Monday, July 2, 2018

Jazz Fest 2018: Final thoughts

Posted on Mon, Jul 2, 2018 at 4:13 PM

If anyone feels like the nine days of this year's Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival went by in a blur, you're not alone. According to XRIJF organizers, more than 208,000 people followed the music downtown across this year's run. But if you missed it, the festival will be back for an 18th edition on June 21-29, 2019.

CITY music writers Ron Netsky, Frank De Blase, and Daniel J. Kushner were out every night of the festival, and all said and done, reviewed around 80 acts. You can check out all of that coverage right here.

After a much-needed Sunday recuperating, Ron, Frank, and Daniel had a few parting thoughts about the 2018 Jazz Festival.

What did you think of this year's festival? Join the conversation in the comments below.

Ron Netsky

After 17 years, the Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival continues to be a fantastic showcase for all kinds of music and a great event for Rochester. One night, as I sat with 800 others in the Temple Building Theater, I thought, right now there are another 1,000 people at Anthology, hundreds more at the Harro East Ballroom, and more at the churches, Kilbourn, Hatch, Max, Montage, Xerox Auditorium, etc., not to mention thousands at Kodak Theater, the Big Tent, and all of the outdoor shows. Tens of thousands of people swarming downtown Rochester.

Derrick Lucas of Jazz 90.1 lamented that it's like Brigadoon; it's here for nine days and then it's gone. If only it could be like this all year, he said. We've got a similar situation during the Rochester Fringe Festival in the fall, but for most of the year, downtown is far from thriving. I know we don't have the critical mass of Manhattan to make downtown lively every night, but these events show us what's possible. As the downtown revival continues, let's hope the planning involves lots of theaters, nightclubs, galleries, and restaurants, making downtown Rochester alluring all year long.

As for my favorites of the 2018 XRIJF: Early in the festival it was a joy to hear Sigurdur Flosason at the Lutheran Church, expressing his feelings about his native Iceland through his saxophone. A few nights later Lucia Cadotsch "Speak Low" rocked the same stage, singing gorgeously while her saxophonist and bassist played the most wonderfully wild accompaniment I've ever witnessed. Hometown hero Joe Locke whirlwinded over his vibraphone at Kilbourn Hall with a great band and superb special guests. And Jazzmeia Horn reinvigorated vocal jazz with four octaves of power at the Temple Building Theater.

Frank De Blase

The editors asked me to wrap up our Jazz Fest coverage with my likes, my dislikes, and my suggestions. I don't want to appear to be a Monday morning quarterback, but I've got a few likes, dislikes, and, whatever they're worth, some suggestions ... or one suggestion, actually.

Likes: The whole vibe and excitement of the hardcore jazz fans mixed in with those wide-eyed newbies who couldn't tell Dexter Gordon from Flash Gordon. Between each faction lies the reality of jazz. The air around and the space between the notes: That's where the jazz lives.

Dislikes: I really don't have any to speak of, except for VickiKristinaBarcelona's take on Tom Waits.

Suggestions: Yes, nine days is enough for a festival, and I don't want to make work for the producers, but I would love to see a series of XRIJF-presented events throughout the year. Just sayin'.

Daniel J. Kushner

The most incredible thing about the annual Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival is getting to hear so many artists live for the first time, in one place. Here are the 2018 acts that threw me in the best possible way:

No other band was more musically alluring than Phony Ppl, with its kaleidoscopic blend of pop, R&B, soul, and hip-hop. Elbie Three's vocals were slick and versatile, Bari Bass brought the low end with unrivaled swagger, and Elijah Rawk's supercharged guitar chops singularly upped the energy.

The Dustbowl Revival was undoubtedly my biggest surprise of the festival. It was downright stupefying how frontman Zach Lupetin and his cohort shifted from soul to Americana, from classic rock 'n' roll to swing so seamlessly — often within the same song. This eight-piece juggernaut feels like the next big thing.

Moon Hooch was so much fun to experience live, I went to hear them play the same set twice. The trio turned the festival into a wild dance party without warning, and they let loose with the heavy beats and soul-jarring squawks that left me clamoring for more.

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Sunday, July 1, 2018

Jazz Fest 2018, Day 9: Daniel reviews Eric Krasno Band, Geoffrey Keezer, and Abe Nouri

Posted By on Sun, Jul 1, 2018 at 1:09 AM

Rochester trombonist Abe Nouri played the Jazz Street Stage on Saturday at the Jazz Festival. - PHOTO BY ASHLEIGH DESKINS
  • PHOTO BY ASHLEIGH DESKINS
  • Rochester trombonist Abe Nouri played the Jazz Street Stage on Saturday at the Jazz Festival.
Pianist Geoffrey Keezer had an elegant approach to the keys during his first set at Hatch Hall. His confident technical facility and flair for the whimsical in melody was a delight to hear. And his precision in the right hand was mesmerizing.

Keezer’s style as a whole was engrossing and effervescent, with a slight air of nostalgia. It was like reliving unspecified memories of childhood or lost love that you can't quite remember, but still feel deeply. The music was sentimental without being mushy or melodramatic, as Keezer delivered tender harmonies with great sensitivity to dynamics and the flow of phrases. The result was beautiful chamber music rooted in jazz.

Rochester musician Abe Nouri took the Jazz Street Stage in the early evening of the sweltering Saturday with an accessible, feel-good set. Nouri was bubbly and buoyant on the trombone, and had a tone that was not so brash but not too laid-back, either. Alongside saxophonist Rowan Wolf, drummer Matt Bent, and upright bassist Ryder Eaton, the vibe was suave and self-assured. Bent and Eaton kept the rhythmic flow going with incessant syncopations and dance-inducing swing.


Fittingly, I ended my 2018 Jazz Festival exactly where I started it — at Anthology. The Eric Krasno Band gave the crowd a riveting first set of blues rock with plenty of attitude and heart. Krasno, formerly of the band Soulive, was such an uninhibited, free-wheeling soloist, and brought a joyous spirit to his guitar playing.

He also possessed a smoothly pleasant voice in a simple, heartfelt delivery. He and his energetic band navigated their way through originals and covers alike, with renditions of songs by rock ‘n’ roll greats like Janis Joplin and Gregg Allman.

Krasno played some mean roadhouse blues, unfiltered and in your face, but he also eased back into slow-jam ballads. No matter the stylistic feel, these were predominantly songs of angry love, with unstoppable melodic flow.

And Krasno knew when to dig in, laying into notes for extra spice and hitting pinpoint choral accents. This was music you could feel in the core of your soul — which is exactly what we've all been chasing after at Jazz Festival after all.

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Jazz Fest 2018, Day 9: Ron reviews Matt Wilson's Honey & Salt Band, the Mark Lewandowski Trio, and Thomas Stronen

Posted By on Sun, Jul 1, 2018 at 12:09 AM

If you can create a Broadway musical about Alexander Hamilton using hip-hop, it doesn’t seem too radical to take the poetry of Carl Sandburg and set it to jazz. Matt Wilson’s Honey & Salt Band does exactly that, and Saturday night the group provided one of the most unusual concert’s I’ve heard at the XRIJF. Wilson is one of New York’s busiest drummers; he's known for his band, Arts & Crafts, and his work with many other artists. His Honey & Salt Band is pretty personal. He grew up in the next town over from where Sandburg grew up in Illinois. There was even a family connection.

But Sandburg’s poetry combined with jazz? Well, as Wilson explained, Sandburg loved jazz. So, who knows; he may have even approved. At one point Wilson did a drum solo, playing off of a tape loop of a couple of lines of Sandburg’s actual voice. Afterwards he said, “It’s fun to jam with Carl.” I didn’t catch all of the players’ names, but on stage were trumpeter Ingrid Jensen and guitarist Dawn Thomson, who also sang and performed spoken word. Thomson was especially strong on “Offering And Rebuff,” one of the few arrangements that sounded like a constructed song. Turns out Thomson can also sing country and make her guitar sound like a banjo.


Bassist Mark Lewandowski and his trio played Christ Church on Saturday. - PHOTO BY ASHLEIGH DESKINS
  • PHOTO BY ASHLEIGH DESKINS
  • Bassist Mark Lewandowski and his trio played Christ Church on Saturday.
Over at Christ Church, the Mark Lewandowski Trio was paying tribute to the great “Fats” Waller. But it was not the standard homage, with arrangements that stayed true to the originals. Bassist Lewandowski views Waller as a songwriter relevant to the contemporary world, so he believes it’s appropriate to take the tunes new places.

My favorite Waller tune, “Jitterbug Waltz,” was certainly recognizable, but it got fairly abstract after the opening verse. “Lulu’s Back In Town” got a similar treatment. In some cases, the group got more subversive, speeding up a slow tune and slowing down a fast one. In a show about Waller, the pianist is a key figure, and Liam Noble was excellent, as were Lewandowski on bass and Francesco Ciniglio on drums.


I ended the festival with the most subtle set of music I’ve ever witnessed. It was played by Thomas Strønen and his group at the Lutheran Church. For one thing, it was totally acoustic — no microphones, no amps, no electronics of any kind. The instrumentation was also different: Ayumi Tanaka on piano; Håkon Aase, violin; Ole Morten Vågan, bass; and Leo Svensson Sander, cello.

Strønen was the drummer and aside from some pyrotechnics toward the end of the set, he was the quietest percussionist I’ve ever heard. Strønen was also the composer of these slowly building compositions. The players often used their instruments in unorthodox ways, tapping and scratching with bows to produce unusual sounds. Some jazz festival audiences would be impatient with this sort of subtlety, but the music was so compelling that almost the entire audience stayed.

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Jazz Fest 2018, Day 9: Frank keeps his clothes on and beats the heat with Deva Mahal and Tower of Power

Posted By on Sun, Jul 1, 2018 at 12:05 AM

Deva Mahal and her band played the Harro East Ballroom on the final night of the 2018 Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival. - PHOTO BY FRANK DE BLASE
  • PHOTO BY FRANK DE BLASE
  • Deva Mahal and her band played the Harro East Ballroom on the final night of the 2018 Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival.
Frank streaks the Jazz Fest; pictures at 11.

Well, no, not really, but it would have felt good. Remember it's not the heat; it's the stupidity. And yes, it was stupid hot last night, but the Harro East Ballroom had us on ice with the AC and the super cool Deva Mahal.

Now I've heard the term "genre defying" bandied around a bit in reference to Mahal and thought it was lazy — but Mahal and her band were actually impossible to classify. It wasn't blues; it wasn't jazz. She has a great voice with over-flowing energy. It was kind of rock but with a Pentecostal delivery. I know it was Mahal's gig, but her band sorta out-shined her. Especially the cat on guitar.


For maximum bang for your buck in the funky horn department, look no further than Tower of Power, baby.  The band was super-tight. That's what happens when you stay together long enough to celebrate 50 years in the biz. The crowd was huge — I'm  guessing about 10 million — and a little wild from drinking gallons of  beer in the sun by the East Ave. & Chestnut St. Stage.

And this is where I called it a night and headed home where I streaked the kitchen.

The good thing about music is when arguing about it both sides are right. I want to thank my CITY Newspaper colleagues Jake Clapp, Ron Netsky, and Daniel Kushner; it was cool sitting with them at the smart kids' table. And you, the countless readers who came up to us to agree or disagree, or point fingers and call names. And  John Nugent and Marc Iacona: thanks for providing me with this forum to listen to some beautiful music and run my mouth about it.

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