Jazz Fest

Friday, July 1, 2016

Jazz Fest 2016, Day 7: Frank reviews the Lauren Sevian Quartet, Dave Rivello, and Rai Thistlethwayte

Posted By on Fri, Jul 1, 2016 at 4:00 AM

Lauren Sevian performed with her quartet at Max on Thursday night. - PHOTO BY FRANK DE BLASE
  • PHOTO BY FRANK DE BLASE
  • Lauren Sevian performed with her quartet at Max on Thursday night.

Once I finished playing Monday morning quarterback with the cats at JAZZ 90.1, I crossed the street -- to get to the other side and catch the Lauren Sevian Quartet deliver some hard bop via her baritone saxophone. Miss Sevian stayed mostly in the upper register while ignoring the delicious honks and growls associated with the instrument; if you closed your eyes, you wouldn’t have been able to tell it was a barry.

Dave Rivello’s ensemble played some fairly intricate, multi-layered jazz that kept listeners on their toes. It seemed as soon as you identified with one of the melody lines within a tune, he’d turn around and highlight another one. This went on for the whole set at The Little Theatre. I also witnessed a tuba mute the size of a Volkswagen in use for the first time.

Don’t you just love douchebags all around you with their all too important conversations with their fellow dickheads, prattling on instead of listening to the band. It took Australian pop sensation Rai Thistlethwayte extra effort to shut up the rear portion of Anthology which was lousy with these Chatty Cathys.

For those who did pay attention, we were treated to musical excellence that is the beginning spark of what should prove to be a pop star before long. Armed with an electric keyboard for the left hand and a piano for the right, and joined by a drummer, Thistlethwayte rocked up and down the keyboards with determination and genuine mirth. A little Elton, a little Ben, a lotta cool -- especially when he looped a sort of beat box pattern before scatting over it. It’s a goddamn jazz festival and I haven’t heard any scat until now. And I wanna hear some more. C’mon and try it with me : Ah scooby dooby bay wah wah zup zi.

Skipped the East Avenue fantastic to end my evening with the full bore romance of The Bossa Nova Bradley Brothers. This is one of the city’s best kept secrets ... not for long.

Tip: If you're going to see someone as good as Rai Thistlethwayte, just shut up and enjoy the show. - PHOTO BY FRANK DE BLASE
  • PHOTO BY FRANK DE BLASE
  • Tip: If you're going to see someone as good as Rai Thistlethwayte, just shut up and enjoy the show.

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Jazz Fest 2016, Day 8: Ron reviews Helen Sung, Ben Monder, and Matthew Halsall and The Gondwana Orchestra

Posted By on Fri, Jul 1, 2016 at 4:00 AM

The intimacy of Hatch Hall was perfectly suited to the highly personal set Helen Sung played Friday night. Between tunes, she told the audience about her musical journey, starting with her upbringing in Texas with a strict Russian piano teacher who told her classical music was the only music worth listening to and playing. Once she discovered jazz, her studies continued at the Thelonious Monk Institute in Boston.

Her classical background was apparent in her flawless technique, but so was her ability to swing and deal with the intricacy of a Monk tune. She played a medley of them, starting with "Eronel," moving on to "Light Blue," and ending with "In Walked Bud." If you think of yourself as a jazz aficionado but you only recognized "In Walked Bud," that gives you a sense of how unpredictable Sung's song choices were. She also performed "Armando's Rhumba" by Chick Corea, "Equipoise" by Stanley Cowell, and her own heart-felt tune "Hope Springs Eternally."

Helen Sung plays with her quartet on Saturday night, 6 p.m. and 10 p.m., at Montage Music Hall.

Over at the Little Theatre, Ben Monder sat with an electric guitar balanced over his knee in the manner of a classical guitarist, and played a series of original tunes all of which involved finger-picked chords, up and down the fret-board, with the occasional melody breaking through. But these were not the chords you learned at guitar lessons. They were a unique variety that hovered on the edge of harmony and dissonance, often slipping over both sides.

Not everyone appreciated Monder's chord-centered style and a significant portion of the crowd left as the show progressed. Those who stayed until the end witnessed a sharp left turn on the last tune, which was filled with electronic distortion and a palette of echoes and other effects.

My last stop was Christ Church where Matthew Halsall and The Gondwana Orchestra played a wonderful set. Halsall's group features a fairly typical line-up -- piano, saxophone, trumpet, bass, drums -- until you get to the harp. It was the first harp I've seen at the festival in 15 years, and Rachael Gladwin played the first (beautiful) harp solos I've heard there.

Halsall, a fine trumpeter, is from Manchester, England, but his music came from all directions. Some of the tunes evoked Eastern Indian music and one composition was referred to as a Japanese ballad. Curiously Halsall and the equally talented Jordan Smart, the saxophonist, never played together; it was always one or the other. Taz Modi, the pianist, was superb, as were the bassist and drummer. Christ Church is a tough room for a large band, but this group's sound was perfectly balanced.

On the last night of the festival, I'll start at Kilbourn Hall with the Dizzy Gillespie Afro-Cuban Experience. Then I'll head over to Hatch Hall to hear pianist Brian Dickinson, and I'll conclude the festival with hometown pianist Laura Dubin at Xerox Auditorium.

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Jazz Fest 2016, Day 7: Ron reviews Jamison Ross, Cortex, and the Claudia Quintet

Posted By on Fri, Jul 1, 2016 at 4:00 AM

Jamison Ross has played at the XRIJF before as the drummer for Cecile McLorin Salvant, but Thursday night he was at the center of the Kilbourn Hall stage. There's no doubt about Ross's drumming prowess; he won the 2012 Thelonious Monk Drums Competition. But when it came to one of the competition's prizes, a recording contract, he didn't want to make a drum record, so Ross emphasized a second skill and sang on 10 of the album's tracks. Next thing he knew, he had a 2016 Grammy Award nomination for Best Jazz Vocal. McLorin Salvant won that award, but it was enough to kick-start his singing career.

Ross gave a bit of a simulation of the moment he decided he could sing when he opened with "Epiphany." If the largely wordless vocals were kind of shapeless, it added to evoking the sense of discovery that he felt. On the other original songs he sang, he also meandered, sometimes into rich territory, other times into cliché in terms of words and music. But what a voice! When he sang a fully realized song, the Etta Jones classic "Don't Go to Strangers," he was superb. And his pianist, guitarist, and bassist were not only excellent, there was a genuine camaraderie among all the members of the band.

My next stop was at the Lutheran Church where I caught a set by the Norwegian quartet, Cortex. The front line, consisting of Thomas Johansson on trumpet and Kristoffer Berre Alberts on saxophones, played unison or harmonized heads on all of the tunes, and then proceeded to play fiery solos while bassist Ola Høyer and drummer Gard Nilssen held down the fort.

They were all great players, but I couldn't help thinking they could learn something (as Miles Davis did) from the great pianist Ahmad Jamal: leave some space. When they included less crowded sections, the tunes were challenging but engaging. Too often, though, they filled and overfilled every second with sheets of sound that, after a while, became mundane.

I ended the evening at Xerox Auditorium with the Claudia Quintet, drummer John Hollenbeck's contemporary music ensemble. Hollenbeck has assembled some of the top players in jazz to perform his avant-garde-leaning tunes. They are all capable of improvisation, and had the chance to do some of that Thursday night, but every piece began with the notes on the music stand.

Some of the works got off to a slow start with lots of notes seemingly floating around for minutes at a time trying to find a melody. Those melodies always arrived, but sometimes they were circular and reminiscent of the minimal works of Philip Glass or Steve Reich. A large portion of the audience walked out as the concert went on.

Throughout the show all of the musicians -- Hollenbeck; Drew Gress, bass; Matt Moran, vibraphone; Chris Speed, clarinet and saxophone; and former Rochesterian Red Wierenga, accordion -- had chances to solo, and all of them proved to be inventive even when playing mostly composed pieces.

Friday night I'll begin with pianist Helen Sung at Hatch Hall. Then I'll check out guitarist Ben Monder at the Little Theatre. Finally, I'll go over to Christ Church where Matthew Halsall will be playing.

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Thursday, June 30, 2016

Jazz Fest 2016, Day 6: Ron reviews Russell Malon and Marianne Trudel Trio

Posted By on Thu, Jun 30, 2016 at 4:00 AM

Guitarist Russell Malone. - PHOTO BY MARK CHAMBERLIN
  • PHOTO BY MARK CHAMBERLIN
  • Guitarist Russell Malone.

Russell Malone was one of the artists I was most looking forward to seeing at the XRIJF, and when he played his first tune at Kilbourn Hall, it seemed promising. It was his own tune, "Honeybone," and it showcased that wonderful blend of lead and rhythm guitar, with gorgeous ringing tone, that Malone is known for. But the second tune was a bland rendition of the corny "Put on a Happy Face." And it got worse from there.

By the middle of the set, Malone and his band were deep into a Whitney Houston medley, starting with "The Greatest Love of All," the ode to self-love that I think is the worst song of all time. (It's more than enough to kind of like yourself.) That segued into "Saving All My Love For You."

Not exactly cutting edge, and Malone's bandmates sunk to the occasion. The pianist played some of the most milquetoast solos I've ever heard, and the bassist looked like he wasn't sure what to do. I have to admit the drummer was great, making the most of a bad situation.

Things picked up again on the last tune, a Mulgrew Miller song, "Soul Leo." Both Malone and the pianist proved that they can fire it up when they want to. But the bookends of good music at the start and finish were not enough to carry the show.

The surprise of the night for me was the late set by the Marianne Trudel Trio with Ingrid Jensen as part of the Rochester Club's "Oh Canada" series. They were kind of a last-minute choice, with a lot of competition, and they were superb.

Trudel is a lyrical pianist who can get highly percussive in her playing. Jensen is a top-notch trumpeter, one of the best anywhere. And the rhythm section -- Remi Jean-Leblanc, bass, and Rich Irwin, drums -- excelled.

Trudel's tunes were all personal and idiosyncratic. The combination of her piano playing, Jensen's resonant trumpet, and the spare but dynamic use of bass and drums lifted many of her compositions to the realm of the ecstatic.

I'll start Thursday night with drummer and singer Jamison Ross at Kilbourn Hall. Then I'll head over to the Lutheran Church to hear Cortex, and finish the night with the Claudia Quintet at Xerox Auditorium.

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Jazz Fest 2016, Day 6: Frank reviews Tia Brazda, Nikki Hill, Johannes Linstead, and Danielle Ponder

Posted By on Thu, Jun 30, 2016 at 4:00 AM

Singer Tia Brazda performed at Montage Music Hall on Tuesday. - PHOTO BY FRANK DE BLASE
  • PHOTO BY FRANK DE BLASE
  • Singer Tia Brazda performed at Montage Music Hall on Tuesday.

Tia Brazda's first show was sold out to the walls with a crowd forced to sit on old wooden chairs from the Marquis de Sade collection. But the charming Brazda made the pain in the ass worth it. Her just right amount of vocal flexibility was wrapped in coquettish velvet and sass -- she sounded a bit like Billie Holiday, especially on her no frills guitar and voice take on "Summertime." Her band was an assembled group of swingin' crackerjacks including Rochester based drummer, Sean Jefferson. Brazda's set was pure delight as her band dialed into groovy jazz with authentic swing.

Nikki Hill and her band brought some surly and savage rock 'n' roll to the Jazz Street Stage in front of thousands hungry for just that right surly and savage rock 'n' roll. Now with Hill's voice -- a snarling blend of Barbara Pittman, Wanda Jackson, and Ruth Brown -- and her powerhouse band, the scene was positively electric. The band has plugged in another guitarist in addition to the incredible Matt HiIl, and ultimately it sounded a lot like the Stones and left the crowd howling in disbelief.

Nikki Hill and her band performed on the Jazz Street Stage Tuesday evening. - PHOTO BY FRANK DE BLASE
  • PHOTO BY FRANK DE BLASE
  • Nikki Hill and her band performed on the Jazz Street Stage Tuesday evening.

With Nikki Hill ringing in my head, I ventured to the Big Tent to witness guitarist Johannes Linstead tame the crowd with his acoustic-based world music. This time the people were sitting on chairs that, unlike the Montage's equipment, didn't offer permanent ass damage. Linstead's playing was slick and percussive and sexy, but sound-wise, the guitars sounded plastic and kind of like toys.

The grand dame of the night was Danielle Ponder and her band The Tomorrow People. The Fusion tent was the scene of R&B salvation and sonic redemption as Ponder and TTP threatened to crack the sky. If there is a God, he heard it all right. The sweet spot for me was standing on East Avenue between Chestnut and Gibbs where the sound between Nikki Hill's second set and Ponder's comingled in a beautiful, emotional explosion of powerful black women that virtually reduced me to powder. I left with my head, my ears, my heart ringing. I've got nothing left ...

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Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Jazz Fest 2016, Day 5: Ron reviews Nacka Forum and Christine Tobin

Posted By on Wed, Jun 29, 2016 at 4:00 AM

When I entered Kilbourn Hall a bit late for the Nacka Forum concert, saxophonist Jonas Kullhammar was in the middle of a solo. He wasn't playing the sax, though; he was doing a deadpan, funny monologue about his desperation to move to the United States. He said he would have to marry someone, and it didn't matter to him whether the person was male or female, young or old, etc. You probably had to be there, but it went on and on and the audience was laughing hysterically.

The audience also laughed through the Marx Brothers-like antics of this Dada jazz group. Drummer and pianist Kresten Osgood was the most over-the-top in his sarcastic humor, which included making fun of musicians who milk the audience for affection while playing a sappy song. Kullhammar did some of that, too. And when audience members left after a song (as they almost always do at the XRIJF), he screamed, "I love you all so much! Please don't go!"

But there was a serious, avant-garde jazz side to the performance. And when Kullhammar and trumpeter Goran Kajfes went full throttle on a high-energy tune they were as good as it gets. Bassist Johan Berthling and Osgood were also great when the music demanded it.

Kajfes saved the best for last when he put down his trumpet and picked up a seemingly magical instrument, a small, black, crazy sound machine. He lifted it to his lips and created a wondrous array of sound effects, ranging from siren-alarming to birdsong-beautiful. I found out afterwards that it was an electric trumpet (or electric valve instrument) connected to a space echo, an early tape-delay accessory.

Nacka Forum plays again Wednesday, June 29, 7:30 and 9:30 p.m., at the Lutheran Church.

Earlier tonight, I caught part of Christine Tobin's set at Christ Church. Tobin was striking for two reasons: she's a great scat singer, and she takes the most unlikely songs and transforms them to jazz. For instance, I never imagined Leonard Cohen's "Famous Blue Raincoat" with jazz harmonies and phrasing, but there it was. The same can be said for the pop song Tobin began her set with: "Who Can I Turn To (When Nobody Needs Me)."

But I enjoyed her most when she indulged in scat singing. She had ample opportunity on a wordless song by her guitarist, Phil Robson. Robson, who played with his trio at the same venue Saturday, provided excellent support as did pianist Leo Genovese.

There's only one thing I'm sure of on for Wednesday night. I will not miss one of my favorite guitarists, Russell Malone, when he plays at Kilbourn Hall. I'll also try to catch pianist Marianne Trudel and her trio with Ingrid Jensen.

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Jazz Fest 2016, Day 5: Frank reviews Bria Skonberg, plays a show, and ends the night with the Dan Brubeck Quartet

Posted By on Wed, Jun 29, 2016 at 4:00 AM

Trumpeter and singer Bria Skonberg performed at Harro East Ballroom Tuesday night. - PHOTO BY FRANK DE BLASE
  • PHOTO BY FRANK DE BLASE
  • Trumpeter and singer Bria Skonberg performed at Harro East Ballroom Tuesday night.

Despite her sunny looks, Bria Skonberg harbors a little darkness. She played around in minor keys, and introduced me to my new favorite tune, Sidney Bechet's "Egyptian Fantasy." The way she worked around its haunting Duke Ellington-esque elegance was tres cool.

I couldn't make up my mind if I liked her horn playing or her singing more. Skonberg's horn was clean with a lot of presence from her perfect armature to the way it lead the charge for her band, especially her clarinet player who snaked around with the trumpet to create a breathtaking New Orleans-rooted spectacle. There were faint hints of Dixieland in the air. Her voice was as fresh and clean as frozen Pepsodent, and some of her lyrics were noir-ish in mood and texture but ultimately up-beat and up-lifting. Skonberg was charming in the extreme. And the packed Harro East Ballroom crowd ate her up.

Bernunzio's is putting up large pictures on its windows to celebrate Rochester's musical icons, and guess what? I'm an Icon. Thanks guys; I'm floored, flummoxed, and humbled. I performed there tonight next to my picture. I was beside myself.

Meanwhile, back at the party, they were jumping for Joy because she wouldn't get off the chandelier...

And meanwhile, back at the Jazz Fest...

I skated over to Xerox Auditorium (it's a bit of a haul) to dig on some Brubeck Blood playing Brubeck. I'm sure his last name opens doors and answers phones, but Dan Brubeck is a killer drummer who I believe I saw play with his dad, Dave, once upon a time. Though it wasn't the old man playing them, it was still a thrill to hear "Blue Rondo a la Turk" played expertly or "Take 5" with its innovative 5/4 time signature played with the guitar playing Paul Desmond's signature part as there was no saxophone or saxophonist to be found.

I'm just hitting my stride kids. Wednesday night it's Tia Brazda. Weeee!

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Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Jazz Fest 2016: Critics' picks for the last half of XRIJF 2016

Posted on Tue, Jun 28, 2016 at 4:00 AM

We're only half-way through the 2016 Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival, and there's still a lot of music to hear. To make it a little more digestible, our music critics pick their top concerts for each day.

And if you're still looking for a full schedule of performances, or bios on each day's musicians, keep an eye out for our Jazz Festival Preview Guide (on stands now), or check it out here.

Wednesday, June 29

Russell Malone (Hard bop jazz) Maybe a decade ago, I was cruising along listening to the car radio, when the most irresistible tune I'd heard in a long time came on. It featured an electric guitar playing a catchy but sophisticated, soul-inflected melody. When the DJ came on, he said it was "Sweet Georgia Peach" by Russell Malone, and I've been hooked ever since. Malone's first job in jazz was a stint with legendary organist Jimmy Smith. He moved on to Harry Connick Jr. and Diana Krall before going out on his own. I can't wait to watch his fingers fly over the fret board at Kilbourn. 6 p.m. and 9 p.m.; Kilbourn Hall; $35 or a Club Pass; vervemusicgroup.com/russellmalone -- BY RON NETSKY

Nikki Hill (R&B, rock 'n' roll) The reigning queen of rock 'n' roll, Nikki Hill picks up where Ruth Brown and Etta James left off. You've just gotta hear this lady jive and wail while her hubby, Matt Hill, strangles his guitar like Tarheel Slim. 7:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.; Jazz Street Stage; Free; nikkihillmusic.com -- BY FRANK DE BLASE

Jumaane Smith (Straight-ahead jazz) Trumpeter Jumaane Smith is a force. The guy is musically flexible, has played with a laundry list of jazz and pop greats -- Natalie Cole, Ravi Coltrane, Stevie Wonder, Michael Buble -- and got the stamp of approval from Wynton Marsalis. If you love trumpet, or want a jazz set that's going to be dynamic and rich, Smith at Max of Eastman Place is your concert Wednesday. 6:15 p.m. and 10 p.m.; Max of Eastman Place; $30 or a Club Pass; jumaanesmith.com -- BY JAKE CLAPP

Russell Malone - PHOTO COURTESY XEROX ROCHESTER INTERNATIONAL JAZZ FESTIVAL
  • PHOTO COURTESY XEROX ROCHESTER INTERNATIONAL JAZZ FESTIVAL
  • Russell Malone

Thursday, June 30

Claudia Quintet (Progressive jazz) As jazz has blossomed over the past 100-plus years, different strains of the music have emerged. One of those branches is a form of jazz that fuses free-form improvisation with an almost classical approach to composing and arranging. Since moving to New York in the early 1990's, drummer John Hollenbeck has gained a reputation for his adventurous work in this genre. His group, The Claudia Quintet, plays Hollenbeck's avant-garde-leaning tunes and features top players like Drew Gress, bass; Matt Moran, vibraphone; Chris Speed, clarinet and saxophone; and former Rochesterian Red Wierenga, accordion. 6:30 p.m. and 9 p.m.; Xerox Auditorium; $30 or a Club Pass; claudiaquintet.com -- BY RON NETSKY

Chris Botti (Pop jazz) I'm not big on pop jazz, but you've got to admit, Botti draws the crowds like a pied piper -- I've even seen him weave through the twitterpated audience. His retro tone and boyish good looks might remind you of Chet Baker before the fall. Smooth and creamy, man, smooth and creamy. 8 p.m.; Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre; This show just sold out; chrisbotti.com -- BY FRANK DE BLASE

Emefe (Afrobeat, pop, electronica) There are a lot of surprises to unpack in Emefe's music. Underneath the New York City band's New Wave-style electric-rock is funk, Afrobeat, cinematic pop, dance grooves, and just a lot of interesting ideas. It's at once immediately accessible, fun, thought-provoking, and deep. 8:30 p.m. and 10 p.m.; Rochester Regional Health Big Tent; $30 or a Club Pass; emefemusic.com -- BY JAKE CLAPP

The Claudia Quintet - PHOTO COURTESY XEROX ROCHESTER INTERNATIONAL JAZZ FESTIVAL
  • PHOTO COURTESY XEROX ROCHESTER INTERNATIONAL JAZZ FESTIVAL
  • The Claudia Quintet

Friday, July 1

Helen Sung (Straight-ahead jazz) Ever since I heard pianist Helen Sung's early albums, "Helenistique" and "Sungbird" a decade ago, I have been a fan of her lyrical keyboard style. Over the last two decades, Sung has performed with a Who's Who of jazz, including Wayne Shorter, Ron Carter, and Clark Terry. She also won the Kennedy Center's 2007 Mary Lou Williams Piano Competition, and has appeared on Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz. But put the resume aside and just listen to this woman play. It won't take long to understand why she has emerged from a crowded field of pianists. She'll also be performing with her quartet Saturday at Montage. Friday's performance is 5:45 p.m. and 7:45 p.m.; Hatch Recital Hall; $30 or a Club Pass; helensung.com -- BY RON NETSKY

Gregg Allman (Classic rock) One of the godfathers of Southern rock and blue-eyed soul -- not to mention his relationship with Cher -- Gregg Allman and his slide guitar genius brother, the late Duane Allman, formed The Allman Brothers out of their earlier garage band, The Allman Joys. The band was one of the saviors of the Muscle Shoals sound, which they packed -- and Allman, at 68, still packs -- into their legendary, incendiary shows. 8 p.m.; Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre; $65-$85; greggallman.com -- BY FRANK DE BLASE

Red Baraat (Brooklyn bhangra) The music of Red Baraat is rooted in joy -- a baraat itself is a groom's procession during North Indian weddings. And the eight-piece band delivers it in a high-energy blast of North Indian bhangra, D.C. go-go, jazz, hip-hop, and New York City edge. While the percussion and rhythms of India drive the boat, everything is glued together by funky horns and a little rockin' guitar. 5:30 p.m. and 7:15 p.m.; Harro East Ballroom; $30 or a Club Pass; redbaraat.com -- BY JAKE CLAPP

Gregg Allman - PHOTO COURTESY XEROX ROCHESTER INTERNATIONAL JAZZ FESTIVAL
  • PHOTO COURTESY XEROX ROCHESTER INTERNATIONAL JAZZ FESTIVAL
  • Gregg Allman

Saturday, July 2

Dizzy Gillespie Afro-Cuban Experience (Afro-Cuban jazz) Once you catch a glimpse of trumpeter Freddie Hendrix's bent-bell trumpet aimed at the sky, there is no doubt about who he is emulating. No one did more to bring Afro-Cuban music to the United States than the brilliant trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, who distinguished himself with his incomparable technique, his wonderful style, and that funny looking bent trumpet. The Dizzy Gillespie Afro-Cuban Experience pays tribute to that legacy by playing vintage arrangements of tunes like "Manteca" that sound as fresh today as they did when Gillespie and his band played them decades ago. 6 p.m. and 9 p.m.; Kilbourn Hall; $35 or a Club Pass; inadittke.com/dg-ace -- BY RON NETSKY

Flat Earth Society (Progressive jazz orchestra) By playing the Lutheran Church, each artist is given a pass to go "out there." It's the land of the free, the home of the weird. It is a fitting stage for the Belgian big band of innovative madness that is so into its own version of the truth you'll leave believing you could seriously walk off the edge. 7:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.; Lutheran Church; $30 or a Club Pass; facebook.com/flatearthsoc -- BY FRANK DE BLASE

Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue (New Orleans rock) There are a lot of reasons to catch this show: it's free; it's at the new Midtown Stage; Trombone Shorty has been a consistent Jazz Festival favorite and is sure to bring the energy; and simply, the band rocks. Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue has figured out a way to distill down the best of New Orleans music -- from the brass bands and jazz outfits joyously playing in the streets to classic NOLA funk and rock -- put its own flair on everything, and then throw a party. 9 p.m.; Midtown Stage; Free; tromboneshorty.com -- BY JAKE CLAPP

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Jazz Fest 2016, Day 4: Frank reviews Gwyneth Herbert, The Revelers, and Bill Kirchen

Posted By on Tue, Jun 28, 2016 at 4:00 AM

Gwyneth Herbert performed in Christ Church on Monday. - PHOTO BY FRANK DE BLASE
  • PHOTO BY FRANK DE BLASE
  • Gwyneth Herbert performed in Christ Church on Monday.

For me, the sound in Christ Church has sucked, and it's sucked for years: relegated to a kick drum-induced boom-a-thon and vocals that were so reverb-drenched that they sounded backwards. It's never been the soundman's fault; it's just the big room.

Well I'm here to tell ya, that's all changed with Gwyneth Herbert's positively riveting performance. She was playfully curious with a ukulele and kazoo while not coming on too child-like -- it was exploratory but not lost in space. And the woman has the range of a Theremin, her ultra-high notes pinging off the ceiling and dislodging pieces of the Word of God that have been stuck up there since Easter. Of the let's say top 10 singers I've ever seen, Herbert is two of them.

Gwyneth Herbert will perform again Tuesday, June 28, at Max of Eastman Place. 6:15 p.m. and 10 p.m. $30 or a Club Pass will get you in.

Next I took a detour, on my way to get ice cream, through the Big Tent where The Revelers were revelatin' loud and proud Louisiana-style, with a nice Creole, see-saw version of "Clementine" -- "Oh my darling, oh my darling ..."

Bill Kirchen, the Telemaster, the former Lost Planet Airman, was bangin' and twangin' outside at Abilene Bar and Lounge, so I slid off the grid to take a gander. Kirchen is a no-frills player -- waxing cooler than the Harro East Ballroom's air-conditioning -- even though he frequently spanks the plank like a maniac. He looks and sounds as he always has: rail-thin and rockin'. Even though, as he intoned in his last tune, "The times, they are a-changin'.

Bria Skonberg is performing Tuesday night, baby!

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Monday, June 27, 2016

Jazz Fest 2016, Day 3: Frank reviews John Abercrombie, The Majestics, Madeleine McQueen, and Charles Ruggiero

Posted By on Mon, Jun 27, 2016 at 4:00 AM

Okay, so I'm paraphrasing here, but my "what for," "why is," and "when by" of jazz was serendipitously solved by guitarist John Abercrombie. During his 10 p.m. slot to a packed and lively crowd at the Montage Music Hall, he said, "I don't like to know where I'm going. That's why I play jazz."

But clearly Abercrombie, his organist, and his drummer knew exactly where they were going even when they opted to send the soundman to get some music from their dressing room after their first Irving Berlin number. Abercrombie's playing was big and sweet with its notes not so much fat as they were chubby and slick. But honestly, it was overshadowed by the organ in spots. 'Twas pure and beautiful all at the same.

As I proclaimed in the hallowed pages of City last week: The Majestics are back, Jack. The band celebrated its history with a bouncy set of serious reggae in a packed Little Theatre. It was hard to get up and dance when the size of the place served up the sardine treatment. Consequently it was a laid back, chill affair. Just when you thought the set couldn't possibly get any better, The Majestics invited up a few Prime Time horns for some seasoned and salacious sass and brass. What a solid show; I can't wait to see them again.

After the Majestics and right before Abercrombie's gracious set, I set foot in the Fusion Tent to catch Madeleine McQueen and the Breeze. I remembered liking her CD and her voice in particular: it's bright and sweet and reminiscent of Mikaela Davis. The problem was her guitar player, or more specifically, how he was mixed. It was big and shrill like a dentist drill as it overshadowed McQueen. I liked what he was playing, just not its molar-cracking treble and volume.

And all the way back at the beginning, I started the evening at Max for drummer Charles Ruggiero's 6:15 p.m. set. He described the jazz approach of taking a brief, succinct, and recognizable melody as fodder for improve once it's been identified like, say, the theme to "Law and Order." It was a homecoming of sorts for the brash beater who gave the people what they knew before taking it out of bounds.

But the true inspiration that prompted me to write this review backwards was from Abercrombie's reason for jazz. I truly didn't know where I was going with this until I sat down to bang it out. And you know what? I still don't know.

Check back Tuesday morning to hear what I thought about the Monday sets with Gwyneth Herbert (at Christ Church) and Judith Hill (at Anthology).

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  • Re: Jazz Fest 2017, Day 3: Ron reviews Bill Frisell and Thomas Morgan, Jochen Rueckert, and Adam Kolker Trio

    • Roberta, thank you for letting us know about the error. We've fixed the blog.

    • on June 27, 2017
  • Re: Jazz Fest 2017, Day 3: Ron reviews Bill Frisell and Thomas Morgan, Jochen Rueckert, and Adam Kolker Trio

    • "Cardenas wasn't afraid to keep quiet when the tune called for it; he's among the…

    • on June 26, 2017
  • Re: Jazz Fest 2017, Day 3: Ron reviews Bill Frisell and Thomas Morgan, Jochen Rueckert, and Adam Kolker Trio

    • I happened to see the same shows on Sunday and generally agree with the review…

    • on June 26, 2017
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