Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Jazz Fest 2018, Day 5: Daniel reviews Béla Fleck & The Flecktones, House of Waters, and Partikel

Posted By on Wed, Jun 27, 2018 at 1:37 AM

You won’t hear anyone else like New York City’s House of Waters at this year’s Jazz Festival. Singularly hypnotic, the trio features the hammered dulcimer playing of Max ZT, who takes what is primarily known here in America as an Appalachian folk instrument and turns it into a multicultural mashup of East meets West.

During the first House of Waters set at Max of Eastman Place, ZT ripped spellbinding runs that evoked the fluidity that the band’s name implies. Moto Fukushima showcased his melodic ingenuity and versatility on the six-string bass guitar with funky aplomb. And Ignacio Rivas Bixio kept the forward momentum going with measured intensity on the drums.

It would be tempting to call this music “easy listening,” but that would be too reductive, insulting even. Sure, House of Waters is the band I would choose to listen to on a spa day, but the group’s sound was too thoughtful and nuanced to be mere background fodder. That said, it wasn’t so cerebral that I couldn’t kick back and let go, either.

Stylistically, there were hints of Indian raga, pentatonic scales, and kora-inspired passages — African and Asian influences that the band then diffused through a smooth jazz filter. The synchronicity between the three players seemed the very definition of “snug.” Perhaps most impressive was ZT’s masterful control and dexterity, as he frequently kept a tremolo in the left hand while playing a roving, inventive melody in the right hand.

Simply put, House of Waters makes chill music for unhinged times and celebrates the universal human experience across numerous cultural traditions.

After the House of Water’s set, I quickly made my way to Christ Church to catch the London quartet Partikel. After witnessing numerous festival artists whose sound embodied the physicality of their playing, it was refreshing to encounter some spacy, progressive jazz. The opposite of visceral, Partikel’s compositions were full of airy evocations: Duncan Eagles’s mercurial tenor saxophone percolations; Ant Law’s astral guitar swells; Max Luthert’s buoyant upright bass; and Eric Ford’s shuffling drums.

There was something contemplative about the music, even during more swift, blissed-out moments. The sounds were welcomingly heady and ponderous, a respite from the high-octane nature of the Jazz Fest. And still, Law’s psychedelic guitar chops stole the show when a solo briefly turned the concert into a jazzy acid trip.

Going into the evening’s headlining set from Béla Fleck & The Flecktones, I knew that nothing was going to top it. The band has been a fixture in the music world for 30 years, combining the best elements of folk, funk, rock, and jam band aesthetics. The complete, original lineup is back — Fleck on banjo; pianist and harmonica player Howard Levy; bassist Victor Wooten; and his brother Roy “Futureman” Wooten on a synthesized percussion instrument known as a “drumitar.” The band is still inscrutable, bordering on mystical.

On this night in Eastman Theatre’s Kodak Hall, Victor Wooten was ever the rhythmic anchor, with his explosive slap bass style and legendary sleight-of-hand solos. There was something quizzical about Fleck’s banjo playing: the cascading melodies that slunk chromatically up and down the frets, the effervescent fingerpicking that leaves one feeling breathless. His textured harmonies and serpentine solos on the banjo gave the compositions profound depth, while Futureman’s indispensable syncopations added an aura of perfection.

But it was Levy who was the real revelation. Perhaps the best harmonica player I’ve ever heard, Levy possessed a melodic flexibility that was as expressive and inspired as anything played all week by supremely skilled trumpet players at the festival. His piano solos were every bit as satisfying, too. The best moment of the night came when Levy played “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” on the harmonica. I like to think that Kodak Hall’s bust of J.S. Bach was beaming with pride from the shadows just then.

Were The Flecktones’ music not so enjoyable, the unadulterated talent highlighted on the stage might have been sickening. But hearing Fleck and company was one of those rare, “pure music” experiences. There was no ego, no pretension; just the love of making music. In fact, 45 minutes into the concert, there had been only one word of between-song banter, when Fleck simply said “Thanks,” before jumping into the next song.

My night was officially made when the quartet closed the set with “Sinister Minister,” my favorite Flecktones tune. There was nothing more delicious than hearing that tantalizing bass line, to which Wooten added his signature melodic finesse. For the encore, The Flecktones brought out a new song, a whirling, rhythmic monster called “Vertigo.” Needless to say, I went home happy, and I think the packed house at Kodak Hall did, too.

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Jazz Fest 2018, Day 5: Ron reviews Joe Locke Group, Lucia Cadotsch 'Speak Low,' and Gary Versace Trio

Posted By on Wed, Jun 27, 2018 at 12:32 AM

The Gary Versace Trio brought the strange sight of seeing more than just a piano in Hatch Recital Hall. - PHOTO BY JOSH SAUNDERS
  • The Gary Versace Trio brought the strange sight of seeing more than just a piano in Hatch Recital Hall.
It’s one thing to hear great music; it’s quite another to witness a super-human performance. That’s what two full houses at Kilbourn Hall experienced Tuesday night with the Joe Locke Group. Locke played selections from his new album, “Subtle Disguise,” with Jim Ridl on piano, Lorin Cohen, bass, and Samvel Sarkisyan, drums. Guest singer Paul Jost sang and played harmonica on Blind Willie Johnson’s “Motherless Children” and provided a wordless vocal on “Red Cloud,” a tune about a Native American tribal chief. And Locke's band-mate from many decades ago, saxophonist Tommy Smith, joined the group on two tunes.

All of the musicianship was superb, but there’s something more to a Joe Locke concert — and not just because he grew up and began his career in Rochester. When he plays, he throws his whole body into it, his four-mallets accelerating to the point where the white ends appear to be a dozen balls bouncing over the bars. When he talks emotionally about his “touchstone” on vibes, Bobby Hutcherson, who died last year, or about Chief Red Cloud, or his own feeling about being separated for a short time from his mother when he was a child, he really feels it. Every tune Locke plays has great meaning to him, and if he looks like he’s becoming one with his music, it’s because he is.

Earlier in the evening at the Lutheran Church, Lucia Cadotsch “Speak Low” was great in a different way. The combination of saxophone, bass, and voice seemed strange, but once the trio got started, it got wonderfully stranger. Otis Sandsjö on sax and Petter Eldh on bass served as a wild, rough, and raunchy texture framing a gorgeous voice. Beauty and the beasts. The two instrumentalists even looked beastly, gyrating toward Cadotsch as she sang. She maintained a stone face throughout.

In her singing Cadotsch had an understated approach, reminiscent of Astrud Gilberto. “Don’t Explain” morphed into the group’s namesake song, “Speak Low.” She sang a moving version of Randy Newman’s “I Think It’s Going To Rain Today” and a rendition of “What’s New,” based on Ahmad Jamal’s 1958 recording, which she called the first hip-hop record. The sax and bass just got better and better, providing insanely dynamic back-up. At one point Sandsjö got into a circular breathing cycle that allowed him to play a melody while maintain his rhythmic pattern.

It’s been a good week for mash-ups at Hatch Hall. On Sunday, Bill Dobbins combined Chopin and Jobim, and Tuesday night Gary Versace merged a jazz standard — "The Way You Look Tonight" — with a Bangles tune, “Eternal Flame.” It was kind of funny the way he and the guitarist kept switching off from the jazz standard to the Bangles tune.

Did I just write the word “guitarist”? In Hatch Hall? Is nothing sacred? Versace played with his trio, Keith Ganz on guitar and Sean Smith, bass. I have to admit, after years of solo piano in Hatch, it was jarring. But it was a fine trio, playing a few originals and a spirited arrangement of another pop tune, “More Today Than Yesterday.”

I’ll start Wednesday night at Hatch Hall where Harold Danko will be at the Steinway. Then I’ll head over to the Lutheran Church to hear Torben Waldorff. I’ll finish the evening with the new singing star Jazzmeia Horn at the Temple Building Theater.

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Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Jazz Fest 2018, Update: Miles Electric Band to replace St. Germain

Posted By on Tue, Jun 26, 2018 at 10:35 PM

The Miles Electric Band revisits Miles Davis's electric years. - PHOTO COURTESY XEROX ROCHESTER INTERNATIONAL JAZZ FESTIVAL
  • The Miles Electric Band revisits Miles Davis's electric years.
The Miles Electric Band, an ensemble of Miles Davis alumni revisiting the repertoire of Davis's electric years, will play the free, 9 p.m. outdoor show at the Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival on Friday, June 29. The French house and jazz musician St. Germain was scheduled for Friday's show, but had to cancel his North American tour due to an "unforeseen medical condition and doctor's order," he said on his  Facebook page.

The Los Angeles-based Miles Electric Band is led by Vince Wilburn Jr., Davis's nephew, and is a rotating collective of first-call musicians, most of whom played with Davis. Friday's show will feature Wilburn on drums; Debasish Chaudhury on tabla; percussionist Darryl Munyungo Jackson; pianist Robert Irving; Richard Patterson on bass; guitarist David Gilmore; and saxophonist Antoine Roney. Carrying the heavy burden on trumpet is Jeremy Pelt.

The Miles Electric Band will play Friday, June 29, at the East Ave & Chestnut St. Stage. 9 p.m. Free. More information at and

EDITOR'S NOTE: This article has been updated to correct the lineup for Friday's concert.

Jazz Fest 2018, Day 4: Frank checks out and exudes much joy for the Joe Farnsworth Quartet feat. Eric Alexander, Trail of Souls, and Johnny Goldtooth and the Chevy Casanovas

Posted By on Tue, Jun 26, 2018 at 1:30 AM

Johnny Goldtooth and the Chevy Casanovas. - PHOTO BY FRANK DE BLASE
  • Johnny Goldtooth and the Chevy Casanovas.
Holy shit. That was one healthy dose of pure jazz. So powerful I had to wash it down with Raisin Jack, Jack.

The Joe Farnsworth Quartet featuring Eric Alexander played some hard bop with blinding heat. And even with bass and drums in the pocket so deep they were covered in lint, the show at Max of Eastman Place was a showdown between gunslingers Farnsworth on drums and Alexander on sax. Both are considered go-to guys with their respective instruments.

Farnsworth and Alexander traded off generous forays which popped up liberally. Farnsworth seems to always be playing at breakneck speed even in the gentler passages. The man is a dynamo and plays his whole kit, often moving tom rolls to the hardware which was reminiscent of the sound silverware makes when you catch it dancing in the drawer. They ended the set with Coltrane — how about that, Jack?
Singer Solveig Slettahjell of Trail of Souls. - PHOTO BY FRANK DE BLASE
  • Singer Solveig Slettahjell of Trail of Souls.

More from the holy shit department: Somehow over time, when we weren't looking, traditional Norwegian folk songs blended with jazz to create a third indigenous music, exhibited exquisitely last night by Trail of Souls at the Lutheran Church.  What first struck me was the guitar drenched in warbling vibrato at the hands of Knut Reiersrud.  He played it to sound like a caged bird which he periodically let out to fly at greater volume, around the church unfettered and booming. Singer Solveig Slettahjell kept it on the cool tip and the whole thing came off as a mystical journey. It was lovely and a bit of a break from the out-there stuff reserved for this venue.

Holy, holy shit shit: Johnny Goldtooth and the Chevy Casanovas slinked across the Big Tent stage like a gang of double knit pimps on dollar night; all cocksure swagger and instrumental sleaze. Goldtooth is an alter-ego of Canadian hired gun Kevin Breit (he's recorded with Norah Jones and k.d. Lang) that proves just how deadly a guitar player he is. As Goldtooth, Breit plays a bad guitarist playing good at playing bad. That's how good this cat is. He sounds good even when he's bad ... on purpose. The musical is the kind of disjointed, dysfunctional jazz heard in a busted neon bump 'n' grind strip joint for the 5 a.m. crowd. But the Big Tent worked just as well.

Tomorrow night I'm gonna see Dmitri Matheny, Junior Brown, and VickiKhristinaBarcelona singing the music of Tom Waits.

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Jazz Fest 2018, Day 4: Daniel reviews Teagan and the Tweeds, Cold Chocolate, and Zara McFarlane (and catches Moon Hooch again)

Posted By on Tue, Jun 26, 2018 at 12:14 AM

Zara McFarlane performed with her band at Christ Church on Monday as part of the 2018 Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival. - PHOTO BY JOSH SAUNDERS
  • Zara McFarlane performed with her band at Christ Church on Monday as part of the 2018 Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival.
At the festival Sunday, I had gotten a taste of magic, and the following day, I couldn't shake it. I was having cravings, and I had to give in: I needed more Moon Hooch. So I crept into The Montage Music Hall for the infectious trio's first set of Monday night. This time, the room was more intimate and the night club vibes were in full force. Moon Hooch delivered the welcome elixir to other festival attendees who made their way to the front of the stage, and like me, just needed to get their dance on.

At the Fusion Stage, local heroes Teagan and the Tweeds did what they do best: delight a capacity crowd with sweet and smoky rock ‘n’ roll, complete with a bluesy glaze. Teagan Ward's commanding, soulful voice drove the music forward, but it was the blue-collar work ethic of the band behind her that kept things on course.

It's almost shocking that Teagan and the Tweeds have yet to receive more widespread notoriety outside of the region. For now, the band continues to be one of Western New York's best-kept secrets.

The Boston-based trio Cold Chocolate specializes in dusty-road, down-home country and Americana. At times, the band's laid-back sound was a bit underwhelming to my ears. But that was no fault of the musicians on the stage; I was still keyed up from Moon Hooch.

That said, the cozy, three-part harmonies of upright bassist Kirsten Lamb, guitarist Ethan Robbins, and drummer Ariel Bernstein made me melt a little inside. From the beautifully folksy original “Drawing a Blank” — sung with a silky shot of blue by Lamb — to a charming rendition of Bob Dylan's “I'll Be Staying Here With You,” it was impossible not to enjoy Cold Chocolate.

I closed the evening with the second set of London singer Zara McFarlane and her band, whose music was like a heaven-sent breeze on a hot night. This brand of jazz was decidedly postmodern and impressionistic, with a covert infusion of soul.

McFarlane’s vocal presence was sultry, with an ethereal timbre that was half-R&B croon, half-jazzy serenade. In more effusive passages, her notes were bright and bold. In subtler moments, her voice turned lush and mellow.

The instrumentation of McFarlane’s backing band was seductive: the mellow keyboards of Peter Edwards; Max Luthert’s deep bass tones; the intricate drum flow of Sam Jones; and Binker Golding’s blistering tenor saxophone. The net effect was the most romantically evocative performance I’ve heard at the festival so far. The highlight of the set was the utterly enchanting “Allies or Enemies.”

My Day 5 is sure to be eccentric — the London band Partikel (which includes Max Luthert on upright bass) at Christ Church, the hammered dulcimer-led House of Waters at Max of Eastman Place, and not least of all, headliners Béla Fleck & the Flecktones at Eastman Theatre’s Kodak Hall.

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Monday, June 25, 2018

Jazz Fest 2018, Day 4: Ron reviews Jane Bunnett & Maqueque, Christian Sands, and Strings Attached

Posted By on Mon, Jun 25, 2018 at 11:47 PM

Jane Bunnett & Maqueque played the Temple Building Theater on Monday night. - PHOTO BY ASHLEIGH DESKINS
  • Jane Bunnett & Maqueque played the Temple Building Theater on Monday night.
In Cuban Spanish, the word “maqueque” means “the energy of a young girl’s spirit.” In Jane Bunnett & Maqueque, the spirit of five young Cuban women came through loud and clear. The band played a lively show of Afro-Cuban jazz to a near-capacity crowd at the Temple Building Theater Monday night. Working with Cuban musicians is nothing new for Bunnett, a Canadian flautist and saxophonist. Maqueque is merely her latest project; it should serve to launch the musical careers of five gifted players.

Vocalist Elizabeth Rodriguez of Jane Bunnett & Maqueque. - PHOTO BY ASHLEIGH DESKINS
  • Vocalist Elizabeth Rodriguez of Jane Bunnett & Maqueque.
At first the music seemed pretty tame, but halfway through the second tune the group came alive with irresistible percussion from Yissy Garcia on drums and Magdelys Savigne on congas. Celia Jiménez played an infectious bass line and Elizabeth Rodriguez authoritatively took the lead on vocals. But the stand out member of the group, to my mind, was Dánae Olano. Every time she took a solo on the piano, it was electrifying.

Of course Bunnett was blending right in, weaving around beautifully on alto saxophone when she wasn’t standing to the side, proudly watching the members of her group. The repertoire mostly consisted of unfamiliar, indigenous Cuban music. The one exception was an Afro-Cuban tinged version of Bill Withers’s “Ain’t No Sunshine.”

This was my first show at the Temple Building Theater, a theater that I didn’t know existed, and it was a positive experience. The seats weren't great but the sound was excellent and that’s not true of every XRIJF venue.

Pianist Christian Sands has made a lot of fans in Rochester. Hatch Hall was filled and people were still lined up outside for his concert. Once he began to play, it wasn’t hard to understand why. He started out in a pretty quirky way, turning on the sound on his phone and placing it in the piano where it resonated nicely. Birds were singing and Sands began to sing back with his fingers on the keys. He explained later that he had woken up to birds, so he recorded them on his phone.

It was that kind of spontaneity that prevailed in his set. Early on he thanked the audience for coming and "hanging with me for a while, listening to me practice." That got a laugh, but he said he had no set list, he would just be improvising. Still, there were vehicles that got him going: “Stella By Starlight,” “Tea For Two,” an elaborate blues, etc. But every one of them was a wild ride, with multiple intersecting styles, incredible pyrotechnics and a great musical imagination at work.

Strings Attached at the Xerox Auditorium boasted four excellent guitarists — Jack Wilkins, Vic Juris, Ron Affif, and Mark Whitfield — but the concert still managed to lack excitement. Maybe it was the format. The guitarists, seated in chairs, started a tune, each one took a solo and they ended the tune. The only one who stood up and really got into his solos was Mark Whitfield. He also stood out for the exuberance in his playing. These guys had musical cred; at one point Wilkins introduced a tune by saying, “This is an obscure Charles Mingus tune called 'Diane.' We used to play it a lot when I was in Mingus’s band.”

Tuesday night, I look forward to hearing Eastman Faculty member and first-call keyboard player Gary Versace at Hatch Hall. Then I’ll catch Lucia Cadotsch at the Lutheran Church before ending the night with home-grown vibraphone star Joe Locke at Kilbourn Hall.

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Jazz Fest 2018, Day 3: Daniel reviews Colin Gordon, The Dustbowl Revival, and Moon Hooch

Posted By on Mon, Jun 25, 2018 at 1:08 AM

Moon Hooch rocked the Big Tent on Sunday as part of the 2018 Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival. The band plays again Monday. Bring your own glow sticks. - PHOTO BY JOSH SAUNDERS
  • Moon Hooch rocked the Big Tent on Sunday as part of the 2018 Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival. The band plays again Monday. Bring your own glow sticks.
My Sunday night started fittingly on Jazz Street with a performance by local saxophonist Colin Gordon. Gordon was joined by a well-balanced lineup of fellow Rochester musicians: guitarist Chris Potter (fresh from his performance in the Doug Stone Quartet the night before); pianist Max Greenberg; upright bassist Tyrone Allen; and drummer Andrew Tachine, of the rock band Great Red.

The quintet offered the outdoor audience a satisfying set of zesty, straight-ahead jazz, played with plenty of spunk. Starting with a jumpy, tango-infused version of Duke Ellington’s “Caravan,” the show also included odes to Charlie Parker and Béla Bartók. Gordon had a soft touch and a sweet tone, which he demonstrated throughout on both alto and soprano saxes.

From there, things diverged stylistically over at the Harro East Ballroom, where the undefinable California octet The Dustbowl Revival had taken up residence and was playing its second set. The band’s music was the stuff a summer block party is made of: a kaleidoscopic combination of homespun Americana, New Orleans swing, and brassy soul music, with bits of country and rock thrown in. The result was crisp, refreshing, and subtly tart — like a perfect glass of lemonade. And the packed house at Harro East couldn’t stop sippin’.

That’s not surprising considering vocalists Zach Lupetin and Liz Beebe crushed on some of the best vocal harmonies you’ll hear all week, and the group’s sound evokes everyone from Chuck Berry to Squirrel Nut Zippers to The Lumineers. With catchy original tunes like “Honey, I Love You” and “Gonna Fix You” and crowd-pleasing covers like “John the Revelator” and “My Sharona,” The Dustbowl Revival has quickly put itself on my short list of best 2018 Jazz Fest performances…

To which Brooklyn-based trio Moon Hooch promptly responded, “Hold my beer.” Arguably the heaviest band to ever dominate a Rochester Jazz Fest stage, saxophonists Mike Wilbur and Wenzl McGowen and drummer James Muschler make dance club music with jazz instrumentation. During Moon Hooch’s first set in the Rochester Regional Health Big Tent, the only thing missing from the energetic, young crowd amassed in front of the stage was a sea of glow sticks.

What transpired that hour was nothing less than the most musically subversive performance I’ve ever heard at the XRIJF. It was minimalist composer Philip Glass at a rave; it was drum and bass music on smooth-jazz amphetamines; it was the soundtrack to an underground dance party held on an abandoned New York City subway platform.

In other words, if you were at the Moon Hooch show and you weren’t sweatin’ it out, you weren’t doing it right. Muschler kept the groove alive while McGowen and Wilbur unleashed a nonstop aural onslaught of mesmerizing riffs that belied brilliant technical precision and flawlessly expressive intonation. When God said to make a joyful noise, I’d like to think this is what was meant. The ecstatic noise emanating from the stage drew liberally from electronic dance music, hip-hop, and even hardcore.

If you missed the earth shatterers of Moon Hooch on Sunday, fear not: the band will play again Monday, June 25, at Montage Music Hall. 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. $30, or a Club Pass.

Day 4 will find me taking in sets by Cold Chocolate, Teagan and the Tweeds, and Zara McFarlane.

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Jazz Fest 2018, Day 3: Frank checks out Beats & Pieces Big Band and Knower

Posted By on Mon, Jun 25, 2018 at 12:47 AM

Knower front woman Genevieve Artadi. The band played Anthology on Sunday as part of the 2018 Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival. - PHOTO BY FRANK DE BLASE
  • Knower front woman Genevieve Artadi. The band played Anthology on Sunday as part of the 2018 Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival.
It's a bit perverse, I know, but I love to see and hear chaos in a church. I like to see statues tumble, stained glass broken. I like to see pews on fire while church bells ring.

I came close to the chaos last night as Britain's Beats & Pieces Big Band shook the foundation of Christ Church with brass-fueled music that filled the place right up to the rafters usually left exclusively for the word of God to swirl about.

The band's arrangements were nothing short of brilliant: angular and hairpin with a vicious whiplash-inducing push and pull. No matter how their director, Ben Cottrell, kicked into a song, be it soft and reserved or melodic, it always landed with a veritable explosion as if crashing into the moon.

To be sure this is a big band — 14 pieces strong — but that's a little misleading. Beats & Pieces has little to do with big band as we know it and rather offered up a madhouse of sharps, flats, and contusions ... in a church. I couldn't be happier.

If Beats & Pieces Big Band did crash on the moon, Knower would be there waiting to welcome them. With front woman Genevieve Artadi bounding about the stage, the band latched on to some serious spine-tinging grooves. Call it cyborg pop, with the drums and bass sharing space with the triggers and keys. Anthology was packed beyond the ravers you'd expect as Knower blessed us with bliss.

Monday, I'll be bounding around the fest to Joe Fransworth Quartet at Max, Johnny Goldtooth and the Chevy Casanovas at the Big Tent, and Trail of Souls at the Lutheran Church.

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Jazz Fest 2018, Day 3: Ron reviews Bill Dobbins, Kuara Trio, and One for All

Posted By on Mon, Jun 25, 2018 at 12:31 AM

At Hatch Hall, Bill Dobbins played a fascinating program of preludes he wrote between 1991 and 2001. - PHOTO BY JOSH SAUNDERS
  • At Hatch Hall, Bill Dobbins played a fascinating program of preludes he wrote between 1991 and 2001.
Eastman School of Music professor Bill Dobbins has had such a rich musical life that he can reach back through the decades and come up with a fascinating program. At Hatch Hall Sunday evening, Dobbins revisited some preludes for piano that he wrote between 1991 and 2001. If you think that sounds too classical for a jazz festival, think again. His influences in these compositions were all over the place, from Russian composers, like Scriabin, Shostakovich, and Prokofiev, to jazz greats, like Ellington, Strayhorn, and Clare Fischer, a particular favorite of Dobbins. What he took from these influences was filtered through his late-20th century sensibility.

My favorite of these pieces was a mash-up (although he didn’t call it that) between a Chopin etude and "Zingaro," a tune by the great Brazilian songwriter Antonio Carlos Jobim. Dobbins explained that while playing the Chopin piece, he realized that the left-hand part fit perfectly as a sort of bass line to Jobim’s song.
Dobbins played six of these preludes, each complete with a background story that slashed through musical boundaries. Although the emphasis was on the compositions, his playing was superb, especially on a wildly exuberant homage to an obscure Catalan composer, Federico Mompou.

With players from Finland (pianist Samuli Mikkonen and drummer Markku Ounaskari) and Norway (Trygve Seim, saxophone), Kuara Trio played a fine set of Scandinavian jazz at the Lutheran Church. With the absence of a bass player, Mikkonen and Ounaskari kept up a hypnotic pattern through most of the tunes while Seim improvised over, under, and around it. The entire set had an ethereal feeling, but the most other-worldly tune came when Seim — a very large person, with a beard long enough to make members of ZZ Top question their manhood — put down his tenor sax and played a tiny soprano sax beautifully.

I ended the evening with One For All, a collection of jazz stars who, despite having their own careers as leaders, have played together for more than 20 years. Just the front line — Eric Alexander on saxophone; Jim Rotondi, trumpet; and Steve Davis, trombone — was an embarrassment of riches. Add David Hazeltine on piano; John Webber, bass; and Joe Farnsworth, drums, and you’ve got one of the greatest groups playing today.

The band played a couple of original tunes and (my favorite) a highly idiosyncratic rendition of a well-known Dizzy Gillespie tune, “Manteca.” The one aspect of the set that, to my mind, didn’t fit particularly well was when Rotondi and Davis left the stage and Alexander was featured on Lionel Richie’s “Still.” He definitely milked the song for all it was worth and the audience loved it, but it was a bit too smooth for me.

Joe Farnsworth, Eric Alexander, John Webber, and David Hazeltine play again Monday, June 25, at Max of Eastman Place. 6:15 p.m. and 10 p.m $30, or a Club Pass.

Monday night I’ll be checking out Strings Attached at Xerox Auditorium. Then I’ll head over to Hatch Hall where pianist Christian Sands will be at the Steinway. And I’m anxious to hear Jane Bunnett And Maqueque, an all-female group, at Temple Building Theater.

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Sunday, June 24, 2018

Jazz Fest 2018, Day 2: Daniel reviews The Bad Plus, Melissa Aldana Quartet, and the Doug Stone Quartet feat. Josiah Williams

Posted By on Sun, Jun 24, 2018 at 1:03 AM

Jazz trio The Bad Plus has always excelled at moody jams and compositions that dig heartily into syncopation while flourishes in the piano sweep the listener away blissfully. But with the fairly recent addition of pianist Orrin Evans, taking over for Ethan Iverson, the music is less esoteric. The band is still willing to revel in dissonance, but the overall energy is now more refined and more zen.

On Saturday at the Temple Building Theater, the members of The Bad Plus quickly established themselves as consummate purveyors of cool. Bassist Reid Anderson held things down with roaming lines that were both precise and idiosyncratic. Drummer Dave King emitted swingin’ vibes from behind the kit, interspersed with beefy fills fit for a rock band.

Amid Anderson and King’s intimate musical rapport, Evans played with a sensitive touch, warm tone, and catchy, circular melodic phrasing that often ended where it began — as opposed to Iverson’s more pointed and angular style.

If the Iverson era was like the irreverent but alluring, young rebel, The Bad Plus in the Evans era is like the sophisticated silver fox who’s only improved with age — still brooding, but somehow more suave. The group’s first set of the night prominently featured songs from its latest album “Never Stop II,” including highlights like “Hurricane Birds” and “Safe Passage.”
The Melissa Aldana Quartet played Kilbourn Hall on Saturday as part of the Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival. - PHOTO BY ASHLEIGH DESKINS
  • The Melissa Aldana Quartet played Kilbourn Hall on Saturday as part of the Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival.

Later on, at Kilbourn Hall, the Melissa Aldana Quartet performed a set of rich and restless jazz. The music was sleek and smooth, but technical enough to wow the aficionados. On tenor sax, Aldana’s playing was impressive, but pianist Micah Thomas’s performance was a bit of a coup. Letting loose a flurry of gorgeous harmonic sequences, Thomas’s contribution seemed to up the antsiness of the arrangements in a good way and stir more creativity among the other players.

But it was another saxophone-led quartet that may go down as the hidden gem of the entire festival. The Doug Stone Quartet, featuring rapper Josiah Williams, popped and sizzled throughout its second set in the Wilder Room. Stone, a School of the Arts teacher here in Rochester, writes music that’s thoughtful and energetic, and he has surrounded himself with talented musicians who know how to realize his vision.

Stone’s longtime friend and bassist John Tate, along with drummer Chase Ellison, kept things churning, while guitarist Chris Potter (also of the indie rock band Oh Manitou) and Stone traded virtuosic solos I hoped would never end. In particular, the song “Confined Within” was dizzying in the best way possible, like a deeply satisfying sugar rush. Stone and Potter ushered in a deluge of vertiginous notes and phrases that were a wonder to behold.
Williams’s vocals were the topper. While his engaging performance was more spoken-word than straightforward rap, the essence of hip-hop as a galvanizing force for social consciousness was more than apparent.

Jazz and hip-hop make for such a synergistic combination, it’s somewhat surprising that more artists haven’t explored the hybrid. In the meantime, you can catch this music at

For Day 3, I’ve got the music of Colin Gordon, Dustbowl Revival, and Moon Hooch on the docket.

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