Wednesday, July 26, 2017

SNEAK PEEK: The Fox Sisters, "My Finest Hour"

Posted By on Wed, Jul 26, 2017 at 4:22 PM


The Fox Sisters

"My Finest Hour" b/w "On The Upside."

Dive Records

Another fantastic party platter from Rochester's frantic soulsters and R&B upstarts The Fox Sisters. This 7-piece band puts some gas in the brass like James Hunter, only a little faster, with their eyes clenched shut, no hands on the wheel, and no brakes. "My Finest Hour" is a party starter, for sure. But it's the B-side that that gets my vote; the A-side hides the frantic, frenetic, and wild sounds of "On The Upside" and of a band too legit to quit, too sly to die.

The Fox Sisters celebrate the release of the band's new single Saturday, July 29, at Skylark, 40 Union Street, 9 p.m., $5,

Or you can check it out NOW:


Sunday, July 2, 2017

Jazz Fest 2017, Day 9: Ron reviews Donny McCaslin, Matthew Stevens Trio, and Benny Green

Posted By on Sun, Jul 2, 2017 at 4:00 AM

Donny McCaslin played Xerox Auditorium on Saturday night at the XRIJF. - PHOTO BY KEVIN FULLER
  • Donny McCaslin played Xerox Auditorium on Saturday night at the XRIJF.

The final night of the Jazz Festival was a disappointing end to a great festival for me. For instance, I expected a lot from Donny McCaslin's set at Xerox Auditorium. McCaslin is a fine saxophone player, and his recent involvement in David Bowie's final album has given him new visibility. But if tonight's show is any indication, he has become pretty much an electronics artist and left jazz behind.

There were occasional melodies, but much of the set was spent setting off petals that provided effects like echoes, delays, and at one point, turned his sax into an elephant screeching. The same can be said for the excellent musicians in his band. Jason Lindner, who has enhanced several groups at the festival over the years and released excellent albums, was reduced to playing simple patterns on synthesizers or other electronic keyboards over and over again with little variation.

About three quarters of the way through his set, McCaslin paused to give a little speech in which he came out against President Trump's misogyny and racism. He was obviously preaching to the choir and got some applause, but it seemed to me to be pandering. He was at a Jazz Festival, not a Ted Nugent concert.

For more on Donny McCaslin, go to

McCaslin's set was way too loud, but at least it was in a fairly large venue. Earlier in the evening, I tried to listen to the Matthew Stevens Trio at the Wilder Room. Stevens sets himself apart from other guitarists when he plays choral melodies over complex rhythms, as he did at times early in his set. But when electronic loops and effects were added, along with bass and drums, it just got absurdly loud for such a small room. It was uncomfortable, and I just couldn't stand to stay.

Find Matthew Stevens at

The only normal listening experience I had Saturday night was with pianist Benny Green at Hatch Hall. Green has kind of a shy, nerdy personality, but when he sits down at the piano, he's a monster. He played an excellent set of tunes by McCoy Tyner, Duke Pearson, Sonny Clark, and others, along with an evocative original, "Enchanted Forest."

His technique was phenomenal, especially when he launched into a two-handed doubling run, which he did for long periods several times. From my vantage point in the balcony it looked like twin spiders running down the keyboard but sounded much better.

Benny Green can be found at

Looking back over the nine days of the XRIJF my favorite artists included three singers who were back for a second (or in Tessa Souter's case a sixth) visit to the festival. Eivør brought her ethereal sound and haunting tunes to the Lutheran Church; Youn Sun Nah unleashed her other-worldly voice at Harro East; and Souter charmed audiences at Xerox Auditorium and Christ Church with her understated but gorgeous vocals.

It was thrilling to hear saxophonist Miguel Zenon and his band (including the great pianist, Luis Perdomo) blast through tunes from his latest album, "Tipico," at Kilbourn Hall. Eri Yamamoto was glorious in her piano playing and personality at Hatch Hall. Charles Pillow at Xerox Auditorium turned me on to "Electric Miles" with big band arrangements of "Bitches Brew," "In A Silent Way," etc. 48 years after I rejected that side of Miles Davis. And finally, I loved overdosing on Thelonious Monk with the four pianists in 4 By Monk By 4 at Kilbourn Hall.

One complaint: the outdoor shows are so loud that music from one of the stages several blocks away was leaking into Xerox Auditorium during Souter's show Friday night. Nobody cares about this -- not the people who run the festival and not the city health department. But it's a serious situation; a lot of people stand right in front of those speakers.

All things considered, it was another great year with no shortage of great music for a wide range of tastes. If only we could find a way to multiply these nine days (and the days of the Rochester Fringe Festival) and bring downtown Rochester to life all year round.

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Jazz Fest 2017, Day 9: Daniel reviews Balkun Brothers and Bonerama

Posted By on Sun, Jul 2, 2017 at 4:00 AM

The Balkun Brothers played a free show Saturday night at the XRIJF. - PHOTO BY KEVIN FULLER
  • The Balkun Brothers played a free show Saturday night at the XRIJF.

When the band playing consists of only electric guitar and drums, somehow you just know it's going to be gritty. Such was the case when the Balkun Brothers, Steve and Nick, took the stage with their Southern-style blues rock. There's something about a rock duo that can sound incredibly full and satisfying, despite the lack of additional instruments.

There was rock 'n' roll fire coming from the band; I half expected smoke to come out of Steve Balkun's guitar. The feisty, in-your-face style was refreshing in a festival lineup that included only a handful of rock acts. In addition to rowdy originals, the brothers played classic rock covers, like The Jimi Hendrix Experience's "You Got Me Floatin'" and Steppenwolf's "Born to Be Wild."

The riffs were down and dirty, and the vocals had a touch of the down-home blues. The Balkun Brothers were a great choice to help close the festival on this breezy, comfortable summer night. If you were at the show, and you weren't at least tapping your toes, I don't know how you did it.

Balkun Brothers can be found at

The Balkun Brothers played a free show Saturday night at the XRIJF. - PHOTO BY KEVIN FULLER
  • The Balkun Brothers played a free show Saturday night at the XRIJF.

Unfortunately, the second set of Gard Nilssen's Acoustic Unity at the Lutheran Church was canceled due to the illness of a band member. I decided to head over to the Big Tent to hear the New Orleans-based Bonerama. The group's name says it all. When your group has not one but three trombonists, what else do you call yourselves?

On paper, Bonerama may appear to some as gimmicky; the unusual horn section is an entertaining if unsustainable gambit. Live, nothing could be further from the truth.

The distinctive instrumentation gave the music an unexpectedly taut sound with bold and boisterous attitude. Additionally, I wouldn't have necessarily expected a band with a sousaphone to be funky, but it was. The cohesion of the horn section alone was impressive, but as a whole, the group was just as lean and precise. Bonerama was just as unbridled as any rock band.

Another bonus was hearing the trombone filtered through various effects. If I ever wondered what a trombone-sitar hybrid would sound like, I found out. The vocals were more hit-or-miss, but the overall musicianship was strong enough to override any minor miscues.

The band closed the evening with Black Sabbath's "War Pigs," a thoroughly left-of-center choice that at first sounded too jubilant be an effective cover of the original's dark mood. But after hearing that descending, chromatic hook, I was convinced. If I wasn't sure before, I knew then: Bonerama was yet another hard-working rock band -- with a killer trombone section.

You can hear the band's music at

Another talent-packed jazz festival has come to a close here in Rochester. There were some familiar artists revisited, and many more new favorites discovered. Is it crazy that I'm already looking to next year's artist lineup?

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Jazz Fest 2017, Day 9: Frank reviews Danielle Ponder and the Tomorrow People and The Hooligans

Posted By on Sun, Jul 2, 2017 at 4:00 AM


Shootin' pretty pictures (instead of dirty pool) and trying to give solid testimony to the plethora of artists I've seen over the last nine days has left your boy a little punchy folks -- tore up from the floor up; beat up from the feet up. But just the same, I once more lugged my gear and my mind full of metaphors and similes down to the blood bank to file this report.

After witnessing the boundless joy our community filled Parcel 5 with, I'm now completely against putting a building there, theater or not. But that argument is for another day. I'm here to tell you about Danielle Ponder and the Tomorrow People. What a grand lady she is. Ponder is powerful and cemented solid in her convictions, which she shared with a thrilled throng of roughly 15,000 people. She stuck closely to the material from her "Blow Out the Sun" album, with a few re-workings in their arrangements -- in particular, on the song "Work," the band worked in an ominous driving beat reminiscent of The Doors' "Five to One." The band was beyond excellent with a steady rock 'n' soul groove, which Ponder easily mounted. There were horns that blasted like a brass kiln on high; way solid drums and percussion; keys -- even a keytar -- slashing 'n' burn guitar; backing vocals; and bass that swung low like an elephant's trunk.

Danielle Ponder and The Tomorrow People played the Midtown Stage Saturday night at the 2017 XRIJF. - PHOTO BY FRANK DE BLASE
  • Danielle Ponder and The Tomorrow People played the Midtown Stage Saturday night at the 2017 XRIJF.

Find more about Danielle Ponder and the Tomorrow People at

The Hooligans followed and came out with a sort of disjointed jam that had the drummer absolutely clobbering his kit. The trombone and trumpet poked their heads up when they could, and tried to soothe the savage beat. I left with the Earth literally quaking from the combination of three stages at high volume. Man, it was epic.

And speaking of savage beat, I've got something to say: the Jazz Fest is magnificent. It's my favorite thing to write about and report upon as a journalist here in Rochester as well as to dig as a musician and music fan. I just want to remind the thousands and thousands who make the annual trek downtown that this is a music town during more than just this glorious festival. Bands like Danielle Ponder and the Tomorrow People hit stages every day of the week.

Please go out and dig them some night; let the Jazz Fest be your guide, your gateway drug. Believe me, there's plenty for everyone. Picture this: imagine all the people that were out tonight at Parcel 5 going out each week to catch some live music, whether it's blues, jazz, reggae, funk, punk, country, Americana, rock 'n' roll, and so on. What a wonderful word this would be.

Frank has left the building.

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Saturday, July 1, 2017

Jazz Fest 2017, Day 8: Frank reviews Binker and Moses, tries to see King Crimson, and ends the night with Caravan Palace

Posted By on Sat, Jul 1, 2017 at 4:00 AM

It has been exactly a year when I last set foot in a church. In fact, it was the same church I was in tonight to see, hear, and experience the elegant chaos of British duo Binker and Moses. B&M rocked Christ Church like a hell-bound stage coach reverberating around the nooks and spaces usually reserved for the word of God.


Saxophonist Binker Golding was prolific and profound as he erected tunes out of nowhere. Destination: the center of your mind. This is where he and drummer Moses Boyd, who played like an octopus hailing a cab, squared off. It was like sonic ballet and in spots sonic MMA. They switched off who would kick off each number, bandied it about, and proceeded to take it skyward. Binker and Moses simply have to be experienced live.

Find more on Binker and Moses at

I ran over to Kodak Hall to see King Crimson, who as it turns out wanted no photographers and no reviewers. I heard a rumor our 45th President, old tweeter-twat himself, was in the audience. Sure enough, I checked my Twitter: "Fake band King Crimson is afraid of a bad review. They should. I have tapes! SAD!"

Anywhat, the last show of the night was a beautiful cross section of humanity as little kids and old kids danced their faces off to Paris' Caravan Palace, a band that mixes Gypsy jazz with the throb of electronica. And talk about a throb, walking in front of the speaker stacks was like a full-body massage or a post-9/11 pat-down at the airport. The crowd was as good naturedly rabid as it was diverse.


Caravan Palace has a huge following, with more than 76 million hits on YouTube, and that's a lotta YouTube. The band, complete with choreography and a gaggle of traditional instruments augmented by the electric gizmos on stage, was utterly relentless. Between-song banter was minimal. And speaking of instruments, my favorite for this Jazz Fest is the vibraphone. They were pounding out Ram Jam's "Black Betty" as I vacated the joint.


Check out Caravan Palace at

Tomorrow night I'll be freestyling a bit and will conclude at Parcel 5 for The Hooligans' shenanigans and Danielle Ponder, who will rock your world.

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Jazz Fest 2017, Day 8: Ron reviews 4 By Monk By 4, Tessa Souter, and Ariel Pocock

Posted By on Sat, Jul 1, 2017 at 4:00 AM

Pianist and singer Ariel Pocock performed in Hatch Hall on Friday night. - PHOTO BY JOSH SAUNDERS
  • Pianist and singer Ariel Pocock performed in Hatch Hall on Friday night.

At Kilbourn Hall Friday night, 4 By Monk By 4 was something akin to a Thelonious Monk symphony, or at the very least, a Monk piano sonata. Because the great jazz composer's tunes have a lot in common with each other -- notably off-kilter timing and dissonant melodic twists -- an hour of nothing but Monk tunes was wonderfully cohesive.

Over 16 years and countless concerts at the Jazz Festival, it's a safe bet that no jazz composer has been played as much as Monk. That's as it should be; of all the genre's great composers, Monk stands alone as the most original and prolific.

The four featured performers Friday night took the stage in various configurations, from solo to duos, culminating in all four on the stage swapping piano benches at the two Steinways in a kind of Monk relay race.

Each of the four pianists brought a different interpretive style to the stage. Cyrus Chestnut, the first to appear, was the most physical and in that way the most like Monk himself. Chestnut always seemed to be reaching over the entire keyboard to find the right series of notes. At times his right hand seemed to be scurrying down the keys chasing his left hand only to be thrown back to catch a chord at the other end.

George Cables was the most ornamental. Every tune he played was decorated by an ornate filigree of notes. Benny Green was the opposite, more spare in his playing than the others. And Kenny Barron played Monk with a decisive touch and the assurance and expertise of the veteran player that he is. "Ask Me Now," "Bye-Ya," "Green Chimneys," "Ruby, My Dear" -- the brilliant tunes, played brilliantly, just kept flowing from the stage.

Benny Green plays Saturday, 5:45 p.m. and 7:45 p.m., in Hatch Hall. $30 or a Club Pass.

At Xerox Auditorium, Tessa Souter was winning over the crowd with her excellent band. For most of her set, she took jazz classics, highly familiar in their instrumental versions, and sang them with lyrics she (or occasionally someone else) wrote. Her words to tunes like John Coltrane's "Equinox" and Freddie Hubbard's "Little Sunflower" fit like a glove. And she didn't restrict herself to jazz composers. One of the best songs of the night was a collaboration between Souter and Chopin.

"I wrote these lyrics," she said. "He doesn't mind." He shouldn't; her words to his Prelude in E minor, re-titled "Beyond the Blue," are a perfect fit. And I'm sure he would be proud to have written a tune that sounds like an absolute classic jazz standard. And speaking of unlikely standards, Souter's rendition of Cream's "White Room" recast it as a medieval English traditional song.

Souter's band was exceptional, with the great guitarist Yotam Silberstein, the most melodic bassist I've heard at the festival, Yasushi Nakamura, and the superb drummer, Billy Drummond.

Souter plays again Saturday, 6:45 p.m. and 8:45 p.m., at Christ Church. $30 or a Club Pass.

Ariel Pocock had a nicely textured voice with attitude at Hatch Hall. If that sounds unusual it's because Hatch is usually reserved for solo piano, with mics only used for announcing tunes. Pocock played a few instrumentals, but she mostly sang and played well-chosen tunes like Randy Newman's "Living Without You" and Hoagy Carmichael's "I Get Along Without You Very Well."

You can find Ariel Pocock's music at

Saturday night, I'll begin with guitarist Matthew Stevens at the Wilder Room. Then I'll hear pianist Benny Green at Hatch Hall. I'll close out the festival with saxophonist Donny McCaslin at Xerox Auditorium.

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Friday, June 30, 2017

Jazz Fest 2017, Day 8: Daniel reviews Iris Bergcrantz Group, Filthy Funk, and Sammy Miller and The Congregation

Posted By on Fri, Jun 30, 2017 at 4:00 AM

Upon hearing Iris Bergcrantz Group (featuring Anders Bergcrantz) at the Lutheran Church, the individual performances stood out immediately. As an ensemble, however, the net effect was more muted.

To describe Iris's pure vocal tone as merely ethereal would be clichéd and somewhat misleading. Her voice was also grounded and worldly. At times, the melodies had a subtle Middle Eastern flair, or a pentatonic structure that evoked Asia before delving into synthesized, Imogen Heap-like harmonies.

The frequent use of nonverbal vocalizations accentuated the sense that the music was out of time and place. A highlight of the set was an a cappella rendition of a Swedish folk song translated as "My Rose," which sounded like a nearly lost melody passed down through mystical means and only recently discovered. Unadorned, Iris's voice had more power and immediacy -- akin to that of the Lebanese vocalist Yasmine Hamdan -- as if she didn't have to tone things down as she might when accompanied by the band.

Iris's father, the trumpeter Anders Bergrantz, was dynamic, with a charismatic, bold style that was decidedly more traditional. While Iris's voice seemed to represent the future -- what canonized vocal jazz might sound like further down the line -- Anders was firmly rooted in the past, giving the audience a pleasant and entertaining taste of the familiar.

It was like watching two benevolent leaders at cross-purposes, trying to coexist, with neither of them truly advancing their respective agendas. Each musical direction had merit, but they canceled one another out while vying for the ear of the listener. At times, the piano accompaniment felt out of stylistic sync with the vocals, too traditional to keep pace with the twists and turns of Iris's melodies.

As the set wore on, I grew tired of the creative dissonance. I'd love to hear Iris Bergcrantz perform in a more experimental context.

You can hear her music at

Filthy Funk, with saxophonist Jimmie Highsmith Jr., was expertly named and perfectly suited for the Jazz Street stage on Friday night. The smooth-grooving trio's strong funk inflections laid the foundation for Highsmith's searing, soaring sax. Guitarist John Viviani's delectable, thoroughly enjoyable solos also stood out.

Sammy Miller and The Congregation don't take themselves too seriously, but their music certainly swings with pep and swagger. Complete with a light-hearted stage presence and engaging musicianship, the band delivered hearty throwback music from bygone 20th century jazz. That said, the second set at the Big Tent seemed less like a collection of compositions and more like a series of impressive solos strung together.

There's still time to hear Sammy Miller and The Congregation at this year's Jazz Fest: Montage Music Hall at 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. on Saturday. $30 or a Club Pass.

Tomorrow, I'll close out the festival with the Balkun Brothers at the East Ave. and Chestnut St. stage and Gard Nilssen's Acoustic Unity at the Lutheran Church.

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Jazz Fest 2017, Day 7: Frank reviews The Wee Trio and Sheryl Crow

Posted By on Fri, Jun 30, 2017 at 4:00 AM

The Wee Trio was anything but wee as they filled the Wilder Room Thursday night with hip, bouncy bop. The atmosphere in the room is a tad stiff without music, and it's still stiff with music. The picture the band painted didn't entirely color the walls, but I loved it. The trio was equal amounts what I like and what I understand mixed with a dash of good ole WTF.


James Westfall's vibraphone attack was reminiscent of Cal Tjader in its playful discourse and speed, both of which were matched expertly by Dan Loomis on the bass and Jared Schonig on drums. The set also had a guest visit from Rochester ex-pat Mike Cottone.


What I do in these cases is daydream, create a film in my head as its soundtrack unfolds. The weirder the music, the weirder the dream. The dream I created with this trio's help was a long, shiny Cadillac surrounded by showgirls in mini dresses on mini bikes rolling like Shriners with maximum moxie, all cruising the Vegas strip with the lights of the assorted casinos lighting up the Caddy's gloss and the dresses' sparkle and shimmer. I betcha you can practically taste those vibes now.


Find The Wee Trio at

Sheryl Crow played a sold out Kodak Hall at the Eastman Theatre after earlier today buying a couple of guitars from the cat in the hat, John Bernunzio, at his Uptown Music and hat store. I've seen Crow a number of times and though her band was excellent as always -- charging right in with three hits in a row: "Everyday Is a Winding Road," "A Change Would Do You Good," and the one that put Crow on the map, "All I Wanna Do" -- it lacked steam and could have used a little more heat. There was no shortage of hoots and hollers from the crowd for her performance, and there's no denying she can write a pop song, and she broke out just about all of them -- I just could've used a little more spark.

Sheryl Crow can be found at

Tomorrow night, it's Binker and Moses and Caravan Palace for me. Join me, won't you?

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Jazz Fest 2017, Day 7: Daniel reviews Phronesis, Jeff Coffin's In Orbit, and Oskar Stenmark NYC Quartet

Posted By on Fri, Jun 30, 2017 at 4:00 AM

As the members of Phronesis made their way to the front of the Christ Church sanctuary for its first set on Thursday night, they looked more like a rock band than a jazz trio. Group leader and double bassist Jasper Høiby looked a bit like a lankier, Nordic version of the late, great Kurt Cobain, pianist Ivo Neame had a kind of rockabilly vibe, and drummer Anton Eger sported a Motörhead T-shirt and the kind of haircut that was meant for headbanging.

Ultimately, the band's appearance was rather fitting: the trio followed through on a hard-hitting set. On "OK Chorale," Eger showcased his almost hyperactive approach to the drums, which gave the music added edge throughout the performance. The Scandinavian musician easily took the prize as the most entertaining drummer I've seen at this year's festival.

Høiby's bass anchored the music in each moment, his low-end grooves forming the nexus of the compositions. His bass lines often took the fore, not just rhythmically but also melodically. This freed up Neame to fill in the gaps with sparkling textures and beautiful flourishes on the piano.

Phronesis played frequently up-tempo, sophisticated jazz that never sounded overwrought, but struck the perfect balance between conventional and cutting-edge. The quality and complexity of Høiby's melodies -- especially on such an unwieldy instrument as the upright bass -- was consistently impressive.

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of Phronesis's music became apparent during "Rabat": there was something inherently "hard rock" about the musicianship. There was a weight to it, an unrelenting quality that carried hints of heavy metal. This band is definitely one I'll be listening to more often.

You can find Phronesis at

Upon hearing saxophonist Jeff Coffin's quintet In Orbit at Anthology, the band name seemed apropos. There was something cosmic in Coffin's solos, overflowing with energy and unfurling to the highest reaches of his instrument's register, before ripping into a dizzying flurry of notes that left the listener holding on for dear life. The use of reverb may have had something to do with the otherworldly sound. And I know I've never heard a sax filtered through a wah-wah pedal before.

As excellent as Coffin's performance was, he was outdone by his bassist, Felix Pastorius, whose chops rival that of Victor Wooten. Pastorius's playing had a glorious, liquid flow to it, up and down the fretboard.

Find In Orbit at

As the group's name suggests, the Oskar Stenmark NYC Quartet played a fusion of Swedish folk and New York City jazz. On flugelhorn, Stenmark's mellifluous tone had a warmth and honesty that was tangible. The music conjured up a cityscape at night, the glow of street lamps illuminating the silhouettes of strangers passing by.

Pianist Billy Test's performance was commanding and virtuosic, his presence a mixture of cool and majestic. There was something welcomingly laid-back about the quartet's second set at Lutheran Church of the Reformation, especially after the decidedly more frenetic concerts from Phronesis and In Orbit.

You can hear Stenmark's music at

On Friday, I'll catch Down North at the Jazz Street stage, and the Iris Bergcrantz Group, featuring Anders Bergcrantz, at the Lutheran Church.

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Jazz Fest 2017, Day 7: Ron reviews Youn Sun Nah, Manuel Valera, and The Walt Weiskopf Quartet

Posted By on Fri, Jun 30, 2017 at 4:00 AM

How did a South Korean singer with a fantastic voice end up on a Rochester, New York, stage singing Tom Waits' "Jockey Full of Bourbon" with a punk-metal vibe and earn a standing ovation and an encore?

That might have been the question on your mind if you had just arrived at the Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival from Mars. But by the time Youn Sun Nah reached the climax of her set at Harro East Ballroom, everyone knew to expect the unexpected.

The first time Sun Nah played at the XRIJF, in 2013, she was accompanied on a single acoustic guitar by Ulf Wakenius. Thursday night at Harro East Ballroom, she brought a rock band. Sun Nah stood center stage, surrounded by an organist and electric pianist with a ZZ Top-length beard, an electric guitarist, a bassist, and a drummer. Harro East is not the best room acoustically for such a large sound, but Sun Nah vocals cannot be diminished by a sound system.

Sun Nah is the definition of a world musician. Her repertoire is from all over, and her stylistic range spans the musical world. She used her other-worldly voice on tunes ranging from "A Sailor's Life," a traditional song made popular by Fairport Convention, to a Jimi Hendrix song, "Drifting." Where Hendrix might have held, twisted, and turned the last note on his guitar, Sun Nah did it with her voice, reaching high into what appeared to be the fourth octave of her range. It was stunning.

It was a totally different experience than the first time I heard her but I left saying the same word: wow!

You can find Youn Sun Nah's music at

Earlier in the evening I saw one of my favorite pianists, Manuel Valera in a solo concert at Hatch Hall. Valera was born in Cuba, and the island still occupies a giant place in his music. Early in the set he played an evocative original tune, "Water," based on growing up near the ocean. A few tunes later he played a beautiful Cuban bolero.

Later, Valera played a particularly gorgeous, mysteriously familiar tune. Only afterward did he reveal that he'd grown up playing classical music but was very reluctant to play it in public. He had just played an improvisation-filled version of Chopin's second nocturne for the first time in front of an audience. Other highlights of the set included a sprightly rendition of Thelonious Monk's "Ask Me Now."

Find more about Manuel Valera at

The Walt Weiskopf Quartet filled the Xerox Auditorium with Weiskopf's muscular saxophone and his bandmates' excellent accompaniment on piano, bass, and drums. Weiskopf is particularly good at writing classic jazz tunes, the kind with great, catchy heads and strong chord patterns to improvise over. He and his band took off on strong solos on every tune.

Go to for more on the band.

Friday night, I'll begin with one of the most highly anticipated concerts of the XRIJF: 4 By Monk By 4 with pianists Kenny Barron, Benny Green, Cyrus Chestnut, and George Cables at Kilbourn Hall. Then I'll check out one more pianist, Ariel Pocock, at Hatch Hall before heading over to Xerox Auditorium to hear singer Tessa Souter.

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