Friday, June 30, 2017

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 soundcloud.com/iris-bergcrantz.

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. sammymillercongregation.com.

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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