Thursday, June 28, 2018

Jazz Fest 2018, Day 7: Daniel reviews The Suffers, GoGo Penguin, and Pilc Moutin Hoenig

Posted By on Thu, Jun 28, 2018 at 11:55 PM

click to enlarge Pilc Moutin Hoenig played the Lutheran Church on Thursday night. - PHOTO BY JOSH SAUNDERS
  • PHOTO BY JOSH SAUNDERS
  • Pilc Moutin Hoenig played the Lutheran Church on Thursday night.
The joy and the enthusiasm coming from The Suffers during its first set at Harro East Ballroom felt effortless. In the Houston soul band’s debut performance in Rochester, it was all about the presence of frontwoman Kam Franklin, whose delivery could be sensitive and understated but frequently involved first-rate vocal pyrotechnics.

The band was nothing if not balanced, from the sassy but sophisticated brass section of Jon Durbin and Michael Razo to the sumptuous, bell-like tones from Pat Kelly’s keyboard and the head-bobbing bass guitar of Adam Castaneda. There’s beauty in concision, but The Suffers’ songs were almost too short. I could have lost myself in its cool grooves for much longer.


It was then on to something entirely different with English piano trio GoGo Penguin in its early time slot at Xerox Auditorium. Specializing in contemplative, brooding jazz-pop, the band was exceptionally tight.

Pianist Chris Illingworth’s melodies were gorgeous and elegiac, and drummer Rob Turner provided steady, dance club-worthy beats. But upright bassist Nick Blacka was most impressive. With fleet, roaming bass lines, he provided gritty texture and vital melodic interest, especially given Illingworth’s focus on sparse, harmonic accents over detailed hooks.

My favorite composition here was “Bardo,” from the recently released album “A Humdrum Star.” With 1980’s evocations, the music was atmospheric and reverb-laden, resulting in an introspective yet catchy soundworld.


click to enlarge Pilc Moutin Hoenig played the Lutheran Church on Thursday night. - PHOTO BY JOSH SAUNDERS
  • PHOTO BY JOSH SAUNDERS
  • Pilc Moutin Hoenig played the Lutheran Church on Thursday night.
Another piano trio, simply called Pilc Moutin Hoenig (for each of its members), truly caught me by surprise. In its first set at the Lutheran Church, the group quickly carved out an experimental niche all its own. This was jazz, deconstructed, and with no safety net: no extended, flashy solos; no dense instrumentation in which to hide. New York City-based Pianist Jean-Michel Pilc’s musings in particular were chromatic and impressionistic, filled with fragmented tunes. Essential melodic motives and stylistic touchstones were intact, but he seemed more fixated on brief gestures than fully formed jazz exposition.

Upright bassist François Moutin was similarly esoteric, spending most of the set far down on the neck of the instrument, plucking out insistent, wispy melodic phrases. Drummer Ari Hoenig pursued what amounted to abstract sound painting, even creating inventive pitch variations with the toms. About 35 minutes into the set, the three musicians suddenly morphed into what could at last be called straight-ahead jazz, with a charming swing rhythm, seemingly only to demonstrate that they could do so.

The very next piece was an improvisation, which featured Moutin intermittently scratching against the frog of his bass and Hoenig brushing his fingernails against the drum heads, while Pilc played a minimally adorned, seven-note melody that was starkly beautiful. This music was so intuitively crafted, it would have been virtually impossible to tell it was off-the-cuff, had Pilc not announced it from the stage.

In all, there was something wry and clever about the trio’s enigmatic music, as if every note and phrase were being played with a knowing smirk. That said, this was undoubtedly serious business, although the sound was cerebral without being stodgy. The true genius of Pilc Moutin Hoenig was the way the music seemed to revel in mystery, as if to remind us that every meaningful thing doesn’t have to be fully deciphered.


As we head into the home stretch of the festival on Friday, Day 8, I’ll be checking out the Jerry Granelli Band featuring Robben Ford at Temple Building Theater, the Miles Electric Band at the East Ave. and Chestnut St. Stage, and guitarist Stephane Wrembel at Max of Eastman Place.

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