Sunday, June 30, 2013

JAZZ FEST 2013, DAY 9: Frank reviews Tim Berne SnakeOil, Amy Lynn and the Gunshow

Posted By on Sun, Jun 30, 2013 at 9:28 PM

With just two shows to officially cover I hit the Jazz Fest scene amidst a sea of people. The streets were teeming with eager bodies, but the fun stopped there. Now perhaps I’m showing my ass here, and heating up my self-perceived cool, but I thought Tim Berne SnakeOil at Montage was the worst thing calling itself music I have heard in my life. I know the importance of improvisation and the application of noise in jazz — at least I thought I did — but these guys took the stage with music written down. It was ridiculous, it was insulting. There’s no way anyone wrote that down. It was just random, screeching note generation with no logic at all. It sounded like a gaggle of geese fucking or an ambulance demolition derby. It was shrill, it was loud, it was utterly awful. Call me a heretic if you want, but I wasn’t the only one leaving with "WTF" written across my face. Maybe I didn’t get it, or maybe it was truly snake oil.

At the other end of the spectrum was the Big Apple’s Amy Lynn and the Gunshow’s delightfully cool cabaret at the Little Theater. The material was extra fun with a wry twist, and the bari sax’s odd, clickity-clackity rhythmic mouthpiece attack was different and tres cool. The music came off like a less-abrasive Bette. They weren’t show tunes, but they could’ve been. Lynn's voice was beautiful, sassy, and sexy, and the horn-centric Gun Show was tight, alright, and outtasite.

So there you have it, another Jazz Fest down. I think we’ve reached cruising altitude with this one and don’t think they should make it any bigger. Logistically it’s already quite a sprawling affair. I would like to see more local bands plugged in to the mix and perhaps more free show stages — that seems to bring out the masses and really stir the social pot. And of course, I’m still holding out for Tom Waits. But for now it’s no jazz for me for a coupla days...right now it’s chocolate milk and my wife and my cats and Motorhead in my headphones. G’night.

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JAZZ FEST 2013, Day 9: Willie reviews Marianne Trudel, Trombone Shorty

Posted By on Sun, Jun 30, 2013 at 3:23 AM

Trombone Shorty performed Saturday, June 29, at the East/Alexander Stage as part of the 2013 Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival. - PHOTO BY WILLIE CLARK
  • Trombone Shorty performed Saturday, June 29, at the East/Alexander Stage as part of the 2013 Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival.

Ah. The last night of the jazz fest. That went by quick, didn't it? First up tonight was Marianne Trudel, tinkling the ivories in the beautifully intimate Hatch Hall. I stuck around for her first song (coming in at a lengthy 15 minutes), and her soft stylistic playing was perfect for the pin-drop-quiet acoustics of the hall, but it was conceptually lofty and more than I could sit still and grasp at the time. Her tune (an original) also made me realize that unlike other shows, for a solo jazz show like her's, it is quite hard for a reviewer to tell where the line between improv and a piece's regular ebb and flow is, as well as how close a player's work is reflecting the original idea. There were a few odd note choices; but I can't say if they were purposeful, or not. I guess that's jazz for you.

Next up, and closing off the festival, was Jazz Fest veteran Trombone Shorty on the super jam-packed East and Alexander Street Stage. He's almost become a staple of the festival at this point, and there's good reason why. He's more of a brass rock explosion than what might come to mind when you think of a more traditional jazz ensemble, and he is one simply put, one hell of a trombone player.

Trombone Shorty performed Saturday, June 29, at the East/Alexander Stage as part of the 2013 Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival. - PHOTO BY WILLIE CLARK
  • Trombone Shorty performed Saturday, June 29, at the East/Alexander Stage as part of the 2013 Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival.

Trombone Shorty is damn good at what he does - and strongly consistent - but I just wasn't as blown away this time as when I first saw him. He is a perfect festival musician: loud, vibrant, powerful, charismatic, and full of swagger, and he always brings in those much needed non-hardcore jazz crowds to the street stages. He's just become a safe and expected part of the festival at this point. But, he does give hope for trombone players everywhere that one day they can leave the back of the band and be rock stars some day, and that's something.

Not to end on a sour note, but one last side note on the festival as a whole: To all the rude patrons who camped out in folding chairs taking up almost the first entire block of the East/Alexander stage where Trombone Shorty was playing; please don't. I don't care if your feet hurt or it's uncomfortable or hot or whatever. It's a music festival: it isn't supposed to be comfortable. These are standing events. Everyone is there for the music and deserves the same chance to experience it that you do, and it continues to boggle my mind that the jazz fest (unlike most other concerts/festivals/etc.) continues to allow chairs. A few people should not be able to commandeer nearly the entire viewing area of a show to the detriment of the rest of the crowd behind them. It's really quite inconsiderate.

JAZZ FEST 2013, DAY 9: Ron reviews Gwilym Simcock, Five Play, Torben Waldorff

Posted By on Sun, Jun 30, 2013 at 3:22 AM

Five Play performed Saturday, June 29, at Max of Eastman Place as part of the 2013 Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival. - PHOTO BY MARK CHAMBERLIN
  • Five Play performed Saturday, June 29, at Max of Eastman Place as part of the 2013 Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival.

Pianist Gwilym Simcock brought just the right mix of tradition and experimentation to Christ Church Saturday night. He played mostly straight-ahead, but occasionally went under the hood to spice things up. At one point he played totally inside the piano, strumming the strings percussively as if they were on a mandolin.

Simcock took care to talk to the audience about his music. He explained that he’d had classical training before falling for jazz, and he still loved the second movement of Grieg’s Piano "Concerto in A Minor," so he made a jazz tune out of it. It was a good tune, but much better given the introduction.

His song “Northern Smiles,” he said, was prompted by his move to London after spending time in smaller cities in the north of England. He wanted to capture the small-town friendliness that he missed. But, it’s a lot more difficult to do with only music, compared to a song like “Penny Lane,” in which Paul McCartney used words to convey a similar idea. Simcock’s introduction made it interesting to search for what he was trying to say within the more abstract context of the song.

Simcock played mostly originals but, in one of his extended improvisations, he threw in tunes like “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye” and a rousing rendition of “On Broadway,” in which he seemed to have about four different musical ideas going simultaneously.

Earlier in the evening I heard Five Play at Max of Eastman Place. If jazz wasn't so dominated by men, it wouldn’t matter that Five Play is an all-female band. But their concert left no doubt that these women were on a par with their male contemporaries.

The first among many outstanding solos came from multi-reedist Janelle Reichman on clarinet during a Latin-flavored tune. Trumpeter Jami Dauber followed with an outstanding flugelhorn solo on “Que Sera, Sera.” If you’re wondering what that tune was doing in a jazz concert, the band’s leader, drummer Sherrie Maricle explained that it was popular in Vietnam where the group recently toured. If it wasn’t jazz before, it is now. Maricle and bassist Noriko Ueda provided solid support (not to mention their own strong solos) throughout the set. And Tomoko Ohno lit up the room every time she soloed at the piano.

Torben Waldorff brought an excellent band to the Lutheran Church, featuring Gary Versace on keyboards, Orlando le Fleming on bass and Jon Wikan on drums. Unfortunately, the band was so loud that the music sounded better out in the hall. Waldorff is a superb guitarist in the high, liquid, Pat Metheny tradition. He often plays beautifully in the spaces between the lines that would normally be the verse. Because of the sound problem, my favorite tune was a ballad near the end of the set. Waldorff is a top-notch composer and it was nice to be able to hear one of his compositions without the filter of earplugs half-way in.

Over the last nine nights, the highlights never seemed to let up. It was great to hear straight-ahead artists like Anat Cohen and Kurt Rosenwinkel at Xerox Auditorium, Christian McBride’s Inside Straight at Kilbourn Hall and Terell Stafford at Montage.

I love the opportunity the festival provides to hear and see (they tend to be just as fascinating visually) edgier artists like the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra and Youn Sun Nah & Ulf Wakenius at the Lutheran Church. And it’s a treat to have brilliant musicianship showcased at Hatch Hall where I was stunned night after night by pianists like Matt Herskowitz, Geoffrey Keezer, and Alfredo Rodriguez.

Looking over the above names it’s clear that the international aspect of the festival remains one of its greatest qualities. And, of course, despite my complaints about how loud some things are (I seem to be from a different planet when it comes to volume) there is no denying that the XRIJF is the best thing that’s happened to Rochester in the four decades I’ve been living here. For nine days Rochester is truly alive.

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Saturday, June 29, 2013

JAZZ FEST 2013, Day 8: Paloma reviews Frampton's Guitar Circus

Posted By on Sat, Jun 29, 2013 at 2:32 AM

Peter Frampton
  • Peter Frampton played Friday, June 28, at Kodak Hall as part of the 2013 Xerox Rochester International Jazz Fest.

His hair may be grey, but his eyes still sparkle that Frampton blue and his voice still croons his ballad, “Baby, I Love Your Way.” Frampton’s Guitar Circus was the headliner show tonight at the Eastman Theatre, and for two hours Peter Frampton delivered a non-stop powerhouse show that brought the audience to its feet on multiple occasions. The night started with a set by Robert Cray, and Frampton’s show included several numbers with Don Felder, former lead guitar player of The Eagles.

The stage at Eastman was fully open to the back wall, where a huge screen had been installed to run everything from photographs of a young Frampton to psychedelic digital art. The stage was packed with electronics -- the row of stomp boxes at Frampton’s stage right microphone easily spanned five feet. Frampton and his two accompanying guitarists changed instruments multiple times, and a man in the wings was in charge of several dedicated guitar closets from which he was extracting instruments and continually checking before handing them off.

The guitar hand-off was basically the only time Frampton stood still during the two-hour concert. Frampton remains every bit as wirey, as frenetic, as pump-that-body-down-as-you-pulse-to-the-beat-of-the-drums. It’s clear that he loves what he is doing and he sends that joy out to the audience with every note. Hailing from Bromley, England, and performing since the mid-1960’s, it was his fifth solo album that sold more than 6 million copies and catapulted him into the status of a legend of rock.

Robert Cray
  • Robert Cray
  • Robert Cray played Friday, June 28, at Kodak Hall as part of the 2013 Xerox Rochester International Jazz Fest.

The show was 12 songs plus two encores. Frampton’s performance of “I’ll Give You Money” was grounded to a relentless drumbeat that swirled the guitars higher and faster to the end. By the time Frampton got to “Do You Feel Like We Do?” the audience was in such a frenzy that Frampton seemed to be having a good time wandering around the ending for several minutes before bringing it to a big bang of a close.

Felder joined Frampton for two songs and then the encores. It was The Eagles’ “Hotel California” that had the audience loudly singing along. But, for me, the night was made in their rendition of my favorite Stevie Ray Vaughan song, “Pride and Joy.”

Performing with Frampton were Adam Lester on guitar, Stanley Sheldon on bass, Rob Arthur on keyboard, and Dan Wojciechowski on drums. Every member of the band added superb skill, particularly in their abilities to follow Frampton’s spontaneous extensions of instrumental sections, engage in full-frontal duels, and respond to invitations to ping-pong the rifts. Lester, in particular, was something of a surprise. Don’t let his British pub-boy appearance fool you -- his technique and musicality are fantastic.

But here I’ve skipped to the main performance without telling you about Mr. Robert Cray. I’m going to have to call him that because I was bowled over by his towering strength. Every word he sang told a story with a lesson, from confessionals about being the lover and hearing the wife get taken to task by the husband “through thin walls” to another song with that dark touch of humor that one needs to be the main course, not the side dish. There’s a simmering anger with purpose that rises to the surface of Cray when he sings, and you just know that he’s telling not just his truth, but The Truth, and you had better listen up.

So that’s a wrap for me on Jazz Fest 2013. There is no doubt in my mind that the transition back to classical is going to be tricky. If you see me swaying a little in my seat or pencil drumming in 12/8, you’ll know I’ve reverted to the land of Cray. If I’m dipping my chin to let my hair slide over my face while fingering an air piano, I’ve slipped back into memories of the insanely great jazz pianist Michael Wollny. I’ll simply have to do my best not to air guitar Frampton or it will surely be time for the ushers.

Stanley Sheldon
  • Bassist Stanley Sheldon played Friday, June 28, at Kodak Hall as part of the 2013 Xerox Rochester International Jazz Fest.

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JAZZ FEST 2013, Day 8: Willie reviews Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Dwayne Dopsie and the Zydeco Hellraisers

Posted By on Sat, Jun 29, 2013 at 2:09 AM

Dirty Dozen Brass Band
  • The Dirty Dozen Brass Band played Friday, June 28, at the Big Tent as part of the 2013 Xerox Rochester International Jazz Fest.

Thanks to the luck of the spirit of jazz, my two top acts for the week both fell on the same night. Join me on my highlight night of the 2013 Jazz Fest.

First up was New Orleans-based The Dirty Dozen Brass Band under the Big Tent. I've been wanting to see this group for a while now, as it is one of the few jazz groups that is actually on my iPod, and which I listen to outside of the Jazz Fest every year.

The brass-heavy band has been playing since the 70’s, so I was a little surprised when the group played songs from its back catalog that I actually knew. Aside from hitting my tuba quota for the fest (represent!), the group included trumpet, bari and tenor saxes, drums, guitar, trumpet, and flugelhorn. It was tight, and a whole lot of fun -- a real brassy and reedy onslaught. Where else are you going to get a solo with somebody playing a trumpet and a flugelhorn at the same time?

Sadly, the group did seem to be battling sound problems. Both the sousaphone player and the drummer kept motioning to try to fix sound issues or switch mics, and not all the instruments were clearly audible at all times. And as fun as the group was, I'm not sure if it completely met all my expectations. But still, the group knew how to keep and rock out on a groove, and it was easy to get lost in it.

The night only continued to heat up from there. Next up was my highlight of last year's festival, Dwayne Dopsie and the ZydecoHellraisers, playing at Montage. I gushed over the group upon discovering it last year, and it was great to see the fiery zydeco unit back in full form. Electric guitars, sax, bass, and yes, washboard, formed the powerful backing band behind accordion master Dopsie himself. His sweat-soaked fingers were flying so fast that it nearly made my head spin, and he created a loud and powerful blend of explosive Cajun music. The band calls him the best accordion player in the world, and after sitting through a set, one would be hard pressed to disagree.

Dwayne Dopsie
  • Dwayne Dopsie played Friday, June 28, at the Montage as part of the 2013 Xerox Rochester International Jazz Fest.

Last year I was completely caught off guard by the group. This time I knew what to expect, and the nearly two-hour set did not disappoint. This is how you play with energy, this is how you perform on stage, and this is how you should do it at the Jazz Fest. Solos passed between players, each one as in-your-face as the last. Having seen the group before, it does rely on a few of its same tricks. Dopsie always takes the stage after a warm-up song or two, band members will form dancing lines through the audience, so on and so forth. But boy, can Dopsie squeeze that squeezebox. Mercy.

And yet, words still seem to fall short of the enjoyable musical chaos. The Hellraisers will be back on the Jazz Street Stage at 7:30 and 9:30 p.m. Saturday night, so if you see one act this week at the Jazz Fest, make it this one. You won't be disappointed.

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JAZZ FEST 2013, Day 8: Frank reviews Hilario Duran, Shemekia Copeland, James Hunter Six, and Gas House Gorillas

Posted By on Sat, Jun 29, 2013 at 1:47 AM

Shemekia Copeland
  • Shemekia Copeland performed Friday, June 28, at the East & Chestnut Stage as part of the 2013 Xerox Rochester International Jazz Fest.

After a 20-hour nap, I’m back. Tin Man and I tripped down the soggy brick road for more Jazz Fest lo-jinx, taking pictures, taking names, taking our time, taking care of business. First stop on Friday was Max of Eastman Place, where the security guards look imposing despite the polyester in a “you look suspicious” kinda way. This works well, as we’re all guilty of something. The Hilario Duran Trio took the stage after Maggie Brooks’ bonified stab at stand-up. No really, I’m not being a twit -- she was actually funny. And the Cuban-born Duran’s trio was elegant with a complex, yet uncomplicated, ease. Duran’s playing was light but not wispy as he strode the 88's. And man, his drummer helped redefine Latin polyrhythms. You could feel it in your soul. I would’ve stayed longer if it weren’t for the polyester gestapo breathing down my neck…

Saw a re-tooled and re-invigorated Shemekia Copeland on the Chestnut Street stage next. The weight this beautiful lady has lost has simply been shifted over to the sound of her band. Man, these cats played heavy --- twin slide guitars and a bottom end heavier than a Puerto Rican Toyota low-rider. Copeland’s music leans a little on the funky side, and she strikes me as a soul-shouter at heart. But mixed together it’s a hell of a bluesy kick in the gut. She was magnificent.

Hilario Duran
  • Hilario Duran performed Friday, June 28, at Max of Eastman Place as part of the 2013 Xerox Rochester International Jazz Fest.
James Hunter
  • James Hunter performed Friday, June 28, at the East & Chestnut Stage as part of the 2013 Xerox Rochester International Jazz Fest.

I’ve seen soul sensation James Hunter about five times now, and this time I saw firsthand the importance of crowd response in a show. The crowd has to give back something or the show falls short. It’s that simple. It’s like a game of catch with just one person. That’s not catch, it’s just throw. The tired and wet masses huddled under their umbrellas and looked more as if they were duck hunting than witnessing one of the greatest white soul singers since Van Morrison. And the man can sling a stinging string or two off of his TV yellow Junior. Hunter sounded great, despite the lackluster response as he wove through a set of most excellent R&B set above a thick shag laid down by the twin sax attack and the juicy bellow and wail from the B3. I just love that B3. To quote Chris Isaak, “B3 is like catsup; it’s good on everything.”

Gas House Gorillas
  • Gas House Gorillas performed Friday, June 28, at Abilene as part of the 2013 Xerox Rochester International Jazz Fest.

But for me, the night belonged to New York City’s Gas House Gorillas, who absolutely nailed the frenzied audience to the ceiling at Abilene. It was a punked-up and energized controlled catastrophe in the sprit of Louis Jordan wielding a chainsaw. The mostly original material was augmented with detours to New Orleans and rocked-up and -out nods to Cheap Trick and The Ramones. Most fun I’ve had with my pants on in a long time --and they didn’t stay on for the whole show, either (just ask anyone who was there). Gabbagabbahiddeyhiddey hey ho, let’s go.

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JAZZ FEST 2013, Day 8: Ron reviews Youn Sun Nah & Ulf Wakenius, Gregory Porter, and Phronesis

Posted By on Sat, Jun 29, 2013 at 12:53 AM

Youn Sun Nah Ulf Wakenius
  • Youn Sun Nah and Ulf Wakenius performed Friday, June 28, at the Lutheran Church as part of the 2013 Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival.

If I had to pick just one word to describe Youn Sun Nah & Ulf Wakenius it would have to be “otherworldly,” because they made sounds I hadn’t heard before in this one.

Nah came out alone to begin the duo’s first set at the Lutheran Church. With only a thumb piano, she proceeded to sing “My Favorite Things.” If John Coltrane reduced the song’s verse down to two chords in his famous modal rendition, Nah reduced it further, down to one chord -- and somehow made it work.

She could do this because she had one of the most remarkable voices I’ve ever heard. She was capable of everything from operatic high notes to Björk-like punk histrionics. When she sang she used her hands and arms in an evocative upper-body ballet that accented everything she sang. And her uniqueness went beyond her voice. At one point she soloed on kazoo, but somehow converted it to a muted trumpet.

While Nah was reinventing the human voice, Wakenius was doing the same thing with a simple, six-string acoustic guitar. He played percussive rhythms and lightning-fast leads and kept a bass going --- all of this at the same time.

During one solo he picked up an empty plastic water bottle and began beating his guitar strings with it. Then he started beating out tunes, venturing into absurd territory with the opening riff of Cream’s “Sunshine Of Your Love.” But usually his playing --- whether minimalistic or overflowing --- served as the perfect complement to Nah’s vocal gymnastics.

Youn Sun Nah
  • Youn Sun Nah performed Friday, June 28, at the Lutheran Church as part of the 2013 Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival.

The whole set was a high point, but I especially liked their rendition of Trent Reznor’s strangely beautiful song, “Hurt.” The church was as full as I have ever seen it and very few people left before the end of the concert.

Earlier in the evening, I caught Gregory Porter, the new jazz vocal sensation, at Kilbourn Hall. Porter has come up through the ranks quickly, taking second place in the Male Vocalist category and first place in the Rising Star Jazz Artist category in this year’s just-released DownBeat Critics Poll.

One reason for Porter’s success is obviously his rich tone and his large vocal range. But a more important reason might be the fact that he doesn’t specialize in standards, but instead writes tunes that come out of his own life experience.

For instance, in “Painted On Canvas,” his opening tune, he uses the process of art as a metaphor for respecting individuality. “On The Way To Harlem” reflects his excitement at being part of the vital soul/jazz tradition. And “1960 What?” is reminiscent of the protest spirit of Eugene McDaniels’ “Compared to What?”

Porter’s group was full of excellent instrumentalists; every solo was superb. Porter himself reached a peak while singing Nat Adderley’s “Work Song.” If you’re wondering about the hat and the balaclava wrapped around his head, he says the look is a way of setting himself apart.

Phronesis, the Scandinavian and British trio, was a refreshing change from many of the groups I’ve heard at the festival. Instead of going full throttle from beginning to end at Christ Church, this music ebbed and flowed. The drummer seemed especially aware of the pitfalls of the acoustically echoing architecture and at times played softly enough to almost disappear.

Of course, the group could still build to a crescendo, as it did in its last and, in my opinion, best tune, “Economist.” I’m not sure how evocative of the title the composition was supposed to be, but the song was full of nervous energy and got particularly frantic during a wonderful drum solo.

On the last night of this year’s festival I will take in Fiveplay at Max of Eastman Place. Then I’ll head over to the Lutheran Church to hear Torben Waldorff and to Christ Church to hear Gwilym Simcock.

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Friday, June 28, 2013

JAZZ FEST 2013, Day 7: Paloma reviews Carmen Souza and James/Sanborn/Gadd

Posted By on Fri, Jun 28, 2013 at 2:16 AM

Steve Gadd
  • Steve Gadd performed Thursday, June 27, at Kodak Hall as part of the 2013 Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival.

Authentic music. It’s what jazz is. It’s this connection these musicians make when they are so good at their craft that they are released from reality and invite us to come along. It’s what happens when you listen to jazz musicians like Bob James, David Sanborn, Steve Gadd, and Carmen Souza. It was a truly enjoyable night of jazz.

I saw Carmen Souza during her first show at Max of Eastman Place. She wore a white jumper and tights, a red flower in her hair, and a parrot painted on her guitar. From the first, there was a certain groove to her performance. Souza’s vocal range ran as high and as low as a glissando, and she was quite frequently note-jumping from one end of that range to the other. She is a vocal seductress, luring you in to a syllable on a note only to slide it into a warble and severely elongate the ending consonant before sharply snapping it off.

Carmen Souza
  • Carmen Souza performed Thursday, June 27, at Max of Eastman Place as part of the 2013 Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival.

As Souza’s set progressed, she wandered from one song into the next, in a seemingly random fashion. But, at each turn, there was a beat connecting the songs, like a river flowing through different, strong landscapes. By the end, Souza’s voice and body gyrations transformed into something almost primal, and she left many in the audience dancing in their seats and in the lines against the walls along which they stood.

Then, it was over to hear Bob James and David Sanborn in a sold-out show at Kodak Hall at Eastman Theater. James, a pianist and composer, took to the stage, every bit a hipster, sporting a pin-stripped suit, a pin-stripped button down, and red glasses, complete with every score in a touch pad that he proceeded to operate flawlessly. James is performing with saxophonist Sanborn again, some 20 years after their album “Double Vision.” James and Sanborn performed works tonight both from that original album and also from their new CD, “Quartette Humaine.”

James and Sanborn could not have approached the music from two more different points.Indeed, Sanborn had his score pages taped together and strung across two music stands.But, from that first downbeat, James and Sanborn were as one as they played through nearly two hours of music such as “Geste Human,” “Sofia,” “Maputo,” and the show-stopping “Follow Me.” James warned the audience that they weren’t going to be able to count in jazz 4/4 for the last piece, and he was right. The piece seemed to release each musician from the force of gravity, pulling us higher and higher and louder and louder with them, until it was too soon done.

David Sanborn
  • David Sanborn performed Thursday, June 27, at Kodak Hall as part of the 2013 Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival.

The house came down and James and Sanborn came out for encores, the last of which, “You Don’t Know Me,” gave an entire segment of the audience what they had been waiting for: Steve Gadd on the drums. A Rochester native and something of a hometown hero, Gadd did not disappoint. His raw energy and command of the beat whipped the audience into an absolute frenzy before they sent us back out into the night.

Tomorrow is Friday and that is my last assigned day for this year’s Jazz Fest. I’m currently scheduled for Giacomo Gates (Rochester Club), Frampton’s Guitar Circus (Eastman), and if I can scoot along East extra quick, Ben Taylor (Little). Hope to see you there!

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JAZZ FEST 2013, Day 7: Ron reviews Ravi Coltrane, Howard Levy, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Zoe Rahman

Posted By on Fri, Jun 28, 2013 at 12:52 AM

Zoe Rahman
  • Zoe Rahman played Thursday, June 27, at Christ Church as part of the 2013 Rochester International Jazz Festival.

When I interviewed Ravi Coltrane a few years ago he told me that, because he was an infant when his father died, he hardly knew him. He was, he said, just like all of the jazz saxophonists of his generation who listened to John Coltrane. But when you’re an excellent saxophonist and you’ve got those genes, and you open your Kilbourn Hall show with “I’m Old Fashioned,” comparisons are inevitable.

John Coltrane recorded the standard on his 1957 “Blue Trane” album. Ravi Coltrane’s rendition Thursday night was more abstract but every bit as soulful. Later in the set, when he played his own ballad, “The Change,” a more distinctive style emerged. Coltrane seemed to be speaking in musical sentences through his sax.

Coltrane was accompanied by Adam Rogers, a formidable guitarist who favored ethereal chords and high, ringing tone on solos. Bassist Dezron Douglas and drummer Johnathan Blake provided strong support and strong solos.

Speaking of Coltrane, in his Hatch Hall concert, pianist Howard Levy used “Giant Steps” as a leitmotif for his entire set. His stream-of-conscious musical meanderings wandered all over the place --- from blues to barrelhouse, from stride to impressionistic --- but he kept coming back to “Giant Steps.” He was impressive at the piano but it didn’t stop there. During a couple of the tunes, Levy would hold his harmonica with one hand and accompany himself on the piano with the other.

Meeting Levy after the show, I had an opportunity to ask him about something I’ve wondered about since I saw him with Bela Fleck at the XRIJF two years ago. During a solo at that concert, he seemed to be playing counterpoint with himself on harmonica. Was that possible? Levy said yes, he does that. He said he puts his tongue in the middle and plays through both sides of his mouth. “I call it my political style,” says Levy.

Rudresh Mahanthappa’s GAMAK drew a large crowd for the late show at the Little Theatre. But I wish the group had been in Xerox Auditorium, because when they were going full-tilt (and they went full-tilt most of the time) it was too loud for the room.

Because of that, my favorite of their tunes was “Slendro,” which refers to a scale in Javanese gamelan music. Saxophonist Mahanthappa and guitarist David “Fuze” Fiuczynski played as if their instruments were gamelans, and drummer Dan Weiss played a startling solo consisting of a melody played on cymbals.

Throughout the set the group played music that could be described as double fusion. With Fiuczynski’s two-necked guitar and Rich Brown’s six-string bass, the group straddled the line between jazz and rock. And with Mahanthappa’s Indian roots at the core of his musical vision, the group also straddled the line between cultures.

I caught too little of Zoe Rahman at Christ Church. She was a striking presence, with the longest hair in music since Crystal Gayle. Her music was dream-like and colorful; you could even call it cinematic because her mixture of jazz and classical technique and compositional style was so wonderfully evocative.

Friday night I’m going to hear singer Gregory Porter at Kilbourn Hall. I’ll also check out singer Youn Sun Nah & guitarist Ulf Wakenius at the Lutheran Church and the eclectic group Phronesis at Christ Church.

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Thursday, June 27, 2013

JAZZ FEST 2013, Day 7: Eric reviews Scottish National Jazz Orchestra and Mingo Fishtrap

Posted By on Thu, Jun 27, 2013 at 11:12 PM

Mingo Fishtrap, at the 2013 Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival. - PHOTO BY MATT DETURCK
  • Mingo Fishtrap, at the 2013 Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival.

Maybe I’m too invested in broad cultural stereotypes, or maybe I’m just a sucker for a great pair of legs. Either way I totally expected the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra to come out wearing kilts when they played the Xerox Auditorium Thursday night. I even wondered if they’d have bagpipes. But no; this is no novelty act. This is an ensemble of talented musicians who put on a superb set of jazz standards. They just happened to be from Scotland.

Saxophonist Tommy Smith led the 15-piece ensemble through pieces by Ellington, Gershwin, and Strayhorn. The Ellington pieces had a laid-back, toe-tapping quality, save for the raucous “Day Break Express,” written about a train and evoking a locomotive’s sounds. The band was so tight, so polished, that it inspired a couple of ladies to get up and swing dance. In Xerox Auditorium. I have never seen that happen at that venue before. But these great Scots knew how to please -- an audience that started out roughly 30 percent full kept growing throughout the set, with very few people leaving and more and more filling the seats.

The set really hit its stride with Smith’s extended arrangement of Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.” The piece lasted 15 or so minutes, which Smith said was substantially shorter than his epic original take on the instantly recognizable tune. The piece went through a number of key and tempo changes, featured some outstanding solos from various members of the band, and had the audience riveted for its entire running time. I found myself longing to book a first-class ticket on United Airlines just so I could get loaded while flying over the Atlantic. On the top-shelf stuff. You know, classy-like.

The audience burst into a standing ovation at the end of the piece, but it may have been a miscalculation to put the song in the middle of the set -- a good chunk of the audience assumed that the show was over and walked out before the orchestra’s also-excellent final numbers.

Mingo Fishtrap played the Unity Health Big Tent, Thursday, June 27. - PHOTO BY MATT DETURCK
  • Mingo Fishtrap played the Unity Health Big Tent, Thursday, June 27.

After that I headed over to the Big Tent to catch the earlier show by Austin, Texas, band Mingo Fishtrap. Some ladies sitting next to me noticed that I was a reporter (the notebook probably gave it away; I really need to be more discreet) and one took the opportunity to explain that she was looking forward to the Fishtrap show more than any other at this year’s festival. She saw the soul band at last year’s XRIJF and became an instant fan. “You gotta be happy” when you listen to them, she explained. “You gotta.” That was echoed by lead singer/guitarist Roger Blevins, Jr., when he said to the crowd, “All we ask is that you get down tonight.”

Within five funky minutes the khaki-short set was wiggling in the seats. By the end of the first song the pit began to fill with women in sundresses, and the dancing didn’t step until the show was over.

Even the band’s slower songs were suffused with groovy rhythms and a throbbing bass line. (Arguably it was too intense; from where I was sitting the instruments were over-mixed so that Blevins was sometimes hard to hear.) It was perfect summer-festival music, appealing to blues fans, rock fans, jazz fans, jam fans, and especially r’n’b and soul fans.

While excellent solos came from the saxophonist and trumpet player, the other star of the show was unquestionably organist/keyboardist Dane Farnsworth, who took the tent to church several times with his swirling sounds, even despite some technical difficulties late in the set.

The show wrapped with a lively tribute to Soul Brother No. 1, James Brown, in which the band deftly switched time signatures to swap from “I Feel Good” to “Soul Power” to “It’s a Man’s Man’sMan’s World.” The crowd ate it up.

On Friday night Mingo Fishtrap plays the Jazz Street Stage for two free shows at 7:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. If the energy inside the Big Tent tonight was any indication, the outside crowd should be a dancing machine. Make sure you’re well oiled.

Mingo Fishtrap performs at the Unity Health Big Tent. Video by Matt DeTurck

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