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A RIJF post-mortem

Like a larger-than-life music box 

A RIJF post-mortem

It's practically impossible to succinctly review 100 concerts. And there've been nearly that many since we issued last week's piece on the Rochester International Jazz Festival's opening weekend.

For those who missed out: our sympathy. This year's RIJF was the best yet in terms of programming and (despite a few initial snags) overall organization. Over nine days, from June 10 to June 18, it drew roughly 65,000 people to downtown's streets. And that alone is a feat worth praising. Over the last decade in articles, op-ed columns, and conferences, Rochester's movers and shakers have discussed revitalizing downtown, convincing young people to stay in Rochester, and reinvigorating the local economy. Is there anything that compares to the RIJF in those three areas? So where is the support of some of the area's largest corporations? Where is the strong support of the City of Rochester? Are we looking a really swinging gift horse in the mouth?

Read on for our impressions of last week's shows, and our suggestions for next year.

Last Monday evening, in the wood-paneled Kilbourn Hall, The Bad Plus played wonderfully disrespectful and irreverent punk-jazz.

David King lunges at his drums, beating the hell out of them. He looks and acts like your evil little brother. Ethan Iverson, dressed in high-nerd fashion with suit and tie, takes a raucously classical approach to the piano. (He's the group's spokesman and every word drips with irony.) Reid Anderson is literally and figuratively in the middle on the bass.

They stand evenly apart, taking up the entire stage like three Frankenstein monsters. Their approach to their instruments is deeply exploratory. The secret, of course, is that they have had enough training to be comfortable discarding it.

On Tuesday night Chick Corea was joined at the Eastman Theatre by Touchstone, his relatively new Spanish-flavored band named for his 1980 album with Paco de Lucia. Although Corea began and ended the concert on electric piano, he played the bulk of his tunes on the Eastman Theatre's Steinway.

Corea was obviously having a blast on the stage with these four musicians. Carlos Benavent did double duty on his five-string bass, filling the bottom, but also playing in the upper register with the freedom of a flamenco guitarist. At several points, while Benavent played his remarkable solos, the other band members gathered around him, clapping rhythmically.

Corea waited until the encore to play his best-known tune. He began with strains of Rodrigo's "Concierto de Aranjuez" but, after a few minutes, the tune evolved into "Spain" and Corea shifted back to the electric keyboard. He led the audience in a call and response, with every keyboard line sung back beautifully.

Mamadou Diabate was one of the festival's big surprises on Tuesday. One friend coming out of the early show called it "the music of dreams." It was breathtaking in its musical complexity and simple beauty. Diabate plays the kora, a West African instrument that falls somewhere between guitar, piano, and harp. The music he played, accompanied by Balla Kouyate on balafon, sounded like a larger-than-life music box and at one point careened into Muddy Waters Blues. Diabate was quick to point out that he wasn't being referential at all; the blues came from this.

Over at Milestones, Steve Swell and crew put to bed once and for all the notion that improv jazz is merely random note generation. They played with slick precision and synchronicity. Swell and surprise saxophonist Sabir Mateen, a hero in the underground, dueled from either side of the stage looking like male elephants in a heated mating ritual.

Kahil El'Zabar opened the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble's Wednesday set at Kilbourn Hall on kalimba, but on just about every tune he would play a different percussion instrument. His bandmates were equally active. Young trumpeter Cory Wilkes danced when he wasn't playing and soloed so intensely he appeared to be in danger of exploding. Every time Ernest Dawkins put down his sax, he picked up another instrument to enhance the texture. The group's tunes ranged from catchy funk-bebop to avant-garde screeching and animal noises, all under-girded by an African sensibility.

The same night at Max of Eastman Place, Cuban pianist Manuel Valera and his excellent band played an energetic set infused with Latin flavor. On his closing (and finest) tune, "Forma Nueva," Valera began his solo slowly and deliberately, gradually building to an intricate web of notes with his fingers dancing over the keys.

Dave Brubeck was downright talkative Thursday evening at the Eastman Theatre, telling funny stories about touring England and, at the end, emotionally thanking the Eastman School of Music and the late Rayburn Wright for inspiring him to write larger orchestral works back in 1963.

Brubeck and his band were superb, playing a couple of blues songs, several standards, and too few of Brubeck's own brilliant compositions. The title tune of his latest album, "London Flat, London Sharp," is somewhat reminiscent of John Coltrane's "Giant Steps" in its fast, complex, and difficult changes. Moving down in a sequence of flats and up in a series of sharps, it was the most intriguing tune of the night.

Moutin Reunion filled the Montage Grille Thursday with some of the hardest driving music of the festival. No small part of this was due to the symbiotic musical relationship of the rhythm section, identical twins Louis (bass) and Francois Moutin (drums). But saxophonist Rick Margitza and pianist Piere de Bethmann also stretched out beautifully on Louis' tune "Take it Easy."

The Lynn Arriale Trio played an elegant set at Max's that night, giving fresh readings to standards like "Alone Together." But the highpoint of the show was Arriale's exquisite performance of her own wonderful composition, "Braziliana."

Toward the beginning of their set at Kilbourn Hall, the Harry Allen-Joe Cohn Quartet played "I'm Old Fashioned." They were indeed, and wonderfully so. These young men in suits --- with coats buttoned --- played nothing but standards, many of them by Cohn's father, Al Cohn. Cohn had his own beautifully fluid style on the guitar, playing flawless legato runs punctuated by chord inversions. And Allen's sax playing was so good it recalled Stan Getz.

One of the RIJF's most understated and most beautiful performances was given by Madeleine Peyroux and her just-right band at the Eastman Theatre on Friday. Peyroux sang almost every song from her excellent album, Careless Love, but this was no mere recitation. On each tune she stretched out the lyrics or bent her notes differently over the chords. Peyroux has learned a lot from Billy Holiday and Bessie Smith, but she retains her own distinct, emotional, world-weary sound. Perhaps most beautiful was her performance of Elliot Smith's "Between the Bars," with its palpable sense of desperation.

Headliner Chris Botti's trumpet resurrected Chet Baker until the rest of his band stepped in. Botti blew rich and creamy for a virtually packed Eastman Theatre, but got relegated to dentist-office background music with his backing band's homogenized mush. But hey, he's real, real handsome.

Trumpeter Wallace Roney's current band includes a host of electronic keyboards and a turntablist, who added an intriguing street-corner ambience Friday night at Kilbourn. On the first tune, "Cyberspace," Roney and his brother Antoine (saxophone) stepped forward to play a catchy head and terrific solos. Al Green's "Let's Stay Together" followed with a haunting, minimal, Miles Davis-like treatment. But the sound was getting increasingly loud and fans were starting to leave. The soundman and Roney seemed oblivious to this.

Derek Trucks has the sweetest guitar tone, bleeding blue all over his band's jamming sound. Truck, known for remaining carcass-still on stage while his fleet fingers slide up and down, was actually tapping his foot while rockin' out in front of his huge, devoted, and surprisingly young crowd at the East Avenue Stage.

The last act of the festival, guitarist John Scofield, nicely book-ended the first, Bill Frisell. Things really revved up during his second tune, "Hammock Soliloquy." Its giant chord head --- plodding like a monster --- alternated with a double-time guitar solo filled with frenzied licks. Scofield and bassist Steve Swallow both played astoundingly fast and furious solos, but to no avail; every time, the monster reemerged.


Our suggestions

Last year we threw out some recommendations and artistic director John Nugent took us seriously, booking acts like Juana Molina and the Willem Breuker Kollektief. So, for what it's worth, here's next year's wish list: Derek Bailey (please!), George Cables, Animal Collective or Panda Bear (or both), Geri Allen, Trapist, Bobby Watson, Arnold Dreyblatt, and Don Byron. We'll stop there and let Nugent select a few of his own.

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