Thursday, October 17, 2019

The F Word: Our Lady of the Blessed Three Heads

Posted By on Thu, Oct 17, 2019 at 2:45 PM

I fired up the jalopy and loaded it with the Australian contingent here in town to celebrate Mrs. De Blase's 5-0 a couple of Fridays ago. They wanted to hear some live music and down some righteous bar-b-que. After plowing through the majority of a pig at the Dinosaur, we rolled over to Abilene to see roots rock sensations Smooth Hound Smith do its roots rock thing.

Direct from East Nashville, the band — featuring singer Caitlin Doyle-Smith and her guitar-slingin' ball and chain, Zack Smith — rocked it right all night with plenty of ballsy blues and sweet harmony. Everyone's defying genres these days, and SHS is no different, especially when they broke into what can only be described as disco Americana.

Next, it was off to Iron Smoke Distillery to dig the whiskey-soaked fun of The Cool Club & The Lipker Sisters. It was like a USO concert gone off the rails, with a relatively packed dance floor full of rug-cutting jitterbugs. The Cool Club kept it cool, while the Sisters kept it hot. I could feel the heat all the way to the street as I lindy-hopped back to the big blue mariah, and agitated some gravel as we headed west.


Last Thursday was the night for exceeding expectations. Now I had heard Amy Helm's new-ish, Joe Henry-produced album and liked it a whole lot. It was competent, it was resilient, and the songs quickly took up residence in my head.

Well the music didn't do that for me at her Three Heads Brewing show, since she blew the top of my head off and scattered its meager contents all over the ceiling. Incidentally, that's where Three Heads has smartly chosen to fly the mains in order to achieve optimal sound distribution and spread.

Like I said, the record was great, but the live show was sizzling with bass, guitar, and drums. The music was full of happy soul at Three Heads Brewing. Helm sang like she was singing in a church that was on fire — Our Lady of the Blessed Three Heads.

She dug into the back catalogue in her brain, which included the Boss, Tom Petty, The Band, and Sam Cook, along with her own stuff. Her trio was tighter than hipster corduroys, and she gave each band member ample turns in the spotlight. Great show. 10 out of 10.


If you're a fan of classic burlesque — which actually offers more than just pasties and G-strings — you still encounter the same question. Is it exploitation, or is it empowerment?

I decided to (ahem) get to the bottom of this. So I beat feet to Anthology last Monday night to dig the SuicideGirls and their Blackheart Burlesque show. What I know of the SuicideGirls is their tattooed punk aesthetic. I figured It was gonna be more twerk than classic bump 'n' grind — and me, with an open mind.

In a word, the show was double-wow: a hip-shakin', torso-tossin' wow-wow. It was clever and up-to-date, including a "Star Wars" stormtrooper send-up and a "Stranger Things" striptease. It was really engaging.

There were a few quick nods to the burlesque of yesteryear, with some Rusty Warren-esque humor recounted by Little Bo Peep, and a trio of dancers that shimmied with nothing between them and the audience's eager, bloodshot eyes but three green ostrich feather fans. The well-choreographed routines all had the same, well, routine ending, with the dancer wearing next to nothing except for pasties fashioned out of electrical tape.

Now for the question I posed: Is it exploitation, or is it empowerment? Please tell me what you think. F has left the building.

Frank De Blase is CITY's staff music writer. He can be reached at

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Thursday, September 5, 2019

The F Word: Muscles and Mascara

Posted By on Thu, Sep 5, 2019 at 9:00 AM

Anonymous Willpower set its phasers to stun and ripped out a wicked set of rock 'n' roll Friday night at Three Heads Brewing. The band can play anything, as all its members are bad-ass utility players, well-versed in everything. From the Big Easy to something a little sleazy, AW positively rocks. I see this band in your future.


Trust me, I checked to make sure Laverne Baker was dead. Sure enough, the singing sensation went to her reward back in 1997. So it's quite possible I was seeing her ghost. The billboards at Abilene all credited Tammi Savoy as the one delivering the joyful noise from the bandstand for this Sunday matinee show, but I had my suspicions. She was joined onstage by Chris Casello, or the ghost of Mickey Baker (I checked: He's dead too, since 2012).

The music they played was so much fun, it had the crowd sporting extra-wide Cheshire grins. Original strollers and bebop boppers augmented a generous set of stuff by Baker, Sarah Vaughan, and Ruth Brown. A hepcat highlight happened when Savoy was joined onstage by her 11-year-old daughter for a jumpin' version of The Collins Kids' "Hop, Skip, and Jump." And Casello is one of the best rockabilly and swing guitar players I've seen in a long, long while. But it was his vibrato-drenched send-up of The Viscounts' "Harlem Nocturne" that positively knocked me dead with its bluesy, irresistible grind. Further details can be found in my obituary.


Sole Rehab's "Make It Twerk" dance party was a drag -- in a good way -- Sunday night at Photo City, with some of the tallest queens I've ever seen. The throb of the music moved the crowd that packed the joint, full of muscles and mascara. As I left, I could see the steam heat rolling out of the club, as if it were a Turkish bath.

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Tuesday, July 16, 2019

The F Word: Corn Hill can-can and Pentecostal caterwaulin’

Posted By on Tue, Jul 16, 2019 at 12:41 PM

It was a gorgeous day this past Saturday at the Corn Hill Arts Festival, as I made my way through the throng to catch some bands at the Gazebo Stage. Vanishing Sun was onstage challenging the real sun as it dappled the crowd beneath the shade. Lead singer Zahyia — dressed like a steampunk can-can girl — had the crowd mesmerized with her vocal acrobatics. The rest of the band was equally hypnotic, as it rendered its deceptively organic drum ‘n’ bass tightly and brightly.

If you’ve got a cinnamon jones then you’ve got to see Cinnamon Jones, and she’ll fix ya. Jones followed Vanishing Sun and did it right, man, with her take on old-school funk and soul. I’m glad I stuck around. She absolutely delivered the joy and wore folks out.


After a quick nap, I slapped some glue in the ‘do and headed over to see NYC’s Daddy Long Legs sing the blues. With just guitar, drums done Moe Tucker-style with no cymbals, and the hellacious huffin’ and puffin’ of the harmonica, the band reminded me of its Yep Roc label mates J.D. Wilkes and Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers, what with all the revelatin’ and Pentecostal caterwaulin’ goin’ on. It was the best show I’ve seen, front to back, in a long time. It was Daddy Long Legs’ harp tone that sent me over the edge. It was freight-train huge as — along with the vocals — it came filtered through an overdriven Green Bullet and blasted out of assorted tweed speakers.

The band blew through a good 90 minutes of Mississippi Delta and Chicago blues, working the crowd into a howling mass of humanity. It was relentless.

There was no bass and that made Rochester scenester Rick Cona a bit nervous. But he couldn’t argue with the full-tilt energy, with or without the throb of the bottom end. But Christ, that harp. I went home and threw all my harmonicas in the trash.


For something just a shade darker, heavier, metal-er, I popped over to SinnFest at Photo City Improv to witness Kryst onstage, playing like the band I knew it would become when I saw it the first time. The band members had wrenched it down to a well-oiled machine as it chugged away at its superb treatment of the heaviest of metals. It’s only going to get better.

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Wednesday, July 3, 2019

The F Word: Buckcherry and the jazz jones

Posted By on Wed, Jul 3, 2019 at 4:00 AM

Though I love Jazz Fest, after nine days and over 1,000  miles staggered and stumbled throughout the East End, it was time for me to get some of the jazz juice jitters out of my joints and re-up the necessary amount of rock 'n' roll that runs through my bloodstream. So me and EMMY Award-winner, The Tin Man, headed down to the Main Street Armory's basement to get some relief. Our rocks had been on for waaaaay too long. And the bawdy and boisterous Buckcherry was just the band for the job.

It's shocking, the attention this band doesn't get. With every album it has put out, there has been at least one hit or riff in the band's psycho-sexual brand of hard rock that I would think is gonna be huge. Yet Buckcherry can't draw flies. And it's a show like last night's Armory basement extravaganza that just adds to my confusion. There were barely 200 people in the place; 200 for a skull-crushing, hip-shaking show that opened with Buckcherry ripping into Nine Inch Nails' "Head Like A Hole," playing as if they owned it.

Singer Josh Todd has one of the best rock voices of this generation. It's rumoured that he was offered the Bon Scott slot in AC/DC. And his performance last night only worked to solidify his qualification. Todd positively roared rough, ragged and strong right up there with Kevin Roentgen's brutal lead guitar, from "Lit Up" to Dead Kennedys' "Too Drunk To Fuck" — plus a medley that hysterically punctuated the hit "Crazy Bitch" with tunes including the theme to "Footloose," "Proud Mary," and the tail riff on the last chord of the night that was unmistakably borrowed from "Love Gun."

The band came off sincere, profane, vulgar, and reckless and satisfied my rock jones — and that of 200 other lost souls — to the max.

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Sunday, June 30, 2019

Jazz Festival 2019, Day 9: Frank reviews Acoustic Alchemy and Joey DeFrancesco

Posted By on Sun, Jun 30, 2019 at 2:54 AM

Organist Joey DeFrancesco helped to close out the 2019 CGI Rochester International Jazz Festival with his sets at Temple Building Theater. - PHOTO BY DANIEL J. KUSHNER
  • Organist Joey DeFrancesco helped to close out the 2019 CGI Rochester International Jazz Festival with his sets at Temple Building Theater.

The alchemy began with the opening salvos of Acoustic Alchemy and its powerful performance. The band made wide-sweeping strokes across the canvas. Just when you thought they were going to break free stylistically, they’d pitch an elegant U-turn back to their roots and the thrill at hand.

The big crack-up came along when the outfit faked out the capacity crowd at Geva Theatre’s Wilson Stage with a false ending, then another and another and yet another. Though the group is what you might call “New Age,” the group managed to throw in some rock-solid rock and English folk rock à la Steely Dan and Fairport Convention, respectively — going so far as to pay tribute to SD’s Walter Becker.

Organist Joey DeFrancesco noodled abstract and waxed odd-timed and obtuse at the beginning of his 7 p.m. set. Both sax and drums followed close behind. Once all were aligned, he kicked into a swing groove that was backhoe-deep, and because he made the audience wait for it, very satisfying.

DeFrancesco swings like no other. He also plays the trumpet. And with his closing number, I say goodnight to the 2019 CGI Rochester International Jazz Festival. This one was easily one of the best. And a salute to all my CITY Newspaper and WXXI cohorts for all their hard work.

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Jazz Festival 2019, Day 9: Jeff reviews Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue and Kansas Smitty's House Band

Posted By on Sun, Jun 30, 2019 at 2:12 AM

Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue closed out the 2019 CGI Rochester International Jazz Festival at Parcel 5 on Saturday, June 28. - PHOTO BY JASON MILTON
  • Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue closed out the 2019 CGI Rochester International Jazz Festival at Parcel 5 on Saturday, June 28.

With a blast of Trombone Shorty’s horn, the Rochester International Jazz Festival roared to a satisfying close of Saturday night.

Responding to a final day of gorgeous weather over its nine days, the fest drew an estimated 208,000 people, pretty much matching last year’s total.

This was only the second time in its 18-year history that the fest escaped rain. The only other time that happened was in 2007. So the gods were with us. “I made a few phone calls,” festival co-producer John Nugent said.

Both Nugent and co-producer Marc Iacona released statements that this was the best-received year in the history of the event. Nugent referred to patrons “transported to the heights of musical ecstasy,” while Iacona added, “The artists have expressed their appreciation for how knowledgeable and musical our Rochester community is.”

The dates for next year’s fest were also announced: June 19 through June 27.

The substantial changes at this year’s festival will have to be evaluated, given the larger footprint of the event. For the first time, it included Geva Theatre Center’s two excellent stages, and the use of Parcel 5 off of East Main Street on all nine days. Patrons seem to be unanimous in missing the longtime festival venue Harro East Ballroom, which along with Anthology dropped out this year after disputes with the jazz fest promoters.
The shuttle bus did not seem to be used much, but perhaps a simplified route – Geva to Parcel 5 to Gibbs Street, then back – would more easily accommodate patrons as they exit the Geva shows. That’s if Parcel 5 is even available next year, as real estate tycoons vie for the gravel lot.

Otherwise, it was once again a well-run festival, despite early-day confusion at Geva – four shows one after another seemed to tax the logistics – and an act of God in the basement of the building where The Montage Music Hall sits, with a broken water main disrupting the electricity to the stage and cutting short a set by the Ghanaian drummer Paa Kow and his band.

                                                                                                                                                                           VIDEO BY JASON MILTON

Not a night for ballads

Without the East Avenue and Chestnut Street Stage this second weekend – the Downchild Blues Band with Dan Aykroyd and Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes jammed the intersection during the first weekend – the fest was left with a curious donut hole of inactivity between the closed-off sections of Gibbs and East Main Street. But Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue could clearly be heard over the entire downtown landscape, echoing along the architectural corridors. A powerful mix of New Orleans sound and hip-hop, Troy Andrews – that’s Trombone Shorty’s real name – pointed to the sky with his trombone, which bleated like an elephant on the opening “I Just Want My Heart Back.” This was not a night for ballads. It was a horn party, and the taps on the beer trucks were foaming over.
The crowd filled Parcel 5 for the free show, with minor evidence drifting through the air that some citizens were rehearsing for New York state’s future legalization of cannabis.

Today’s jazz haiku

Thousands of people
Surging, communing, sharing
Kneel to beer-truck shrines

Drinking in the house band

Kansas Smitty’s House Band has solved the dilemma of how musicians can guarantee themselves a busy schedule of club gigs. Own your own bar, and book your own band. So it is with this London-based outfit, a seven-piece band on its first tour of America.

And the diverse menu of tunes flowed, starting with a swinging “Twentieth Century,” with the three-piece sax-and-trumpet section setting down their instruments midway through to lead Kilbourn Hall in rhythmic hand-clapping. Drink recommendation: beer.

This was swing, Kansas City-style blues, and jazz. A mix of historical perspectives and contemporary moods. Pensive moments – this must be a thinking person’s bar (drink recommendation: bourbon, neat) – gave way to soccer-hooligan rowdiness. “Beijinhos,” which translates from Portuguese to “little kisses,” was a jaunty guitar piece that grew increasingly urgent (drink recommendation: Tanqueray and tonic), followed by vintage sounds (drink recommendation: Rob Roy) and lighter fare (drink recommendation: white wine).

“Take Me Home,” with its New Orleans-flavored opening, featured trumpeter Pete Horsfall handling the only vocals of the set (drink recommendation: single-malt scotch, accompanied by a cigar). And by then, it was time to call an Uber.

The wrap-up: Jeff’s favorite moments

I don’t dare list my favorite shows of the festival. Many people I spoke with over the nine days saw more shows than I did, which makes them better authorities. Acts that I missed, but were repeatedly raved about by people I encountered: Jake Shimabukuro and his ukulele; guitarist Gilad Hekselman; folk group Over the Rhine; Stefon Harris and Blackout; mad percussionist Cyro Baptista; looping bassist Adam Ben Ezra; pianist Harold Mabern joining saxophonist George Coleman for an extra-long set at Kilbourn Hall; Kandace Springs with her rendition of “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face”; Ron Artis II & the Truth; Matthew Whitaker, the 18-year-old pianist at The Montage.

But here are some of my best moments, day by day:

Day One: Drummer Steve Gadd and his son Duke engaging in a percussion duet in Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre as the rest of the band stepped aside to watch.

Day Two: The Bill Frisell Trio at Temple Building Theater. The elegant guitarist opened his second set with an uninterrupted, 55-minute medley. After a moment’s pause, the trio went right back to work. Another 25-minute, uninterrupted medley.

Day Three: Rochester’s amazing sacred steel group, the Campbell Brothers, revealed they’re recording a version of Bruce Springsteen’s “We Take Care of Our Own,” for a Philadelphia group assembling a benefit for veterans and first responders.

Day Four: Enemy playing Christ Church. Ominous, then beauty. A challenging trio that understood what it had just put its audience through. Bassist Frans Petter Eldh went to the microphone before the final song and admitted that this arrhythmia was not for everyone: “Thanks for understanding.”

Day Five: VickiKristinaBarcelona’s Tom Waits tribute, with its gorgeous, cinematic arrangements. “We all have our films that we see,” said percussionist Amanda Homi.

Day Six: At Geva Theatre Center’s Fielding Stage, singer-songwriter Vilray marveling at the film “Casablanca,” and “how many scenes are in a bar where everyone is singing.” Then he got some audience participation – Vilray sang “I’m not ready,” and the audience responded with “He’s not ready” – and damn if it didn’t sound like a “Casablanca” outtake.

Day Seven: Best line of the fest, from Amanda Anne Platt & the Honeycutters at Geva’s Fielding Stage: “Learning to love the crooked hands that built me.”

Day Seven again, I get a second choice because this was my favorite night: David Helbock’s Random/ Control. The Austrian pianist does nothing right. This was the first time I’ve ever seen three guys playing the piano, and only one of them was touching the keys. Reed player Johannes Bär had his arms in the guts of the piano, fussing with the strings, and horn player Andreas Broger was tapping away on the lid and body with a drumstick and brush. This was the performance that had the most people insisting to me was the best show of the fest.

Day Eight: Catherine Russell mining vintage songs of the 1920’s, 30’s and 40’s. “You can’t pull the wool over my eyes,” she sang. “You can’t get away with telling those lies like that.” The audience at the Temple Building Theater roared and applauded with approval when it recognized what she meant when she said how that 1936 theme applied to today.

Day Nine: More missed, brilliant shows. Sisters Euclid at The Montage closing its second set with an encore of “Good Vibrations.”

Today, Jeff is looking forward to mowing the lawn.

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Saturday, June 29, 2019

Jazz Festival 2019, Day 8: Frank reviews The Suitcase Junket, Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives, and Steve Miller Band

Posted By on Sat, Jun 29, 2019 at 1:10 AM

One-man-band  Matt Lorenz, performing under the moniker The Suitcase Junket, to the Midtown Stage on Parcel 5 on Friday, June 28. - PHOTO BY DANIEL J. KUSHNER
  • One-man-band Matt Lorenz, performing under the moniker The Suitcase Junket, to the Midtown Stage on Parcel 5 on Friday, June 28.

Attention dear readers: This is Jeff Spevak. Frank offered to mow my lawn for a month if I’d write his blog entry tonight. Besides, how hard can it be? He learned everything from reading me and Raymond Chandler.

Downright sinister

So after blasting over the Jazz 90.1 airwaves, I waited two hours to see New England’s Matt Lorenz, known publicly as The Suitcase Junket. With a ragtag drum kit, battered cymbals, a drawer full of silverware, and another full of bones, Lorenz conjured some downright sinister beats, over which he poured some drop-tuned guitar as if it were a blend of maple syrup, venom and gear oil.

He’s also an accomplished throat singer. For those of you who aren’t of Mongolian descent, it’s a whirring tone, with overtones that originate in the stomach. Short answer: It’s whistling in the stomach. But Lorenz did it one turn weirder by throat-singing into the microphonic pick-ups on his guitar. And speaking of his guitar, Jack White would kill for The Suitcase Junket’s rough, raw, and ragged guitar tone. I think I might, too.

Magical moments

I’d forgotten how much I liked Marty Stuart until he took the stage with a big twang. The easygoing rockabilly musician had bassist Chris Scruggs — who I once witnessed do the Pee Wee Herman dance at an all-night diner in Nashville — slappin’ on the two and the four.

Under a large shock of white hair, Stuart was on fire, at one point blowing out a few doors with an incendiary take on “Orange Blossom Special,” which he played alone on the mandolin. When he asked for a Johnny Cash suggestion, he picked “Ring of Fire.” Apparently I didn’t holler out “Long Black Veil” loud enough.

And then there was Steve Miller and his band unloading hit upon hit: “The Stake,” “Jungle Love” — which I forgot how much I liked — and “Abracadabra,” which I forgot how much I didn’t like. Then there was “Living in the U.S.A,” “Take the Money and Run,” and so on.

Miller sounded great, his guitar sounded great, and his band wove a tight shag for which to wiggle his toes therein. He was joined by Stuart and his band, and they swapped stories and licks to the flies on the walls and in the seats. It was magical.

Tomorrow’s jazz fest plans: I don’t know, as of right now. Lemme look and I’ll get back to you.

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Jazz Festival 2019, Day 8: Jeff reviews Catherine Russell, “Jubilation! A Celebration of Cannonball Adderley,” and Itamar Borochov Quartet

Posted By on Sat, Jun 29, 2019 at 12:26 AM

Rochester International Jazz Festival favorite Catherine Russell returned on Friday, June 28. - PHOTO BY MARTIN  KAUFMAN
  • Rochester International Jazz Festival favorite Catherine Russell returned on Friday, June 28.
Minding history

The centuries haven’t been kind to humanity. There really isn’t a lot we need to relive about the past. Except the music.

Backed by an acoustic trio of guitar, bass and piano, Rochester International Jazz Festival favorite Catherine Russell overlooked no detail in mining the 1920’s, 30’s and 40’s Friday night at two packed shows at Temple Building Theater.

A late bloomer – Russell spent years singing on other people’s albums, including the work of David Bowie – she’s totally at ease with Fats Waller’s “You’re Not the Only Oyster in the Stew.” She minded history, careful to credit the songwriters. Back to 1932 and “Alone Together” by Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz. And 1936 with “When Did You Leave Heaven?” by Richard Whiting and Walter Bullock. The New Orleans piano groove of Louis Jordan’s “Early in the Morning” and “Is You Is or Is You Ain't My Baby.”

                                                                                                                                                                 VIDEO BY MARTIN KAUFMAN

She moved gently to the music, at times dropping the microphone to her side and simply singing to the room’s acoustics. And no one brings innuendo to the fest quite like Russell. This year it was back, back, back to 1923 and Rosa Henderson’s “He May Be Your Dog But He’s Wearing My Collar.”

There were words to live by, as in the Caribbean-flavored “Make It Do,” about living within your means. And a song that went back again to 1936, but one that Russell suggested was a theme for these days. “You can’t pull the wool over my eyes,” she sang, “you can’t get away with telling those lies like that.” The audience roared and applauded with approval when it recognized how that 1936 theme applied to the current political situation.

Adderley’s jubilation

This has been a fine year for tributes at the jazz fest. Art Blakey had his moment here. Nat King Cole. Even Tom Waits and Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf.” On Friday, Day Eight of this nine-day fest, it was Cannonball Adderley’s turn.

To a degree. This was not a reproduction, but an echo.

Jim Snidero, whose 2018 album “Jubilation! A Celebration of Cannonball Adderley” with Jeremy Pelt was the foundation of this show, is a New York City-based alto saxophonist who’s played with Frank Sinatra and Brother Jack McDuff. He’s an Adderley acolyte – “One of the strongest voices ever in music,” he said – but Snidero was also his own man at the early set in Kilbourn Hall.

This five-piece band knows its Adderley, who would have been 90 this year if he hadn’t died at age 46 in 1975. In fact, Adderley used to drop by trumpeter Eddie Henderson’s parents’ house in San Francisco. The quintet opened with Adderley’s “Jeannine,” a cooking little number. But the set soon turned to Snidero’s latest album, and his songs “Visions” and “Old Folks,” which Snidero assured the audience had that abstract sensibility that the later Adderley would have approved of. They were abrupt, urgent compositions that took on a more-ominous feel when Henderson muted his trumpet.

And then, a return to Adderley. But this time it was Nate Adderley, Cannonball’s brother. “I heard that Nate Adderley was able to buy a house because of this tune,” Snidero said. And then the opening drum solo gave way to Snidero and Henderson trading riffs on Nate’s “Work Song,” inspired by the chain gangs working along the highways when Nate was a kid growing up in Florida.

Today’s jazz haiku

Look out, Cannonball
Too many ghosts in this room
give the man some air

Taking down the wall

If musicians ruled the world, walls would be obsolete. That was Jewish folk music, North African rhythms and American jazz crossing the borders at Christ Church.

Itamar Borochov comes from the Israeli city of Jaffa, which is seemingly tuned into all three frequencies. His skirling trumpet and his quartet’s sinuous grooves would shift to building crescendos of piano, bass and drums.

Yet Borochov was always mindful of his Jewish heritage. “Take Me to the Bridge” was a slow, romantic piece, the drums muffled by felt heads on the sticks. Borochov said it was inspired by the words of an ancient rabbi, the idea being that the world itself is a bridge.

Day Nine: Jeff’s picks

If the past is any indicator, a swarm of humanity will descend on Parcel 5, off of East Main Street, early Saturday evening. That’s where the free City of Rochester Midtown Stage is standing. The band Cha Wa starts off at 7 p.m. with its contemporary sound infused with New Orleans culture. At 9 p.m. it’s yet another fest favorite, Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue.

Acoustic Alchemy, 5:30 and 7:30 p.m., Geva Theatre Center, Wilson Stage. The English band has been a torchbearer of soft acoustic rock since the early 80’s. Nick Webb and Greg Carmichael were the core of the band until Webb’s death of cancer in 1998, when Miles Gilderdale joined Carmichael in the signature guitar interplay.

Joey DeFrancesco Trio
, 7 and 9:15 p.m., Temple Building Theater. Master of the Hammond B-3 organ, and a trumpet player as well, DeFrancesco released an album with Van Morrison in 2018, then turned right around and this year released one a few months ago that dives into the likes of Pharoah Sanders.

Sisters Euclid, 6 and 10 p.m., The Montage Music Hall. Where’s Kevin Breit? It’s not a Rochester jazz fest without Kevin Breit. Oh, there he is… they’ve saved the musically adventurous guitarist for the last gig of the last night. Breit returns with one of a half-dozen or so bands he’s played with here; you’ll remember him from last year in his disguise as the El Paso rocker Johnny Goldtooth.

On Saturday, the final night of the nine-day fest, I’ll be at the Sisters Euclid show, I’ll check out the inventive bluegrass of the Jon Stickley Trio at Geva Theatre Center’s Fielding Stage, and I’ll be there for Trombone Shorty.

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Friday, June 28, 2019

Jazz Festival 2019, Day 7: Frank reviews Veronica Swift and George Benson

Posted By on Fri, Jun 28, 2019 at 1:05 AM

Like lightning

Veronica Swift was swift, if you get my drift. She positively slayed the joint with lightning speed and lightning lingual dexterity. In other words: she’s fast. If I could sing or talk that fast I’d certainly win more arguments at home (please, don’t tell my wife).

Swift was backed up by the sensational Emmet Cohen Trio, whose drummer maintained a Hollywood smile and cool demeanor while beating the hell out of his drums like an octopus with jock itch. Swift gave plenty of opportunities for all on stage to shine out, but the stage ultimately belonged to her. Her scat singing so blindingly fast, it was as if the audience had to hold onto wigs or hats or each other so as not to get blown out the door. World-class stuff, I’m telling you.

Guitarist George Benson delivered the hits at Kodak Hall on Thursday, June 27, as part of the 2019 CGI Rochester International Jazz Festival. - PHOTO BY JOSH SAUNDERS
  • Guitarist George Benson delivered the hits at Kodak Hall on Thursday, June 27, as part of the 2019 CGI Rochester International Jazz Festival.
Joy and sweat

George Benson packed Kodak Hall all the way to the chandelier last night. I was excited to hear him play because his new album, “Walking to New Orleans,” is chock-full of Chuck Berry and Fats Domino. “Alright,” I told myself. “Some shit I can truck with.”

He did one song off the new album. One. It was the title track, which he played well, with a lot of his trademark jazz-tinged soul and R&B. There were, of course, the hits: “Turn Your Love Around,” “Give Me the Night,” “On Broadway,” and so on. The late Glenn Campbell’s number “Wichita Lineman” was a thoughtful surprise.

Benson’s guitar tone and style are an ample sample of bigness, and you can recognize it after just a few bars: “Hey, that’s George Benson playing there.” He wrung heavy-duty joy and sweat from all who stood at their seats, howling for two encores.

Tomorrow night, I’ll be heading to hear Suitcase Junket at the City of Rochester Midtown Stage at 7 p.m. Then I’ll be hanging with Marty Stuart and the Steve Miller Band at Kodak Hall at 8 p.m.

I’ll keep writing about it as long as it keeps going on...I’m tired, ya’ll.

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Jazz Fest 2019, Day 7: Ron reviews George Coleman Quartet, Gary Versace with Scott Robinson, and Elda Trio

Posted By on Fri, Jun 28, 2019 at 12:22 AM

Jazz legend George Coleman performed at Kilbourn Hall on Thursday, June 27 as part of the 2019 CGI Rochester International Jazz Festival. - PHOTO BY KATIE EPNER
  • Jazz legend George Coleman performed at Kilbourn Hall on Thursday, June 27 as part of the 2019 CGI Rochester International Jazz Festival.

Night of the giants

John Nugent, the CGI Rochester International Jazz Festival’s artistic director, typically introduces the Kilbourn Hall concerts, but this time he came out with a saxophone. Nugent choked up as he described hearing George Coleman’s solo on “Stella by Starlight” on a Miles Davis album while he was a student at West Texas State University. “And it changed my life,” Nugent said.

George Coleman and his quartet got off to a rousing start Thursday evening, with Nugent harmonizing with Coleman on Gene Ammons and Sonny Stitt’s classic, “Blues Up and Down.”

                                                                                                                                                                               PHOTO BY KATIE EPNER     

Coleman and Nugent each played lengthy, adventurous solos, ably backed by the great Harold Mabern on piano, Joe Farnsworth on drums and John Webber on bass. All of them took fine solos, but Mabern — who was playing his fifth festival concert in three days — was particularly outstanding, dazzling the crowd with his brilliant technique and style.

Coleman and Mabern have both had brilliant careers, but they are by no means cruising. The quartet performed one of Thelonious Monk’s most complicated, up-tempo tunes (I believe it was the one titled “Thelonious”) and a soulful rendition of Erroll Garner’s “Misty.” On these tunes, Coleman got some intriguingly breathy sounds from his sax. Mabern, who is fond of inserting playful quotations into his solos and comping, played a line from “I’ve Got Rhythm” and another, I believe, from Mozart.

Musical symbiosis

Gary Versace and Scott Robinson were a powerful duo in their concert at Hatch Recital Hall Thursday night. Versace began at the piano with an introduction to the various styles the audience could expect. He showed what could be called “all the ways to play ‘All The Things You Are,’ ” by Jerome Kern. He then brought out Robinson, who proceeded to play a tour-de-force saxophone rendition of Monk’s “’Round Midnight,” complete with circular breathing.

Over the next 45 minutes, Versace and Robinson had an almost symbiotic musical relationship, responding to one another’s playing and bringing out the best in each other.

On Versace’s “Child’s Play,” Robinson’s sax was so evocative, you could imagine a tiny human being opening her eyes and slowly discovering the world. On a free jazz piece, Versace seemed to get into a zone, pounding his way through a wonderfully dynamic passage. And on Johnny Mandel’s “The Shining Sea,” Robinson’s gorgeous tone was complemented by Versace’s sparkling high notes. As if that weren’t enough, on the last tune, by Lennie Tristano, Robinson alternated on sax and trumpet — a feat few musicians could pull off.

Timeless and borderless

Elda Trio, consisting of three musicians from different corners of the world, played a variety of music that transcended borders and centuries at Christ Church. Swedish vocalist Emilia Mårtensson moved expressively as she sang. Flanking her were Slovenian accordion player Janez Dovč and Brazilian percussionist Adriano Adewale, both of whom used their instruments in unorthodox ways, providing beautiful coloration. Adewale also contributed subtle mouth percussion. While many of the songs were derived from the stories of folkloric cultures around the world, the one that left the deepest impression on me was a tune by Dovč that had no words but was sung gorgeously by Mårtensson.

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