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
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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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Thursday, June 27, 2019

Jazz Fest 2019, Day 7: Jeff reviews Amanda Anne Platt & The Honeycutters and DH’s Random/Control

Posted By on Thu, Jun 27, 2019 at 11:47 PM

Amanda Anne Platt & The Honeycutters delivered two sets of authentic Americana at Geva Theatre Center's Fielding Stage on Thursday, June 27. - PHOTO BY JOSH SAUNDERS
  • PHOTO BY JOSH SAUNDERS
  • Amanda Anne Platt & The Honeycutters delivered two sets of authentic Americana at Geva Theatre Center's Fielding Stage on Thursday, June 27.
Playing in a band, it’s tough work, as Amanda Anne Platt & The Honeycutters made clear in their performance at Geva Theatre Center’s Fielding Stage.

Between songs, Platt chatted about how The Honeycutters had once played a department store — if you remember those — and introduced their song, “The Low Road,” with the sarcastic observation that, “There are so many similarities between myself and Bruce Springsteen.” After the band’s second song, she welcomed a long line of people arriving late and walking past the front of the stage with the comment, “It’s like a clown car.” And it was, but for the most part the audience stayed for the entire show.

There were a couple of cover songs in the first set: The Bee Gees’ “To Love Somebody,” which the Nashville-based band demonstrated is indisputably a country song, and a show-closer of Nick Lowe’s “What’s So Funny ’Bout Peace, Love and Understanding.”

But mostly it’s Platt’s show, and she writes about living in the heartland, among the touchstones of Americana and the whine of pedal steel guitar: airstream trailers; 18-wheelers; jukeboxes; independent women who “do better without that ball and chain;” fighting sadness with alcohol and killing the pain through “dance all night and sleep all day.”

Platt’s best line of the night: “Learning to love the crooked hands that built me.”

Today’s jazz haiku

Baby is due soon
Giving birth to these old songs
A labor of love

Random, outta control

David Helbock does nothing right. This is the first time I’ve ever seen three guys playing the piano, and only one of them was touching the keys. Helbock was the one on the keyboard, Johannes Bär had his arms in the guts of the piano, fussing with the strings, Andreas Broger was tapping away on the lid and body with a drumstick and brush.

But that’s how they do it in Austria. This was the new Euro part of the longstanding curiosity at Lutheran Church of the Reformation, better known as the “Nordic and Euro Jazz Now” series.

Helbock also had a kick drum at his feet, somewhat unusual for a pianist. Bär had a nest of horns to choose from, of which the sousaphone was the most surprising. He also had a tambourine strapped to one knee and a small drum head to the other, and he even did some beatboxing. Broger played a half-dozen reeds, including bass clarinet. These were compositions played in the orderly manner of train cars falling into a canyon. This may explain why the band is called DH’s Random/Control.

Helbock seemed to spend more time inside the piano that out, raking the strings with a hand in zither-like fashion, while pounding that rarely-heard first black key. Piano teachers must have been running down the street and leaping into the Genesee River.

Several local musicians wandered out of the church at the end of the show with dazed looks in their eyes. One said to me, “That was the best version of Duke Ellington’s ‘In a Sentimental Mood’ I’ve ever heard.”

Day Eight: Jeff’s picks

Jubilation! Celebrating Cannonball Adderley, 6 and 9 p.m., Kilbourn Hall. Another show celebrating the legacy of a jazz giant. The music of Adderley — who was only 46 when he died in 1975 — is recognized for its exuberance.

The Suitcase Junket, 7 p.m., City of Rochester Midtown Stage. Coming on before the Midtown Stage headliners the Allman Betts Band, Matt Lorenz — a.k.a. The Suitcase Junket — is a homemade, one-man band. He and his dumpster guitar literally do tour with the music in a suitcase: bottles, dried bones, an old gas can. Lorenz’s challenge will be to make this array heard over the crowd that will gather at Parcel 5. This show’s free.

Catherine Russell, 7 and 9:15 p.m., Temple Building Theatre. Russell has been a favorite of the fest for years. The easy comparison is Ella Fitzgerald, but her career has included a stint as a backup singer to David Bowie.

On Day Eight, I’m looking forward to hearing the Adderley tribute and, as always, Catherine Russell.

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Jazz Fest 2019, Day 6: Jeff reviews Vilray, Tamar Korn & A Kornucopia, and Thomas Backman

Posted By on Thu, Jun 27, 2019 at 2:07 AM

Tamar Korn and her band A Kornucopia brought Jazz Age flair to their performance on  Wednesday, June 26 at  the 2019 CGI Rochester International Jazz Festival. - PHOTO BY JOSH SAUNDERS
  • PHOTO BY JOSH SAUNDERS
  • Tamar Korn and her band A Kornucopia brought Jazz Age flair to their performance on Wednesday, June 26 at the 2019 CGI Rochester International Jazz Festival.
Old-school cynicism

What do you make of a romantic ballad that declares, “There’s no true love, there’s only routine?”

Yeah, nailed it.

Wednesday at the Rochester International Jazz Festival, Tin Pan Alley was just one block from Jazz, with Vilray as your shuttle-bus driver. Just Vilray alone onstage at Geva Theatre Center’s Fielding Stage with his electric guitar, explaining how he got into songwriting after leaving his job overseeing a factory, where he had injured a finger. “I sort of realized my days as a person with fingers was limited,” Vilray said, “so I’d better take advantage of them while I still have them.”

He lives in Brooklyn, but his mind wanders the streets of Paris as the anti-Cole Porter. Vilray said he doesn’t buy into Porter’s philosophy of birds and bees making love, as Porter claims in “Let’s Do It.” In Vilray’s world, it’s “The saddest armadillo, don’t cry into his pillow, so why do I?”

Vilray’s songs are contemporary vintage. He whistled a verse and explained how songwriters in the old days would write for specific singers: “I wrote this song for Peggy Lee, kind of a later Peggy Lee,” he said. “But she’s dead, so…”

So he moved on, 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,” the audience responded with “He’s not ready” – and damn if it didn’t sound like a “Casablanca” outtake.

“Songwriting is an act of self-tickling,” he said.

Through the first show, Vilray’s Fender amp hissed like an old 78-rpm record. Did he do that on purpose, just for the effect? Could be: He released a live album last year that was lathe cut direct to vinyl, crackles and all.

Friday’s jazz haiku correction

Haikus are traditionally three lines of five, seven and five syllables. Sharp readers noted that the final line of Friday’s haiku was seven syllables. So the last line of today’s jazz haiku, a tribute to Vilray, and to be read alongside the comforting pop of vinyl, will reflect the fact that you owe me two.

Today’s jazz haiku

No need for the moon
Songwriter peers at the heart
And finds that…

More vintage jazz

A few blocks away, at The Montage Music Hall, the concert by Tamar Korn & A Kornucopia was a companion piece to Vilray’s performance.

This was a night to recreate a 30’s jazz club. Singer Tamar Korn read a poem written by her father when he was 19 years old, and sang Duke Ellington’s “In a Sentimental Mood.” She and her band did an obscure Staples Singers song, “Today Was Tomorrow Yesterday,” and Fats Waller’s bounding “We the People.” Korn’s sass was reminiscent of Lee Morse, a popular singer of that era who staged several comebacks over the years, including one after she moved to Rochester in the 1950’s. Morse is now buried in Riverside Cemetery.

The word “animated” may not be enough to describe Korn, especially as the show gained momentum. Like Vilray imitating a trombone with pursed lips, Korn mimicked her bandmates on drums, trombone and piano played by Gordon Webster – who moved here from New York City two years ago.

With shades of Paul Whiteman’s dance band of the 20’s and ’30s, Korn shimmied and spun around the stage with outstretched arms. She owned the room, even dancing like a wind-up toy across the metal barrier at the front of the stage that separates the crowd from the metal bands that usually play The Montage Music Hall.

Backman’s state of chaos

While we wait for the state of New York to legalize pot, there are the Nordic bands at Lutheran Church of the Reformation. Often atmospheric in nature, there is something unusual in that air.

Thomas Backman and his quartet rolled through ballads with Backman on tenor sax, and a closing lullaby with him on bass clarinet. And what might be classified as Nordic crime jazz in the midst of a bustling city. Sometimes there were vocals: Josefine Lindstrand’s lyrics, which she sang in a hushed, breathy tone, sometimes dirge-like, or with an urgent whisper. Words about climate change – apparently there are no Republicans in Sweden – or a reworked Emily Dickinson poem.

And “Pennsylvania,” which the band said was a tribute to our neighbor to the south. Oskar Schönning bowed his electric bass, producing a sternum-rattling mournfulness. Julia Schabbauer rattled her sticks against the side of her drums, producing a sound not unlike someone searching through a kitchen drawer. But soon, as all Nordic bands seem bred to do, the music rose to a crescendo, as though a giant fissure were opening in the earth and swallowing all of Pennsylvania.

And don’t worry, Backman promised, New York’s turn is coming soon.

Day Seven: Jeff’s picks

George Benson’s Thursday-night show at Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre is sold out.

George Coleman Quartet, 6 and 9 p.m., Kilbourn Hall. B.B. King, Ray Charles, Max Roach, Jimmy Smith, Lee Morgan, Miles Davis, Chet Baker, Charles Mingus. Just a few of the folks with whom the 84-year-old saxophonist has played and recorded.

Ron Artis II & The Truth, 7 and 8:45 p.m., Squeezer’s Stage @ M&T Pavilion. A guitarist and singer-songwriter now living in Hawaii, Artis exudes a positive message with his music. It’s soul and funk, but when he slows things down, Artis echoes the vibe of his home in the Pacific.

Soul Stew, 7:30 and 9:30 p.m., Jazz Street Stage. Longtime favorites of the fest, the Toronto band offers funk, soul, R&B, reggae and blues. We usually see fest Co-producer Marc Iacona join the band for a number or two.

On Thursday night, I’ll be checking out the Austrian pianist and multi-multi instrumentals of David Helbock’s Random/Control at Lutheran Church of the Reformation, at 7:30 and 9:30 p.m., and Amanda Anne Platt & the Honeymakers at Geva Theatre Center’s Fielding Stage, 6:30 and 8:30 p.m.

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