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
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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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Saturday, June 30, 2018

Jazz Fest 2018, Day 8: Daniel reviews Stephane Wrembel, Miles Electric Band, and Jerry Granelli Band with Robben Ford

Posted By on Sat, Jun 30, 2018 at 1:25 AM

Trumpeter Jeremy Pelt played with the Miles Electric Band Friday night. - PHOTO BY ASHLEIGH DESKINS
  • Trumpeter Jeremy Pelt played with the Miles Electric Band Friday night.
The Jerry Granelli Band with Robben Ford presented a set of easy-going music complete with jazz-shuffle rhythms and blues structures. Interpreting the music of greats such as Charles Mingus, Fats Domino, and Abbey Lincoln and Max Roach, the band exhibited undeniable skill — and yet the arrangements felt almost commonplace. The mostly mid-tempo tunes lacked that energetic spark; that creative lightning-in-a-can that is so invaluable in jazz and blues. There were flashes of it in Ford’s mellifluous guitar licks, but that vitality wasn’t sustained.

With the sun setting, the Miles Electric Band brought crowd-pleasing, funkified jazz to the East Ave. & Chestnut St. stage in tribute to the singular jazz titan Miles Davis. Led by the great trumpeter’s nephew and drummer Vince Wilburn Jr., the seven-piece group — which includes several alumni from Davis’s band — was scintillating from the outset, with a richly layered sound brimming with a somehow unpretentious swagger. It was all about the integrity of the sound, and the band perfectly encapsulated the mood of the hot summer night with seductively smooth musicality. The trumpet lines were majestic, the percussion simmered, and the bass hummed.

The Miles Electric Band, a collective of Miles Davis alums and first-call musicians, played the East Ave. & Chestnut St. Stage on Friday. - PHOTO BY ASHLEIGH DESKINS
  • The Miles Electric Band, a collective of Miles Davis alums and first-call musicians, played the East Ave. & Chestnut St. Stage on Friday.
My night could not have ended better than with the stunning musicality of Stephane Wrembel at Max of Eastman Place. Having heard Wrembel play on the Jazz Street Stage in the past, I knew I couldn’t go wrong with his tasteful, yet still completely mind-blowing virtuosity. And the man did not disappoint.

With a deeply sonorous tone and classical precision, the sound of Wrembel’s guitar was immediately transportive. Sometimes the destination was a sun-drenched, sprawling valley in Spain, and at other times it was a dimly lit Paris street at nightfall. No matter the locale brought to mind, the magic was undeniable.

Wrembel and his sharp band — guitarist Thor Jensen, upright bassist Ari Folman Cohen, and drummer Nick Anderson — played a set that drew heavily from his “The Django Experiment” series of releases, in homage to the legendary Romani French guitarist Django Reinhardt. Jazz in the Django vein is all about fluidity: the astounding flurries of notes are coaxed into masterful phrases as the inspired melodic arc is gradually revealed. Wrembel and company exemplified this flow with a playful and stylish aesthetic highlighted by ingeniously crafted solos. The visceral yet folksy timbres of two acoustic guitars and one upright bass added gravitas and world-music flair.

A key to Wrembel’s genius is his impeccable intonation, the way he made every pitch — however brief — sing. He didn’t exactly wear his heart anywhere close to his sleeve, but it was clear that his passion for the music ran deep. He never showcased his skill at the expense of the songs, playing with a humility that made his supreme musicianship all the more endearing.

Jensen provided the perfect contrast to Wrembel’s dulcet tones, with a grittier attack and edgier melodies. Their duet in the set closer, “Dark Eyes,” was masterclass in Baroque-style counterpoint, as the two guitarists played off one another with a synchronicity that was uncanny.

With the final day of the 2018 Jazz Festival upon us, Saturday will find me at sets by Abe Nouri at the Jazz St. Stage, Geoffrey Keezer at Hatch Hall, and Eric Krasno Band at Anthology.

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Jazz Fest 2018, Day 8: Frank catches Robin McKelle, Jill Scott, Pokey LaFarge, and one more song from Gwyneth Herbert

Posted By on Sat, Jun 30, 2018 at 12:50 AM

Jill Scott headlined Friday night at the 2018 Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival. - PHOTO BY FRANK DE BLASE
  • Jill Scott headlined Friday night at the 2018 Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival.
Rochester ex-pat Robin McKelle is far from your stock blues belter or jazz singer. She detours around those parameters , forging her own path. This path led her to the Harro East Ballroom last night. She has a jazzy voice that follows a certain discipline in tone and attack, especially when singing out-and-out jazz. There was an extended scat portion of the show to clear up any doubt.

Rochester ex-pat Robin McKelle performed at Harro East Ballroom. - PHOTO BY FRANK DE BLASE
  • Rochester ex-pat Robin McKelle performed at Harro East Ballroom.
McKelle also sang a couple of pop tune and totally reworked them: Sade's "No Ordinary Love" and Amy Winehouse's "Back To Black." Both tunes were jazzy in mood and execution, proving what a fine vocalist McKelle is and that jazz can pop up anywhere. And the capacity crowd ate it up.

I'm a little leery about modern R&B live shows, with their over-percussioned, over-keyboarded, over-bassed stage sound which often  makes them sound like rhythm & mush, but Jill Scott's show was blended precisely and beautifully. She had three male back-up singers, which was refreshing, and a band that threw down a velvety shag. But most of all, the woman at the front of the whole initiative, Scott, sang with a rich and rafter-tickling alto and authority that packed so much power that I'm not that leery anymore. Call me a convert.

Pokey LaFarge played his set at Martin Luther King Jr. Park on Friday night. - PHOTO BY FRANK DE BLASE
  • Pokey LaFarge played his set at Martin Luther King Jr. Park on Friday night.

In his Canadian tuxedo, Pokey LaFarge played some awfully sweet, post-war bop at Martin Luther King Jr. Park. Not to be thrown in with other retro rockers who simply re-hash, LaFarge and crew write their own stuff. It could be argued that it's still a throw back, but the people in front of the stage didn't care; they had some ass-shaking to do.

On my way out I stuck my head into Christ Church to catch up with Gwyneth Herbert again. I wanted to see if that song written from ideas submitted by eager audience members the night before included my fears. I wanted to see if — in the face of helping immortalize our fair city — Herbert had included the Garbage Plate. Well, yes: Herbert included a line about eating trash in an otherwise pretty song. Sometimes, this town steps on its dick.

If you wanna argue with me Saturday about the Garbage Plate or discuss other kinds of self-abuse, you can catch me at Deva Mahal and Tower of Power featuring my good buddy Ron Mesh.

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Jazz Fest 2018, Day 8: Ron reviews the Geoffrey Keezer Trio, Maciej Obara Quartet, and Jean-Michel Pilc

Posted By on Sat, Jun 30, 2018 at 12:00 AM

Jean-Michel Pilc performed in Hatch Hall on Friday night at the 2018 Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival. - PHOTO BY JOSH SAUNDERS
  • Jean-Michel Pilc performed in Hatch Hall on Friday night at the 2018 Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival.
Sometimes a group with a big name in the title only has one true star, but at Xerox Auditorium, the Geoffrey Keezer Trio proved to be a band of equals. Keezer may be the most well known member; after all he’s played with Sting. But every time bassist Ben Williams or drummer Billy Kilson took a solo, they were top notch. And as a trio playing together, they could not have been tighter.

Keezer played some original tunes, including one evoking a perfect night in Alaska, titled “Port Alexander Moon,” but he also took on one of Thelonious Monk’s most challenging compositions, “Brilliant Corners.” On the Monk tune Williams switched from an upright bass to an electric bass and was a lot funkier. Keezer also played electric piano and, for much of the rest of the concert, he had his left hand on the acoustic piano and his right on the electric. The group got pretty far out on a long, unidentified tune but came back down to Earth for a beautiful rendition of “Across The Universe,” which was part of a John Lennon medley to end the set.

At the Lutheran Church, members of the Maciej Obara Quartet were very happy to be in Rochester after numerous travel problems. They got so deeply into their music, I don’t know if they realized that they spent about a half-hour playing the title track of their new album, “Unloved,” written by film-score composer Krzysztof Komeda. Obara’s playing ranged from gorgeously lyrical to downright furious. In fact, the entire group was capable of building up the momentum so gradually that you could be caught off guard by the mood shifts.

Obara’s quartet also boasted excellent players. Dominik Wania played the kind of piano solos that sound like a running brook, sometimes calm and sometimes cascading, but always moving. When the band really got going, bassist Ole Morten Vaagan was totally unified with drummer Gard Nilssen. Toward the end of the set Nilssen got a chance to cut loose with a great solo using mallets instead of drumsticks.

I’m not sure what Jean-Michel Pilc was up to a Hatch Hall and I’m not sure he knew either. It seemed like the case of a brilliant player not knowing quite what to do with his set. First he tried comedy, doing physical jokes at the piano in a manner reminiscent of Victor Borge. He said he would warm up and proceeded to play a scale. Then the scales turned into something akin to Paganini's Caprice No. 24; he played scales high and low and simple and filigreed, lots of variations. This was followed by a piece where his left hand played a pattern in the middle of the keyboard while his right hand played on both sides of it.

Pilc did a lot of slamming his hands down on the keys and there were dramatic gestures each time he finished playing. There were quotes thrown in through out — a line from “Ravel’s Bolero”; a line from “Norwegian Wood” — and there was a lot of meandering. Pilc obviously has the chops to play whatever he chooses. Maybe it was some kind of new piano-of-the-absurd thing that I’m not hip to, but all I heard was a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing.

On the last night of the festival, I’ll catch Mark Lewandowski at Christ Church, Thomas Stronen at the Lutheran Church, and Matt Wilson at Kilbourn Hall.

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Friday, June 29, 2018

Jazz Fest 2018, Day 7: Frank stumbles upon Gwyneth Herbert, takes a Lake Street Dive, and goes Sax-O-Matic in the process

Posted By on Fri, Jun 29, 2018 at 12:48 AM

Lake Street Dive headlined day seven of the 2018 Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival. - PHOTO BY FRANK DE BLASE
  • Lake Street Dive headlined day seven of the 2018 Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival.
There's no explaining how Gwyneth Herbert arrived at her arsenal of  eclectic instrumentation. but there she stood on the Max of Eastman Place stage behind half a drum set, a ukulele, and a melodica, an actual instrument that looks like a mini keyboard with a hose to blow into on one side. It's cool really.

But the real orchestra is in Herbert's voice as she warbled and coo'd and whistled with a super high-pitched falsetto out of her throat. It was like a  bird whistle with the blast of an air raid siren. Remember Kate Bush?

Herbert had paper and pencil passed around and she instructed folks to write  something memorable about Rochester for a custom song she would compose later and perform at tonight's show. Well, before the crowd even started shouting out, I knew what they'd say. Yup, that gastric tragedy. The act of throwing up in reverse. The beloved Garbage Plate. I guess it's not as bad as the one I was tempted to contribute. But alas, I didn't have the guts to shout out: "Jack the Ripper!"

Gwyneth Herbert plays again Friday, June 29, at Christ Church. 6:45 p.m. and 8:45 p.m. $30, or a Club Pass.

Gwyneth Herbert played Max of Eastman Place on Thursday night. - PHOTO BY FRANK DE BLASE
  • Gwyneth Herbert played Max of Eastman Place on Thursday night.
I was in sheer awe with Lake Street Dive's pageantry and majesty  as they lorded over a sold out Kodak Hall for nearly two hours. Front woman, and my new favorite singer, Rachael Price picked up the baton where Amy Winehouse left it and sang in a smokey contralto that knocked me flat. The band made a big sound for not being that big, with hints of Aretha and Motown wafting off the stage with the fog and  lights.

Sax-o-Matic played on The Stooges' a bit before blasting away into "Splish Splash" over at the Big Tent. I love the baritone sax especially, and these cats know how to rock it like a hurricane. But too much jazz, fried chicken, and frozen custard makes this boy feel his age. I split for home so as to write you this sordid tale.

Friday night, catch me at Robin McKelle at Harro East, Jill Scott at Kodak Hall, and running over to MLK Park for Pokey LaFarge.

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Thursday, June 28, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Jazz Fest 2018, Day 7: Ron reviews the Vincent Herring Quartet, the Georgia Mancio/Alan Broadbent Quartet, and Megumi Yonezawa

Posted By on Thu, Jun 28, 2018 at 11:48 PM

Vincent Herring performed with his quartet at Kilbourn Hall on Thursday. - PHOTO BY JOSH SAUNDERS
  • Vincent Herring performed with his quartet at Kilbourn Hall on Thursday.
The Vincent Herring Quartet put on quite a crowd-pleasing show at Kilbourn Hall Thursday night. Part of the charm was Herring’s personality; he had a great rapport with the audience. But the other reason was his song selection. There were no brooding ballads, just lively tunes with great heads and perfect chords to improvise over. The songs, by greats like Hank Mobley, Mulgrew Miller, Ray Charles and Freddie Hubbard, soared through Herring’s alto saxophone and were ripe for his band’s improvisation.

And what a great band he had. Dave Kikoski was the second star of the show on the piano. At one point Herring said, “We’ve got a great pianist here and a great piano. Let’s bring them together.” For the next 10 minutes Kikoski played spectacularly at the Steinway. Yasushi Nakamura was excellent on bass, playing especially melodic solos. And I’m not sure if Herring was exaggerating when he said drummer Carl Allen was the only one who could get the right vibe on Mobley’s “Soft Impressions,” but the timing did seem tricky and Allen definitely had it down.

At Christ Church the Georgia Mancio/Alan Broadbent Quartet played something like an intimate cabaret show, showcasing songs from an album Mancio and Broadbent wrote and recorded together. Broadbent, who has won two Grammy Awards, has played with everyone from Charlie Haden and Diana Krall to Natalie Cole and Paul McCartney. He was at the piano playing his music while Mancio sang her lyrics after telling the stories behind each song.

The whole quartet — with Don Falzone on bass and Dave Ohm on drums — got to stretch out on “One For Bud,” a tune about a man obsessed with Bud Powell. But for much of the set, the accompaniment was in the service of the songs, with Falzone and Ohm playing as subtly as possible, a good move given the church’s acoustics. My favorite of the tunes was “Where The Soft Wind Blows,” a song Broadbent wrote the music for when he was 17. Mancio’s lyrics nicely describe the life of a man who lived his entire life in the same London home, and was, at the end, a face in the window.

Megumi Yonezawa was a bit shy at Hatch Hall. She was certainly confident at the piano, but she seemed reluctant to talk about what she was playing. So, for a long time I felt like I was lost in a sea of notes — not a bad place to be, but kind of a musical dream state where things sounded familiar with pieces of this and parts of that but nothing quite gelling into a coherent composition.

Yonezawa did finally speak and it turned out she was playing some of her own pieces, greatly influenced by dissonant 20th century classical music (vindicating some of what I felt). She went on to play one standard, “Body And Soul,” gorgeously. And for her last tune, the classically trained jazz pianist said, “This is a great piano, can I play a classical piece?” The audience gave her permission and she played a gorgeous rendition of Bach’s Sarabande from the French Suite in G Major.

Friday I’ll catch Jean Michel Pilc at Hatch Hall, Maciej Obara at the Lutheran Church, and the Geoffrey Keezer Trio at Xerox Auditorium.

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