in full effect tonight as Bonerama (not to be confused with a Vanessa del Rio flick) rocked the Montage stage. Instead of merely flooring it the minute it hit the stage, the horn-driven band built up from a funky groove, taking turns before building it into a thundering brass blast. The guitar wasn't as prevalent as it is in most other settings, but honestly, the parts it delivered were mostly made up of vowels from out of nowhere and some deep funk.
Melissa Aldana and Crash Trio were skirting the abstract with a lighthearted, romantic slant and pitch. It was the drummer that knocked my socks off as he buttered the music with fills, stops, and starts with a slap-happy grin and drama. It seems every year or so, I fall in love with a drummer. The last one was from The Bad Plus (that m***er f***er played with his elbows for Chrissakes). This year's percussion crush is this Crash Trio cat. Now if I only knew his name...
Squeezer's Stage was the scene for some serious, no bullshit rock guitar thanks to Don Mancuso and DDrive. As I always say: if it's too loud, you're not old enough. And Mr. Mancuso was gloriously loud as he divided his set between instrumental stuff from his solo LP and the boogie and drive of DDrive with Phil Naro -- one of the best rock voices in the world -- up front. The place was packed, the rock gods were pleased, my ears are still ringing...and I'm old enough.
Like a smokier, darker Kelly Willis, Jeanne Jolly and her band splashed alt-country holy water on the faithful in the Abilene revival tent. The sparseness of the band worked as a rudimentary call and response to Jolly's beautiful voice. The set was peppered by a few too many stops, but Jolly's charm made just about anything that could've happened or gone wrong, alright with me. I know she's not a drummer, but maybe this was a night to fall in love twice.
I'll be ballin' a jack with The Lustre Kings tomorrow night along with other delights, but now I'm beat. Goodnight Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are.
Catherine Russell is a clear Jazz Fest crowd favorite. Patrons packed wall-to-wall into the Harro East Ballroom to see the daughter of the late Luis Russell. And when she appeared on stage in a glittery silver top, the audience responded with enthusiastic cheers.
Russell's strong, soulful voice was near-perfection as she plowed through one classic jazz tune after another, achieving the kind of technical prowess that is normally reserved for recordings these days. It was an impressive feat, considering how feverishly she moved her hips to the beat. The audience played along, bobbing their heads and tapping their toes.
Russell's saucy vocals were accompanied by a simple band comprised of upright bass, piano, and guitar. Fat, full bass notes laid a strong foundation for the simple pass-and-play style performance, and Russell's narratives were punctuated with classic, cool solos from each of her band members. There was nothing too complicated or sophisticated about the whole affair. It was a set list chock full of crowd pleasers.
Jazz Fest 2014: Catherine Russell
Catherine Russell performed at the Harro East Ballroom on Monday, June 23 as part of the 2014 Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival.
PHOTOS BY JOHN SCHLIA
It took a little time for the Jon Ballantyne Trio to grow on me. And even then, I didn't leave Xerox Auditorium impressed.
It is absolutely clear that pianist Jon Ballantyne, drummer Adam Nussbaum, and bassist Evan Gregor are talented musicians and in certain moments they worked well together. But that's what makes the trio's Sunday early show confusing. It mostly felt uninspired, and those moments of musical gems -- when the trio felt in a groove and communicated well -- were far between.
Individually, each player had their shining moments -- Ballantyne and Nussbaum, especially, brought some interesting ideas and techniques -- but it seemed like they were rarely playing off of one another and pushing the boundaries as a trio. The music wasn't unpleasant, but it felt stale and inflexible.
It wasn't until the group's third song, "Ballad 4: Thank Jones," when the members slowed things down -- giving the piece some breathing room, and showing a little restraint -- did they start to click with one another.
Maybe the trio just needed to warm up.
Monday night, I'm really looking forward to seeing Matt Andersen live, 8:30 p.m., at the Unity Health System Big Tent. The singer-songwriter's deep voice and stories of blue-collar heartache have found a regular home on my iPod.
Jazz Fest 2014: Jon Ballantyne Trio
Jon Ballantyne Trio performed Sunday, June 22 at Xerox Auditorium as part of the Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival.PHOTOS BY MARK CHAMBERLIN
To say Cécile McLorin Salvant was great in her Kilbourn Hall performance Sunday evening would be an understatement. She understood, inhabited, and delivered the Great American Songbook like no one else I've ever heard. In fact, you could say she excavated forgotten parts of it and struck gold. I thought I knew it pretty well, but she sang some songs I'd never heard, like her opening number, "They Say It's Spring." It was one of those wonderful narrative songs that revealed itself only with the final word.
She followed that with a brilliant classic by Bert Williams who, she explained, was black and performed in blackface. The song, from 1905, was "Nobody" and McLorin Salvant lived it. She sang songs made famous by Bessie Smith and Billie Holiday and story songs like "Guess Who I Saw Today." Her vocal range, from way down low to the register of angels was impressive but her emotional range was far wider. She packed more into one word than most singers put into a whole song.
Her band was excellent but like McLorin Salvant, pianist Aaron Diehl was beyond superb. It was Diehl who supplied the crucial dynamics -- from thunderous chords to complete silence -- that formed the foundation for McLorin Salvant. On "Laugh, Clown, Laugh," he played as if his fingers were stuck in a music box pattern. On Bessie Smith's "What's The Matter Now," he somehow made the piano sound like a very old 78 rpm record. When he took off on a solo, he was breathtaking, playing impossibly complicated runs with both hands simultaneously.
For her encore, McLorin Salvant chose a song from Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Cinderella." But, true to form, she did not identify with the beautiful heroine. She sang the ode to spitefulness and jealousy, "The Stepsisters' Lament."
The second breathtaking pianist I heard Sunday evening was Gerald Clayton at Hatch Hall. His set was Keith Jarrett-like, that is he improvised so much that even recognizable tunes were tough to decipher. The one that came closest to its original form was "On The Sunny Side Of The Street" but even that melody was taken down dark alleys and up grand boulevards. He ended with a magnificent rendition of something that sounded like enhanced Chopin, but he never announced what it was.
My last stop of the evening was Christ Church where Euan Burton and his quartet were already into their set. All of the band members were good, but it was the pianist, Tom Gibbs, who shone brightest. Euan's compositions had a way of building to crescendos that took them into ecstatic territory.
Monday night I'll be at Kilbourn Hall checking out the trio of Vijay Iyer, who grew up in Fairport and is now one of the leading pianists in jazz. I'll also hear Kari Ikonen at the Lutheran Church and the Julian Lage/Nels Cline duo at the Little Theatre.
The Hot Club of Detroit played the Unity Health Big Tent on Sunday, June 22. They play free shows at the Jazz Street stage on Monday, June 23 at 7:15 and 9:15 pm.
VIDEO BY MATT DETURCK
Les Doigts de l'Homme played the Montage Music Hall on Sunday, June 22. They also play shows at the Xerox Auditorium on Monday, June 23 at 6:30 and 9:00 pm.
VIDEO BY MATT DETURCK
Sunday evening and the crowds were a little lighter and not as frenzied, frazzled, and frantic as the night before. What's cool for this festival is how much Brubeck it has exposed us to over the years. Whether it's been the Sisters Euclid, tonight's appearance by the Brubeck Brothers, or the man himself (who insisted on an elbow bump in lieu of a handshake when I met him years ago backstage), Rochester has been substantially Brubecked, Brubeckerized, Brubeckified, and hipped to the 'Beck.
The Brubeck Brothers Quartet -- featuring Dan Brubeck on drums and Chris Brubeck on slide trombone and bass -- were precise and swingin' right out of the gate, with a lilting grace that played off the early evening sun streaming through the Harro East Ballroom windows. It stayed aloft even when they coped to a most-excellent mambo in 9/8 time. Dad would have been proud. Highlights permeated the band's whole set, especially its take on "Blue Rondo a La Turk," which escalated into bluesy forays in another signature to keep the ears happy and the feet guessing. There are just some shows that make you feel privileged to be there.
And it was a privilege to catch the rather dark Detroit darling, Rachel Brooke and her band on the Abilene stage for the early set. I've been spinning her new CD "A Killer's Dream" for the last two weeks now and the thick and loose twang, loping rhythm, as well as a few similarities -- style wise, mostly -- to Neko Case had me twitterpated in anticipation. Live, the band was a little more ragged and raw with Brooke's vocal innocence going head to head with the lanky guitar player's Harmony Rocket. It set the honky-tonk scene; sawdust floors and rednecks clinging to longnecks. Hey, you wanna dance?
Tomorrow night after celebrating seven years of wedded bliss to my lovely wife, Deborah, I'll be screaming like a 9-year old girl watching Don Mancuso & DDrive on the Squeezers stage plus many, many more. We'll be back right after this...
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