Friday, June 30, 2017

Jazz Fest 2017, Day 7: Ron reviews Youn Sun Nah, Manuel Valera, and The Walt Weiskopf Quartet

Posted By on Fri, Jun 30, 2017 at 4:00 AM

How did a South Korean singer with a fantastic voice end up on a Rochester, New York, stage singing Tom Waits' "Jockey Full of Bourbon" with a punk-metal vibe and earn a standing ovation and an encore?

That might have been the question on your mind if you had just arrived at the Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival from Mars. But by the time Youn Sun Nah reached the climax of her set at Harro East Ballroom, everyone knew to expect the unexpected.

The first time Sun Nah played at the XRIJF, in 2013, she was accompanied on a single acoustic guitar by Ulf Wakenius. Thursday night at Harro East Ballroom, she brought a rock band. Sun Nah stood center stage, surrounded by an organist and electric pianist with a ZZ Top-length beard, an electric guitarist, a bassist, and a drummer. Harro East is not the best room acoustically for such a large sound, but Sun Nah vocals cannot be diminished by a sound system.

Sun Nah is the definition of a world musician. Her repertoire is from all over, and her stylistic range spans the musical world. She used her other-worldly voice on tunes ranging from "A Sailor's Life," a traditional song made popular by Fairport Convention, to a Jimi Hendrix song, "Drifting." Where Hendrix might have held, twisted, and turned the last note on his guitar, Sun Nah did it with her voice, reaching high into what appeared to be the fourth octave of her range. It was stunning.

It was a totally different experience than the first time I heard her but I left saying the same word: wow!

You can find Youn Sun Nah's music at

Earlier in the evening I saw one of my favorite pianists, Manuel Valera in a solo concert at Hatch Hall. Valera was born in Cuba, and the island still occupies a giant place in his music. Early in the set he played an evocative original tune, "Water," based on growing up near the ocean. A few tunes later he played a beautiful Cuban bolero.

Later, Valera played a particularly gorgeous, mysteriously familiar tune. Only afterward did he reveal that he'd grown up playing classical music but was very reluctant to play it in public. He had just played an improvisation-filled version of Chopin's second nocturne for the first time in front of an audience. Other highlights of the set included a sprightly rendition of Thelonious Monk's "Ask Me Now."

Find more about Manuel Valera at

The Walt Weiskopf Quartet filled the Xerox Auditorium with Weiskopf's muscular saxophone and his bandmates' excellent accompaniment on piano, bass, and drums. Weiskopf is particularly good at writing classic jazz tunes, the kind with great, catchy heads and strong chord patterns to improvise over. He and his band took off on strong solos on every tune.

Go to for more on the band.

Friday night, I'll begin with one of the most highly anticipated concerts of the XRIJF: 4 By Monk By 4 with pianists Kenny Barron, Benny Green, Cyrus Chestnut, and George Cables at Kilbourn Hall. Then I'll check out one more pianist, Ariel Pocock, at Hatch Hall before heading over to Xerox Auditorium to hear singer Tessa Souter.

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Jazz Fest 2017, Day 7: Frank reviews The Wee Trio and Sheryl Crow

Posted By on Fri, Jun 30, 2017 at 4:00 AM

The Wee Trio was anything but wee as they filled the Wilder Room Thursday night with hip, bouncy bop. The atmosphere in the room is a tad stiff without music, and it's still stiff with music. The picture the band painted didn't entirely color the walls, but I loved it. The trio was equal amounts what I like and what I understand mixed with a dash of good ole WTF.


James Westfall's vibraphone attack was reminiscent of Cal Tjader in its playful discourse and speed, both of which were matched expertly by Dan Loomis on the bass and Jared Schonig on drums. The set also had a guest visit from Rochester ex-pat Mike Cottone.


What I do in these cases is daydream, create a film in my head as its soundtrack unfolds. The weirder the music, the weirder the dream. The dream I created with this trio's help was a long, shiny Cadillac surrounded by showgirls in mini dresses on mini bikes rolling like Shriners with maximum moxie, all cruising the Vegas strip with the lights of the assorted casinos lighting up the Caddy's gloss and the dresses' sparkle and shimmer. I betcha you can practically taste those vibes now.


Find The Wee Trio at

Sheryl Crow played a sold out Kodak Hall at the Eastman Theatre after earlier today buying a couple of guitars from the cat in the hat, John Bernunzio, at his Uptown Music and hat store. I've seen Crow a number of times and though her band was excellent as always -- charging right in with three hits in a row: "Everyday Is a Winding Road," "A Change Would Do You Good," and the one that put Crow on the map, "All I Wanna Do" -- it lacked steam and could have used a little more heat. There was no shortage of hoots and hollers from the crowd for her performance, and there's no denying she can write a pop song, and she broke out just about all of them -- I just could've used a little more spark.

Sheryl Crow can be found at

Tomorrow night, it's Binker and Moses and Caravan Palace for me. Join me, won't you?

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Jazz Fest 2017, Day 7: Daniel reviews Phronesis, Jeff Coffin's In Orbit, and Oskar Stenmark NYC Quartet

Posted By on Fri, Jun 30, 2017 at 4:00 AM

As the members of Phronesis made their way to the front of the Christ Church sanctuary for its first set on Thursday night, they looked more like a rock band than a jazz trio. Group leader and double bassist Jasper Høiby looked a bit like a lankier, Nordic version of the late, great Kurt Cobain, pianist Ivo Neame had a kind of rockabilly vibe, and drummer Anton Eger sported a Motörhead T-shirt and the kind of haircut that was meant for headbanging.

Ultimately, the band's appearance was rather fitting: the trio followed through on a hard-hitting set. On "OK Chorale," Eger showcased his almost hyperactive approach to the drums, which gave the music added edge throughout the performance. The Scandinavian musician easily took the prize as the most entertaining drummer I've seen at this year's festival.

Høiby's bass anchored the music in each moment, his low-end grooves forming the nexus of the compositions. His bass lines often took the fore, not just rhythmically but also melodically. This freed up Neame to fill in the gaps with sparkling textures and beautiful flourishes on the piano.

Phronesis played frequently up-tempo, sophisticated jazz that never sounded overwrought, but struck the perfect balance between conventional and cutting-edge. The quality and complexity of Høiby's melodies -- especially on such an unwieldy instrument as the upright bass -- was consistently impressive.

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of Phronesis's music became apparent during "Rabat": there was something inherently "hard rock" about the musicianship. There was a weight to it, an unrelenting quality that carried hints of heavy metal. This band is definitely one I'll be listening to more often.

You can find Phronesis at

Upon hearing saxophonist Jeff Coffin's quintet In Orbit at Anthology, the band name seemed apropos. There was something cosmic in Coffin's solos, overflowing with energy and unfurling to the highest reaches of his instrument's register, before ripping into a dizzying flurry of notes that left the listener holding on for dear life. The use of reverb may have had something to do with the otherworldly sound. And I know I've never heard a sax filtered through a wah-wah pedal before.

As excellent as Coffin's performance was, he was outdone by his bassist, Felix Pastorius, whose chops rival that of Victor Wooten. Pastorius's playing had a glorious, liquid flow to it, up and down the fretboard.

Find In Orbit at

As the group's name suggests, the Oskar Stenmark NYC Quartet played a fusion of Swedish folk and New York City jazz. On flugelhorn, Stenmark's mellifluous tone had a warmth and honesty that was tangible. The music conjured up a cityscape at night, the glow of street lamps illuminating the silhouettes of strangers passing by.

Pianist Billy Test's performance was commanding and virtuosic, his presence a mixture of cool and majestic. There was something welcomingly laid-back about the quartet's second set at Lutheran Church of the Reformation, especially after the decidedly more frenetic concerts from Phronesis and In Orbit.

You can hear Stenmark's music at

On Friday, I'll catch Down North at the Jazz Street stage, and the Iris Bergcrantz Group, featuring Anders Bergcrantz, at the Lutheran Church.

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Jazz Fest 2017, Day 8: Daniel reviews Iris Bergcrantz Group, Filthy Funk, and Sammy Miller and The Congregation

Posted By on Fri, Jun 30, 2017 at 4:00 AM

Upon hearing Iris Bergcrantz Group (featuring Anders Bergcrantz) at the Lutheran Church, the individual performances stood out immediately. As an ensemble, however, the net effect was more muted.

To describe Iris's pure vocal tone as merely ethereal would be clichéd and somewhat misleading. Her voice was also grounded and worldly. At times, the melodies had a subtle Middle Eastern flair, or a pentatonic structure that evoked Asia before delving into synthesized, Imogen Heap-like harmonies.

The frequent use of nonverbal vocalizations accentuated the sense that the music was out of time and place. A highlight of the set was an a cappella rendition of a Swedish folk song translated as "My Rose," which sounded like a nearly lost melody passed down through mystical means and only recently discovered. Unadorned, Iris's voice had more power and immediacy -- akin to that of the Lebanese vocalist Yasmine Hamdan -- as if she didn't have to tone things down as she might when accompanied by the band.

Iris's father, the trumpeter Anders Bergrantz, was dynamic, with a charismatic, bold style that was decidedly more traditional. While Iris's voice seemed to represent the future -- what canonized vocal jazz might sound like further down the line -- Anders was firmly rooted in the past, giving the audience a pleasant and entertaining taste of the familiar.

It was like watching two benevolent leaders at cross-purposes, trying to coexist, with neither of them truly advancing their respective agendas. Each musical direction had merit, but they canceled one another out while vying for the ear of the listener. At times, the piano accompaniment felt out of stylistic sync with the vocals, too traditional to keep pace with the twists and turns of Iris's melodies.

As the set wore on, I grew tired of the creative dissonance. I'd love to hear Iris Bergcrantz perform in a more experimental context.

You can hear her music at

Filthy Funk, with saxophonist Jimmie Highsmith Jr., was expertly named and perfectly suited for the Jazz Street stage on Friday night. The smooth-grooving trio's strong funk inflections laid the foundation for Highsmith's searing, soaring sax. Guitarist John Viviani's delectable, thoroughly enjoyable solos also stood out.

Sammy Miller and The Congregation don't take themselves too seriously, but their music certainly swings with pep and swagger. Complete with a light-hearted stage presence and engaging musicianship, the band delivered hearty throwback music from bygone 20th century jazz. That said, the second set at the Big Tent seemed less like a collection of compositions and more like a series of impressive solos strung together.

There's still time to hear Sammy Miller and The Congregation at this year's Jazz Fest: Montage Music Hall at 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. on Saturday. $30 or a Club Pass.

Tomorrow, I'll close out the festival with the Balkun Brothers at the East Ave. and Chestnut St. stage and Gard Nilssen's Acoustic Unity at the Lutheran Church.

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Thursday, June 29, 2017

Jazz Fest 2017, Day 6: Daniel reviews Shauli Einav Quartet, Electric Kif, and Klabbes bank

Posted By on Thu, Jun 29, 2017 at 4:00 AM

Shauli Einav Quartet's first set at Max of Eastman Place on Wednesday night was among the more traditional jazz performances I've heard at the festival so far. While this isn't exactly my style, the musicianship was impeccable, and the overall vibe was suave and sexy.

An Eastman School of Music alumnus, Einav's delivery on the tenor and soprano saxes was silky smooth, but as good as he was, pianist Nitzan Gavrieli stole the show with a flawless knack for melody and intuitive phrasing that was seductive.

Ultimately, the quartet's tight, downtown jazz had just the right combination of swagger and musical sensitivity.

Check out Shauli Einav Quartet at

Electric Kif at Anthology. - PHOTO BY DANIEL J. KUSHNER
  • Electric Kif at Anthology.

The Miami-based quartet Electric Kif makes funk-rock fusion with big jam band vibes. During its first set at Anthology, this was a band that was heavy on the groove, and played "in the pocket": rhythmic expressivity was just as important as the melody.

Keyboardist Jason Matthews was the main attraction here. At the heart of Electric Kif was his indefatigable energy and effusive playing style. Matthews frequently dropped huge Hammond organ riffs on the audience.

The band powered through songs such as "See You at the Corner" and "Little Louie" -- from its new album "Heist" -- but the best was saved for last with a blistering cover of Radiohead's brilliant "Weird Fishes/Arpeggi." Matthews and company gave a faithful rendition that managed to be more moody and explosively emotive than the recorded original.

You can find Electric Kif's music at

The sound of synthesizers is at the core of Swedish sextet Klabbes bank -- an indie pop band utilizing jazz instrumentation to achieve a cinematic, post-rock sound that fans of Sigur Rós and Godspeed You! Black Emperor can get behind. The group touches on all those signifiers without being beholden to any of the

The horn section -- tenor sax, trombone, and clarinets -- produced a truly beautiful, versatile result: at various times contemplative, cacophonous, sultry even. Combined with the keyboards, the instruments gave off a retro-80's essence that was still somehow contemporary. Think the music of M83, with fjords.

Klabbes bank closed its second set at Lutheran Church of the Reformation with "I'm the Sea," my favorite cut from the 2015 album "Z." Practically a dance tune, this fleet composition features a sleek horn riff that would be as home in a club as in a concert hall.

Klabbes bank is a band that requires repeated listening, and yet it is completely accessible on the first try. Its performance was a prime example of what makes the Jazz Festival so great: the discovery of fascinating artists committed to their sound.

You can find the band at

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Jazz Fest 2017, Day 6: Ron reviews Charles Pillow Large Ensemble, George Cables, and Ryan Keberle & Catharsis

Posted By on Thu, Jun 29, 2017 at 4:00 AM

Charles Pillow led his Large Ensemble at Xerox Auditorium Wednesday night. - PHOTO BY JOSH SAUNDERS
  • Charles Pillow led his Large Ensemble at Xerox Auditorium Wednesday night.

When jazz aficionados think of Miles Davis and jazz orchestra music, the first thing that comes to mind is a series of recordings Davis made with arranger Gil Evans in the late-1950's. Wednesday night at Xerox Auditorium, the Charles Pillow Large Ensemble performed something fairly radical: jazz orchestra arrangements of some of Davis's most controversial works produced during his initial "electric" period in the late-1960's and early-70's.

I remember when "Bitches Brew" came out in 1970. Someone put it on at a party, and I couldn't stand it. Give it about five decades and an excellent big band and hey -- I like it. An Eastman School of Music professor, Charles Pillow wrote some fantastic arrangements of tunes from "Bitches Brew," "In A Silent Way," and "On the Corner." Maybe it's the time that's passed or maybe the fact that Davis's revolutionary recordings influenced so much that came after, but everything the ensemble played sounded good.

In the role of Miles Davis (sort of) were two of the top trumpet players on the scene today, Tim Hagans and Clay Jenkins, another Eastman professor. Both were superb, as was Pillow when he took saxophone solos and led the band from the middle of the sax section. The 16-piece ensemble was made up of top national players and some excellent Eastman students who rose to the occasion. My favorite of the arrangements was "Spanish Key," a Davis tune. I might have to check out those albums and give them another chance.

Find more on Charles Pillow at

George Cables began his Hatch Hall set by dedicating a song, "Lullaby," to pianist Geri Allen, who died today at the age of 60. (Allen, who played Kilbourn Hall at the 2007 Jazz Festival, was a jazz giant who will be greatly missed.) Then Cables launched into a series of standards, all of which were embellished greatly by his brilliant technique.

When he played "You Don't Know What Love Is" the tune itself seemed embedded in a larger blues composition. "Up Jumped Spring" became an impossibly intricate tour-de-force. And his version of "'Round Midnight" was more like "By Midnight," as in, it's 11:58 p.m. and we've got to get this song done by 12 -- I've never heard it so fast.

The best tune in the set was one of the few originals Cables played. "Helen's Song," a tune he wrote for his wife, is a lilting, lyrical, mid-tempo composition with great harmonies, surprising turns, and a melody I still can't get out of my head.

George Cables will play as part of 4 By Monk By 4 on Thursday at the Lyric Theatre, 4 p.m., ($30 or a Club Pass); and on Friday night at Kilbourn Hall, 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. ($35 or a Club Pass) He is one of four excellent pianists playing the music of Thelonious Monk.

Over at The Little Theatre, Ryan Keberle & Catharsis was playing with a unique front line. The heads of tunes were played by three horns: Keberle on trombone, a saxophonist whose name I didn't catch, and Camila Meza on voice.

Meza, who also played guitar, provided a vocal with words for the band's best tune of the night. After a free jazz improvisation, the band segued into "Al otrolado del río," by Jorge Drexler. Meza's vocal was wonderful and the band backed her beautifully with punctuated horn riffs.

Ryan Keberle & Catharasis can be found at

Thursday night I'll be headed to Hatch Hall to hear one of my favorite pianists, Manuel Valera, in a solo concert. Then I'll head over to Harro East Ballroom to hear vocalist Youn Sun Nah. I'll finish with the Walt Weiskoff Quartet at Xerox Auditorium.

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Jazz Fest 2017, Day 6: Frank reviews Tommy Smith, Marcia Ball, and Mavis Staples

Posted By on Thu, Jun 29, 2017 at 4:00 AM

Tommy Smith played the Lyric Theatre on Wednesday. - PHOTO BY FRANK DE BLASE
  • Tommy Smith played the Lyric Theatre on Wednesday.

As Tommy Smith slowly strode down the aisle in the Lyric Theatre, I got to thinking how I would describe it. I first thought it took on the look and speed of a wedding march. Nope; that would be too happy for what he was playing on his tenor saxophone. How about a funeral march? Perhaps.

However you look at it, Smith made it to the band stand dramatically while playing something that had a somewhat dark mood within its happy notes. And for a brief instant, I thought he was playing the intro to Tom Waits' "Small Change."

Smith began the show with a piece that was roughly 10 minutes long (maybe even longer) called "Love is a Red, Red Rose." Everything he played floated throughout the room without any amplification whatsoever. It sounded outstanding with its punch, clarity, and sustain. Smith arranged his tunes rather curious and odd. It wasn't your stock call-and-response, modulate, repeat. It was more call, call, call, respond with yet another call.

Smith played it slippery, and the notes escaped like smoke in fog. This is the first time I'd heard him, but I know the next time -- even if he plays the same selections -- I'll hear something entirely different. It was mesmerizing.

Find Tommy Smith's music at

Mavis Staples headlined Wednesday night at XRIJF 2017. - PHOTO BY FRANK DE BLASE
  • Mavis Staples headlined Wednesday night at XRIJF 2017.

Making sure we all had a ball, Marcia Ball threw a ball at the Harro East Ballroom. It was simply good ole rockin' roadhouse music with Ball up front on the piano and leading the charge of her hard-hitting bandmates behind her. Ball's voice was in fine form with just a hint of a sexy rasp and history. The band pumped and pummeled as Ball cracked the whip. And solo breaks allowed the sax player and guitarist to show out and show off what they could do, which pleased the audience to no end. Definitely the most rock 'n' roll show I've heard this week. I had a natural ball.

More on Marcia Ball at

At 77, Mavis Staples still has pipes to be reckoned with. She has that throaty purr that lingers at the tail of every note she sings. With little fanfare, this legend took to the stage with the Staples Singers song "If You're Ready (Come Go With Me)."

Through her 90-minute set, Staples sang tunes by the Talking Heads ("Slippery People"), Buffalo Springfield ("Whatever it's Worth"), and plenty of Staples Singers staples, like "Respect Yourself" and "I'll Take You There." She worked the audience into multiple standing ovations without preaching so much as leading by example on stage, exemplified by the number "Touch a hand, Make a Friend."

You can find Mavis Staples at

Tomorrow night, it's The Wee Trio in the Wilder Room and Sheryl Crow, who I owe an apology -- I'll explain tomorrow -- at Kodak Hall.

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Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Jazz Fest 2017, Day 5: Frank reviews Vanessa Rubin, Postmodern Jukebox, and Hot Club of Cowtown

Posted By on Wed, Jun 28, 2017 at 4:00 AM

Vanessa Rubin performed at Max of Eastman Place on Tuesday night. - PHOTO BY FRANK DE BLASE
  • Vanessa Rubin performed at Max of Eastman Place on Tuesday night.

What a splendiferous, fantastical, and magical evening I had. After Monday morning quarterbacking the night before, and handicapping the upcoming schedule with the JAZZ90.1 jumpin' jazzperts, I dove right in to Max of Eastman Place once again.

This time it was to see Vanessa Rubin. What an absolute joy she was as she sang with elastic epiglottal electricity. She hit the classics -- "Moonglow," "Besame Mucho" -- along with her own stuff that shimmered with a casual effervescence that delighted the stuffed house.

Her between-song banter was cheeky and charming and hysterically self-effacing; she claimed to have "jazzheimers" when she couldn't remember a line to a particular song. No worries, she scatted through the blank spots like Ella or a trip to the moon on gossamer wings.

Just suffice it to say Postmodern Jukebox rocked me and a packed Kodak Hall like a hurricane. The band had it all: an in-charge emcee; three warbling chanteuses who could all crack the sky with their range; a tap dancer that looked like Josephine Baker; and a cracker-jack band with two ex-Rochester homeboys in the brass section, trumpeter Mike Cottone (of the band Holophonor) and trombonist Nick Finzer. All that was missing were a few flying monkeys and some pyro.

The way the band takes current and some classic pop and re-tools it into swing may sound like a gimmick on paper, but live, it's amazing. The band was rewarded with standing ovations throughout its 90-minute show. A bit of the irony was lost on me as I don't know a lot of the songs that PMJ re-upholsters, but even without the back story, they're still great tunes.

Radiohead's "Creep" brought tears to my eyes, and the band's take on Meghan Trainor's "All About the Bass" was probably one of the sexiest things I've seen or heard in a while. And the bands encore take on Fountains of Wayne's "Stacy's Mom" was the funniest thing I've heard in a while. The whole friggin' show swung like DiMaggio aiming for the cheap seats.

Hot Club of Cowtown played the Big Tent on Tuesday. - PHOTO BY FRANK DE BLASE
  • Hot Club of Cowtown played the Big Tent on Tuesday.

For a bit of decompression, I headed to my final stop of the evening: Hot Club of Cowtown, who swung light and tight like tumbleweeds made of velvet. They have a big sound for an acoustic-based three-piece and call to mind Bob Wills. The trio played their collective heart out, but alas I was shellac'd and couldn't take no more, so I stumbled home under a fingernail moon to tell you this tale. It goes something like this: What a splendiferous, fantastical and magical evening I had ...

Tomorrow night, its Tommy Smith, Marcia Ball, and Mavis Staples -- provided I wake up in time.

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Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Jazz Fest 2017, Day 5: Daniel reviews Mario Rom's Interzone and Ole Mathisen's Floating Points

Posted By on Tue, Jun 27, 2017 at 11:06 PM

Mario Rom's Interzone played The Little on Tuesday. - PHOTO BY JOSH SAUNDERS
  • Mario Rom's Interzone played The Little on Tuesday.

At The Little Theatre on Tuesday night, the Austrian jazz trio Mario Rom's Interzonepicked up right where it left off two years ago during its last appearance at XRIJF.

Interzone is almost too much fun, if that's even possible: Lukas Kranzelbinder continues to be one of the most riveting double bassists I've seen, and Herbert Pirker is as nimble a drummer as you're likely to hear. Mario Rom is an absolutely dazzling trumpet player, possessing a distinctive flair all his own.

Just as I remembered, they played fast and intense -- like repeated shots of musical adrenaline. Rom's dexterity on the trumpet was remarkable, dispensing extended melodic runs that were magic, plain and simple. This was especially evident during "Words of Advice," from the new album "Truth Is Simple to Consume."

For "Broken Image of Man," also off the aforementioned record, Kranzelbinder plucked out some downright bluesy bass chords as the foundation, while Rom's decidedly mellower trumpet was no less incisive or on-point. That's not to say his playing was flawless, but frankly, it didn't matter. His willingness to take risks made all the difference.

"Milking of the Mugwumps," a song inspired by American writer William S. Burroughs's infamous novel "Naked Lunch," had all the classic jazz signifiers, but just enough experimental elements to keep the audience honest. Amid the sounds of "Choose Your Vision," a subtle feature of Interzone's work emerged: the band's ability to smuggle in non-jazz rhythmic motives, virtually undetected. While Rom's trumpet grabbed all the immediate attention, more conservative jazz listeners took in rock and avant-garde elements, courtesy of Kranzelbinder and Pirker, who were always in lock-step yet able to let loose at any moment.

This band's performance may end up as the best-kept secret of the XRIJF. Mario Rom's Interzone is definitely on my shortlist for best of the fest.

Later on in the evening, Norwegian tenor saxophonist Ole Mathisen and his Floating Points ensemble played a cryptic hybrid of contemporary classical and jazz during its second set at the Lutheran Church of the Reformation. It was telling that its first piece was "J.S.," an ultra-modern ode to Bach.

The performance of the "Floating Points" suite was the Jazz Fest at its most esoteric: Mathisen and trumpeter Amir ElSaffar intoned meditative drones that explored microbial harmonies; meandering lines were delivered like non-sequiturs; abstract interjections fluttered and spasmed, wailed and shrieked. This was jazz deconstructed, dissected even; all the bones were there, but the remains told a more abstract, disjointed yet compelling story.

The entire performance required intensive listening, and was not ideal for those uninitiated with the avant-garde. That's not to say the music wasn't rewarding. The sounds were some of the most bold and adventurous I had heard at the festival thus far.

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Jazz Fest 2017, Day 4: Frank reviews Marquis Hill Blacktet and New Breed Brass Band

Posted By on Tue, Jun 27, 2017 at 4:00 AM

Marquis Hill Blacktet performed at Max of Eastman Place on Monday as part of the 2017 XRIJF. - PHOTO BY FRANK DE BLASE
  • Marquis Hill Blacktet performed at Max of Eastman Place on Monday as part of the 2017 XRIJF.

The Marquis Hill Blacktet got my motor running right tonight with an outasight dose of the bop during the matinee set at Max of Eastman Place. His trumpet zipped and ping-ponged off the walls into a shimmery cascade that was straight from the fridge, dad.

Hill traded off liberally to his alto sax man while we all stood drop-jawed in awe of the monster behind the drums. He doubled his attack frequently on the up-beat where it sounded like he was playing more drums than were actually before him.

What really sent me was the righteous vibraphone player who danced and pranced the mallets over his instrument. One minute he was punctuating Hill's flourishes and flurries, the next he was letting fly with little bursts of rhythm only to bring it down to that of a mysterious chime of a music box. The funny thing is the quieter he played, the more you could feel the sustain of the notes reverberating in your bones. It made me pleasantly dizzy.

Here's a hint: if you want to entertain me, if you want to win me over as a fan, just don't tell me what to do. Don't tell me to make some noise; that's your job. This also holds true for screaming, waving my hands in the air like I just don't care, and stage diving. This is why Warped Tour sucks now. The New Breed Brass Band didn't break all those rules, but they fractured a few. And they yelled at all of us in the Big Tent. A lot.

The New Breed Brass Band at the Big Tent on Monday. - PHOTO BY FRANK DE BLASE
  • The New Breed Brass Band at the Big Tent on Monday.

The New Orleans-based band is essentially a parade trapped in a snow globe. They are kinetic and cool, and need to be out and about, marching down the street. I loved the sousaphone on the bass parts -- you could feel it way down in your guts. Individually, the horn players were masters of their instruments. All together, though, it was as if the transmission was slipping every so often. It was more blaring blasts of notes than songs, and my ears looked desperately to hang on to anything they could -- a hook, a riff -- but kept falling off.

New Breed Brass Band plays again Tuesday, June 27, at Montage Music Hall. 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. $30 or a Club Pass.

Tomorrow, you'll find me limping along the killing floor to see Postmodern Jukebox at Kodak Hall and Hot Club of Cowtown at the Big Tent.

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