Thursday, June 27, 2019

Jazz Fest 2019, Day 6: Frank reviews Funknut, Jeff Goldblum & The Mildred Snitzer Orchestra, and Kandace Springs

Posted By on Thu, Jun 27, 2019 at 1:26 AM

According to CITY music writer Frank De Blase, Jeff Goldblum and The Mildred Snitzer Orchestra didn't quite live up to expectations during its Wednesday, June 26 performance at Kodak Hall. - PHOTO BY MARTIN  KAUFMAN
  • PHOTO BY MARTIN KAUFMAN
  • According to CITY music writer Frank De Blase, Jeff Goldblum and The Mildred Snitzer Orchestra didn't quite live up to expectations during its Wednesday, June 26 performance at Kodak Hall.
Some ups, some downs, some smiles, some frowns, some heart palpitations. So here goes:

Funk-tastic

Rochester’s Funknut is funky beyond belief, and at its early set at the Fusion Stage, the band wielded its instruments in a brazen display of a groovy threat. These cats were funkier than a porta-potty at a chili cook-off as they inspired all manner of dancing and hip-shakin’ to and fro. It was tight and outta sight. All right?

Here comes the letdown

Jeff Goldblum & The Mildred Snitzer Orchestra proved to be a bit of a letdown. I was really bummed, to be honest. I’d been talking up his album and this show so much, you’d think I had an agenda. But being the consummate performer he is, I was dismayed to see him play to the cheap seats. And I’m a lobrow kinda guy.

Goldblum first stumbled out onto the stage as if he’d landed into the wrong room, promising to be back soon after John Nugent — the Abbott to Goldblum’s Costello — dragged him backstage to get ready.

But he was already dressed in zebra-print pants, a silk print shirt and topped it off with a black fedora and horn-rimmed cheaters. He played two songs. Then he started quizzing the audience about local points of pride like the white hot and — yup, you guessed it — that culinary gem that is our cross to bear, the garbage plate.


                                                                                                                                                                 VIDEO BY MARTIN  KAUFMAN

Things just went downhill from there. The audience was shouting over each other. and when he did begin to play it wasn’t half-bad. He is an accomplished piano player and the band was swingingly cool, except for the fact that the drummer’s rack tom kept threatening to feed back with every strike he made. Boom boom boom. He kept whacking it unaware. Boom boom boom. Where was the bloody soundman? BOOM BOOM  BOOM. It was like the Tell-Tale Heart. BOOM BOOM BOOM  BOOM  BOOM BOOM BOOM. It drove me nuts, so I split.

I had high hopes for this show. Hell, I thought he was spearheading a new movement in cocktail jazz culture. It could have started here tonight, but alas, it did not.

Relief

I was hoping Kandace Springs could fix my mood.

Bingo.

By the time Kandace Springs went into an Oscar Peterson interlude during her late show at the Temple Building Theater, I had calmed down some. By the time she breathed “The Nearness of You” into our ears there was that “boom boom boom” again. She strummed our pain with her fingers. She reminded me of Sade. She had me vacate the joint with a smile.

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Jazz Fest 2019, Day 6: Ron reviews Harold Danko, Ian Shaw, Lionel Loueke & Raul Midón

Posted By on Thu, Jun 27, 2019 at 12:36 AM

Lionel Loueke performed at Kilbourn Hall on Wednesday, June 26 as part of the 2019 CGI Rochester International Jazz Festival. - PHOTO BY JOSH SAUNDERS
  • PHOTO BY JOSH SAUNDERS
  • Lionel Loueke performed at Kilbourn Hall on Wednesday, June 26 as part of the 2019 CGI Rochester International Jazz Festival.
A rich jazz legacy

On Wednesday night at Hatch Recital Hall, Harold Danko played one of the finest concerts I’ve heard at the festival this year. It feels funny to call his opening tune, “To Start Again,” a “tune.” It was so packed with musical ideas, it was more like a jazz sonata. He played works like this for the entire hour. They were intricate compositions that allowed for improvisation, but they were also highly structured — with all the complexity of classical works. And there wasn’t a sheet of music in sight.

I’m not sure Danko played works from every decade, but the oldest piece he played was written when he was in college in the 1970’s. He told brief stories about the works, usually explaining the titles. You could feel the kind of experimental spirit he’s had through the years. At one point, as I watched his hands fly over the keys, I wrote down “symmetrical playing.” After he finished the tune, he confirmed that he was working with “symmetrical piano.”

There are many young players at the festival, bringing on new ideas and influences to keep the music evolving. But there is something profound about hearing the variety of musical experimentation and creativity that can only happen over a long career.

Reality breaks in

The picture was everywhere Wednesday: the unspeakably heartbreaking image of a father and daughter face-down in the Rio Grande. After some humorous songs, and some joking asides about how rough things are in his native England as well as in the United States, Ian Shaw got serious at Christ Church. He introduced a song about a refugee he got to know, who now lives in London. He dedicated the song, “Keep Walking,” the best tune of his set, to the father and daughter, Oscar and Valeria.

Shaw is like a jazz version of Elton John. With a huge voice and excellent piano-playing skills, he specializes in taking familiar pop songs — like Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock” and Jimmy Webb’s “Wichita Lineman” — and giving them a pretty hardcore jazz treatment. He doesn’t just do variations on the tunes, he all but rewrites the melodies. One of the best of these was his treatment of Leonard Cohen’s “Dance Me to the End Of Love.”

Alone, not together

When I saw that two great musicians, Lionel Loueke & Raul Midón, were playing together at Kilbourn Hall, I assumed they would be playing together. One of the most fascinating aspects of music is the kinetic energy that flows between musicians from different backgrounds as they play off each other.

But for most of the concert, Loueke played his songs solo and Midón played his songs solo. Not a whole lot of chemistry there, but there were highlights, like when Midón sang his excellent song “Pedal to the Metal,” reminding us of his distinctive percussive guitar style and soulful voice.

Thursday evening I can’t wait to hear former Miles Davis sideman George Coleman perform with his quartet at Kilbourn Hall, 6 and 9 p.m. I’m also going to check out the keyboardist Gary Versace with multi-instrumentalist Scott Robinson at Hatch Recital Hall, at 5:45 and 7:45 p.m. and the world music group Elda Trio at Christ Church, performing at 6:45 and 8:45 p.m.

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Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Jazz Fest 2019, Day 5: Frank reviews ‘Nat King Cole at 100’ with Paul Marinaro and Marc Cohn & the Blind Boys of Alabama

Posted By on Wed, Jun 26, 2019 at 1:55 AM

Marc Cohn and Blind Boys of Alabama gave a phenomenal collaborative performance on Tuesday, June 25 at Eastman Theatre's Kodak Hall. - PHOTO BY JOSH SAUNDERS
  • PHOTO BY JOSH SAUNDERS
  • Marc Cohn and Blind Boys of Alabama gave a phenomenal collaborative performance on Tuesday, June 25 at Eastman Theatre's Kodak Hall.
Songs fit for a King

Everything on Day 5 of the jazz festival was wonderfully copacetic, but I got to wondering: Do these tribute shows or centennial shows like SNJO’s salute to Art Blakey or  “Nat King Cole at 100,” performed by Paul Marinaro, go out on tour already put together or…? Wouldn’t it be cool if they got thrown together on the spot. I know I’m a bit of an instigator — I’m just sayin’.

Marinaro’s set was a reverent and informative one, interspersed with tidbits about Nat King Cole’s life. And although Marinaro didn’t sound like a carbon copy of the legendary crooner, Marinaro sang the songs the way they were supposed to be sung. Of course, he performed “Unforgettable,” but he also dug into lesser-known gems like “That’s All” and “Sweet Lorraine.” Marinaro also offered up some nascent political jabs directed at the president on the sad-but-funny-and-true song “That Voice.” Marinaro ended the performance appropriately enough with Duke Ellington’s “Caravan.”

A spiritual experience

The second thing on my mind was the performance of the Blind Boys of Alabama. Their show with Marc Cohn was nothing short of phenomenal, and the audience roared its approval thunderously. When a song warranted an ovation, folks got up on their feet. But how could the quartet know? Short of out-and-out telling them, is there something we, the sighted, could do to let them know how truly moved we were?

From the moment the Blind Boys of Alabama joined Marc Cohn on stage you knew it was gonna be special. It was a journey through gospel tunes and Cohn’s material which, though it didn't proclaim to be gospel, was certainly spiritual. And Cohn was a generous host and band leader, giving the Blind Boys more than a few times at bat.

The group heaped love on Cohn’s songs as if they were their own. And to answer my own question from earlier in this post, when the crowd hit their feet, the Blind Boys of Alabama knew it. They just had to.

Tomorrow night I’ll be hangin’ with the smart set to see Kandace Springs at the Temple Building Theater and Jeff Goldblum & the Mildred Snitzer Orchestra at Kodak Hall. Until then, adios.

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Jazz Fest 2019, Day 5: Jeff reviews VickiKristinaBarcelona and Ozmosys

Posted By on Wed, Jun 26, 2019 at 12:12 AM

VickiKristinaBarcelona returned to Rochester with the music of Tom Waits on Tuesday, June 25 as part of  the 2019 CGI Rochester International Jazz Festival. - PHOTO BY MARTIN  KAUFMAN
  • PHOTO BY MARTIN KAUFMAN
  • VickiKristinaBarcelona returned to Rochester with the music of Tom Waits on Tuesday, June 25 as part of the 2019 CGI Rochester International Jazz Festival.
Interpreting the music of a beautiful beast

The music-noir trio VickiKristinaBarcelona tames the beast with beauty.

The beast in question is the gruff, hardscrabble world of Tom Waits. The trio charmed the Rochester International Jazz Festival last year, returned to Rochester for a show in January at The Little Theatre, and was back at it Tuesday at Geva Theatre Center’s Wilson Stage.

To some ears, Waits is an acquired taste. To other ears, he writes some of the roughest — and most beautiful — lyrics and melodies of the day. And when VickiKristinaBarcelona strips away Waits’ bark, that beauty becomes all the more evident.

The trio is Terry Radigan on guitar, Rachelle Garniez on accordion and concertina, and Amanda Homi on a skeletal drum kit with lots of extras — including shakers on her ankles and a boxy bellows instrument, the harmonium. The musicians sport natty hats and outfits that make them look like character actors in a Bogart film. But it’s the voices that captivate: three-part harmonies, with the women trading lines within each song with perfectly matched vocals.

                                                                                                                                                                 VIDEO BY MARTIN KAUFMAN

They opened with Waits’ “Clap Hands” – these are all Waits songs – done ostensibly a cappella with the exception, of course, of their setting the rhythm with clapping hands. Then there was the menacing “Yesterday Is Here,” voices soaring like ghosts calling out, as well as “Way Down in the Hole” and “Walking Spanish” — with VickiKristinaBarcelona charming away Waits’ death rattle of a man being choked to death.

And then there are the songs that are inherently beautiful: “Jersey Girl,” “Hold On,” “You’re Innocent When You Dream” and the jaunty “I Don’t Want to Grow Up.”

These are gorgeous, cinematic songs, Homi said. “We all have our films that we see.”

Today’s jazz haiku

Beauty and the beast
A tango with the devil
Safety in a dream

Ozmosys by osmosis

Ozmosys is feeling the labor pains. But soon, this fall, it’ll be the birth of a new band.

The group is drummer Omar Hakim’s baby. “We’re almost done,” he told the Temple Building Theater crowd about the debut album, to be called “Eyes to the Future.”

The quartet is notable. The genre-restless Hakim has worked with Miles Davis, Davie Bowie, Weather Report, Madonna, and Daft Punk. Guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel has been with Gary Burton and Eric Clapton, and produced a handful of his own albums. Bassist Linley Marthe played with Joe Zawinul. Keyboardist Rachel Z has been with Steps Ahead and Peter Gabriel, and has released her own albums as well.

So that’s a pedigreed lineup. What is Hakim doing with it?

He’s turning them loose and building it naturally, Ozmosys by osmosis. That’s a powerful rhythm section, machine-like on some songs. Everyone seems to be contributing to the writing. But it is evolving into a vehicle for Rachel Z. Her keyboards, synthesizers and effects are what define the sound; when she took a breather from playing, she was even using her phone to take photos of the band. And she’s a counterpoint: one of her compositions opened with lush synthesizers and a rain of Hakim’s cymbals.

There’s an urge to say, “Oh, that’s so retro.” And also, “Oh, that’s so contemporary.” We shall see.

Day Six: Jeff’s picks

The night’s Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre is Jeff Goldblum & the Mildred Snitzer Orchestra, starting at 8 p.m. Goldblum has made a fine acting career out of being chased by Jurassic dinosaurs. But on “The Capitol Record Sessions,” the debut album he released last year with The Mildred Snitzer Orchestra (don’t look too hard, the band’s named after an old family friend), he seems like a fine player of standards and a master of stage banter.

Lionel Loueke and Raul Midon, 6 and 9 p.m., Kilbourn Hall. Both men have played the fest in past years, but not with each other. Loueke — a native of the West African country Benin — and Midon bring a wide range of skills to the stage, beyond their guitars.

Under One Sun, 6 and 10 p.m., The Wilder Room. Eight musicians from three continents, including Jamey Haddad, who has been a percussionist with Paul Simon for two decades. The bassist should look familiar: Roberto Occhipinti often finds his way to the jazz fest with one band or another. There’s a world-music feel to this jazz.

Kandace Springs, 7 and 9:15 p.m., Temple Building Theatre. Springs is a singer and pianist from Nashville, the home of country music, but her sound is all soul and jazz. She’s certainly a contemporary soul, having recorded hip-hop with Wu Tang Clan’s Ghostface Killah. But her restrained style might be better reflected in a cover of Roberta Flack’s “The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face,” a song Prince first asked her to perform.

On Wednesday night, I’ll be in search of old-time American roots music with Tamar Korn & A Kornucopia at The Montage Music Hall and Vilray at Geva Theatre Center’s Fielding Stage.

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Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Jazz Fest 2019, Day 5: Ron reviews Harold Mabern, Trish Clowes My Iris, and MIkkel Ploug Trio

Posted By on Tue, Jun 25, 2019 at 11:42 PM

Trish Clowes My Iris indulged in the dissonance at Christ Church, Tuesday, June 25, as part of the 2019 CGI Rochester International Jazz Festival. - PHOTO BY JOSH SAUNDERS
  • PHOTO BY JOSH SAUNDERS
  • Trish Clowes My Iris indulged in the dissonance at Christ Church, Tuesday, June 25, as part of the 2019 CGI Rochester International Jazz Festival.
The language of the piano

One of the great things about the Rochester International Jazz Festival is the opportunities it has offered over the years to hear members of the greatest generation of jazz players. Sonny Rollins, Oscar Peterson, Dave Brubeck — they’ve all been here, along with several more legends. Harold Mabern belongs to that generation and he spoke fondly about many of his contemporaries — including John Coltrane, Clifford Brown and Hank Jones — Tuesday night at Hatch Recital Hall.

But, after seven decades in jazz, Mabern spoke brilliantly in another language: piano. He played Hatch’s Steinway with a fluency that could only be achieved through a long, complicated relationship with the instrument. Mabern’s vocabulary consisted not only of impossibly fast runs interspersed with well-placed chords, but also an absolute mastery of dynamics. His range of emphasis was broad, making for gorgeously emotional passages. His ability to handle wildly disparate melodies with his right and left hands simultaneously was nothing short of breathtaking.

Mabern’s repertoire included his own composition, “There But for the Grace of,” a tune he said came to him while he was walking through Grand Central Station. He also played standards like Irving Berlin’s “The Girl That I Marry,” Ray Noble’s “Cherokee,” and Brown’s “Daahoud.” He topped it all with a grand finale, improvising extensively on Coltrane’s adaptation of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein’s “My Favorite Things.”

Mabern plays with his trio at 6:15 and 10 p.m. Wednesday at Max of Eastman Place. He’ll also be at the piano at 6 and 9 p.m. on Thursday at Kilbourn Hall, as part of the George Coleman Quartet.

Dissonant by design

When Trish Clowes My Iris began to play at Christ Church, there were guttural growls coming from Clowes’ saxophone. On the first two tunes, it seemed like it was every player for him and herself. Even though there was sheet music on the stands, rather than playing together, guitarist Chris Montague, organist Ross Stanley, drummer James Maddren, and Clowes seemed to be playing against each other.

And then, on the third tune, suddenly there was melody, harmony — a united front. There was wonderful interplay between the members of the quartet. More dissonance came on other tunes, and then there was more harmony on Clowes’ tune “If.” Dissonance can, of course, be used effectively. But to my ears, this did not fit that description. Maybe it was the church’s acoustics — not designed for amplification — that contributed to the seemingly rough passages, but I believe all of it was intentional.

Progressive guitar progressions

Guitarist Mikkel Ploug played a fine set of originals with his trio at the Lutheran Church. His guitar style was reminiscent of Pat Metheny, adventurous but not too “out there,” featuring high-register notes and clear-as-a-bell tone. He often began by laying out the intriguing chord pattern underlying the tune before he began improvising. Sometimes those chords would reappear between runs. Midway through his set, Ploug engaged in a different kind of fusion, playing two classical pieces by contemporary Danish composer Bent Sørenson on the electric guitar.

Wednesday I’ll begin with guitarist Lionel Loueke and singer-guitarist Raul Midon at Kilbourn Hall. I’ll also check out the British singer Ian Shaw at Christ Church and pianist Harold Danko at Hatch Hall.

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Jazz Fest 2019, Day 4: Frank reviews The Willows, Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio, and Bria Skonberg

Posted By on Tue, Jun 25, 2019 at 1:33 AM

The Delvon Lamarr  Organ Trio played it good 'n' hot at the Squeezers Stage on Monday, June 24, as part of the 2019 CGI Rochester International Jazz Festival. - PHOTO BY JOSH SAUNDERS
  • PHOTO BY JOSH SAUNDERS
  • The Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio played it good 'n' hot at the Squeezers Stage on Monday, June 24, as part of the 2019 CGI Rochester International Jazz Festival.

Bria Skonberg. Yup, Bria Skonberg. I was just gonna type her name here a few thousand times. But even that would leave a hole that needs explaining. Let’s talk about the music of other artists I witnessed on Monday night first.

Angelic splendor

The Willows
 arrived at Max of Eastman Place as if descending on a cloud. These three young Canadian ladies had me at “Bonjour,” and I was enamored of their sound already, just from the records I’d spun and the videos I’d found on their website.

They were charming and down-to-earth, but don’t include their voices in that analogy. Their pipes were nothing short of angelic splendor and spectacle, as they spun around each other with a blast of vintage voodoo.

I particularly liked when they paused between numbers to explain why they didn’t pause between numbers. They pulled out some Andrews Sisters, so we know they knew what’s what. The majority of the selections they performed were theirs, along with some post-Lindy Hop boogie woogie they had up their sleeves and in their shoes.

The Willows will perform again on Tuesday at The Montage Music Hall, at 6 and 10 p.m.


Loud and proud

Over yonder, I squeezed into the Squeezer’s tent for some of Seattle’s loud and proud Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio. The guitar playing prevalently used a“Rainbow Bridge” style, complete with stretched string dive-bombing and screaming feedback. Lamarr was perched at the B-3, but seemed to take on more of a role in the rhythm section, rather than fronting the whole affair. I would have preferred more pumping organ rather than shredding guitar, though it really was good ’n’ hot.

The storyteller

I can’t tell at all where Bria Skonberg derives more of her joy from: singing or trumpeting. She did sing a lot more than on her previous visit. On this night, she let her voice tell the story, and it was one of beauty and heartache, but not without plenty of brassy fun.

She would sing a few bars, establish pace, grab her trumpet, and dive in with the rest of her most excellent outfit. The highlight this entire week for me will be her breathtaking take on Duke Ellington’s “Mood Indigo.” Bria Skonberg was the most, to say the least.

For those of you who still appreciate my advice, check out Paul Marinaro as he salutes Nat King Cole’s 100th birthday at Kilbourn Hall, as well as Mark Cohn & the Blind Boys of Alabama at Kodak Hall.

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Jazz Fest 2019, Day 4: Jeff reviews Enemy and Paa Kow

Posted By on Tue, Jun 25, 2019 at 12:49 AM

Paa Kow's Monday, June 24 jazz festival performance at The Montage Music Hall was heavy on percussion. - PHOTO BY JOSH SAUNDERS
  • PHOTO BY JOSH SAUNDERS
  • Paa Kow's Monday, June 24 jazz festival performance at The Montage Music Hall was heavy on percussion.

Embracing the uncomfortable


When a band climbs onstage, a trio wearing all black, you will soon discover one truth.

There are many shades of black.

Cavernous Christ Church can make a band look and sound like trolls scuffling through a shadowy cavern. Enemy overcame that through sheer virtuosity during its first set Monday night at the CGI Rochester International Jazz Festival. First the thrum of Frans Petter Eldh’s bass. Then Kit Downes reaches into the depths of his piano to elicit a new language from the strings. Drummer James Maddren is a timekeeper from many dimensions.

This is the kind of band that audiences might fear. Because the unfamiliar is uncomfortable, isn’t it? This is not Paul Marinaro celebrating the 100th birthday of Nat King Cole Tuesday night at Kilbourn. It’s more like when, after seeing Girls in Airports Friday night at Lutheran Church of the Reformation, a woman said to me: “What was that all about?”

Sometimes you don’t need an answer. Enemy only poses questions. The British trio comes together, then scatters. Tempos change: slow, fast, slow, fast. Now restrained, Maddren using brushes to hush, we’re listening for that common thread between the musicians. And there it is… then gone. No, it’s over there! Minimalist taps on snare drums and cymbals, then sudden intensity.

Swinging from a light breeze to the very definition of cacophony. Dichotomy, that’s Enemy. A song title gives away the game: “Children With Torches.” Downes explains how another song is inspired by Maddren’s hometown of Croydon, just outside of London, “a gray, brutalist part of the world. And a part of that is beauty.”

Ominous, then beauty. Enemy understands what it has just put its audience through. Eldh went to the microphone before the final song and admitted that this arrhythmia is not for everyone: “Thanks for understanding.”

Today’s jazz haiku

Bathed in pale blue light
subterranean echoes
boundaries broken

Electrical dysfunction

Paa Kow was the talk of the fest after its first show at The Montage Music Hall. An eight-piece, multiracial band, led by Ghana native Paa Kow, the band returned to the packed club for its second performance with three sets of drums up front, congas, and what looked like a few drums that had floated ashore and were hand decorated, including one the size of a small jet engine pointed right at the audience.

The band was a groove machine — with horns, electric guitar and bass and keyboards, a shaker the size of a basketball with a skirt of beads that rattled when you beat on it, plus a little cowbell and whistle. Paa Kow even dropped a little philosophy on the crowd, describing how we all had to work together; you need the left hand to wash the right side of your body, and the right hand to wash the left side. World peace as a hygiene lesson.

Then a loud pop as the band finished a song. The onstage electricity was gone, and the band walked off the stage. As it turns out, there was a water main break in the basement, affecting the entire building, and the knee-high flood had finally caught up to a circuit breaker. Indeed, pumps were working to clear the basement as the crowd filed out, with hoses on the sidewalk draining water into the street.
The Montage expects to be ready for Tuesday’s shows with The Willows at 6 and 10 p.m.

Day Five: Jeff’s picks

Marc Cohn & the Blind Boys of Alabama headline the 8 p.m. Tuesday concert at Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre. Tickets are still available. By the way, Friday’s George Benson show at the venue is sold out.

VickiKristinaBarcelona, 5:30 and 7:30 p.m., Geva Theatre Center’sFielding Stage. This trio of women were one of the captivating acts at last year’s fest, with their interpretations of Tom Waits’ songs. They were back in January for a packed show at The Little Theatre. It’ll be all Waits again.

Nat King Cole at 100 with Paul Marinaro, 6 and 9 p.m., Kilbourn Hall. You’re singing Nat King Cole? You better be good. This Chicago singer sounds up to the job.

Ozmosys, 7 and 9:15 p.m., Temple Building Theater. Omar Hakim, Rachel Z, Linley Marthe and Kurt Rosenwinkel. I gotta stop using the word “supergroup.”

On Tuesday, I’ll be at VickiKristinaBarcelona and Ozmosys. And if I can find a half hour to stick my head in Eastman Theatre for Marc Cohn & the Blind Boys of Alabama, that’s another night where dichotomy is the operative word.

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Jazz Fest 2019, Day 4: Ron reviews Cyro Baptista, Adam Ben Ezra, and Kari Ikonen

Posted By on Tue, Jun 25, 2019 at 12:16 AM

Double bassist Adam Ben Ezra's performance on Monday, June 24 at the 2019 CGI Rochester International Jazz Festival was practically orchestral. - PHOTO BY MARTIN  KAUFMAN
  • PHOTO BY MARTIN KAUFMAN
  • Double bassist Adam Ben Ezra's performance on Monday, June 24 at the 2019 CGI Rochester International Jazz Festival was practically orchestral.

The beat goes on


Cyro Baptista was a combination of Frank Zappa and George Clinton all rolled up into one mad Brazilian percussionist at Geva Theatre Center’s Wilson Stage on Monday night. In a furry yellow hat, Baptista ruled the stage with a table full of objects in front of him. With cymbals to the right and plumbing pipes to the left, Baptista gravitated from one “instrument” to the next.

Those “instruments” included miniature fans, a crazy group of strings holding a mass of colorful balls, and a megaphone. The plumbing pipes provided a highlight when a tune was coaxed out of them using small paddles. Baptista’s bandmates, who he said were playing together for the first time, were all excellent.

There were wonderfully wild accordion and guitar solos, ranging from slinky James Brown funk to machine-gun Dick Dale picking. Baptista told jokes, danced, sang in a growling manner, and played everything in sight — including the audience, which happily supplied waves of clapping on the final tune.

Ace of bass

Over the last half-century, the bass has gained prominence as a spotlight instrument because of greats like Stanley Clarke, Jaco Pastorius and Victor Wooten. But all of them made their names with electric basses. Well, move over for Adam Ben Ezra and his double bass. Last night at Hatch Recital Hall, the Israeli bassist had the audience spellbound.


                                                                                                                                                                  VIDEO BY MARTIN KAUFMAN

Aside from his bass, Ben Ezra had a keyboard/drum machine, piano, harmonica, computer, two pedalboards, his voice, and a flute (which he never touched). Most of his tunes were multilayered, employing much of the above.

He would typically play a bass line, have that riff continue while he added percussion, have both of those behind a series of strums or arco playing, and keep building until he had a symphony of samples going. He played his pedalboards like an orchestra conductor, bringing in and dropping out parts at will. It was basically an exercise in counterpoint. Imagine Pachelbel’s Canon with every part playing at once.

I preferred the few times when Ben Ezra only played bass, because it was such a tour de force combination of virtuosic playing and hand percussion. These two elements were so intertwined that tonal phrases were completed with percussion and vice-versa.

Ben Ezra plays again Tuesday at 6:30 and 8:30 p.m. at Geva Theatre Center’s Fielding Stage.

Impressionistic strokes

After all of that wildness, Kari Ikonen provided a more subtle conclusion to my evening. Most of his compositions started lightly and built gradually until the piano, bass and drums were going at full throttle. But there were no catchy heads or even concrete melodies; Ikonen’s tunes were more impressionistic, with clusters of notes filling the aural soundscape.

Tuesday night I’m looking forward to hearing jazz legend Harold Mabern play solo piano at Hatch Recital Hall. I’m also anxious to hear saxophonist Trish Clowes at Christ Church and Danish guitarist Mikkel Ploug at the Lutheran Church.

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Monday, June 24, 2019

Jazz Fest 2019, Day 3: Jeff reviews the Campbell Brothers and Circus No. 9

Posted By on Mon, Jun 24, 2019 at 1:24 AM

The Campbell Brothers brought church to the Squeezers Stage at the 2019 CGI Rochester International Jazz Festival on Sunday, June 23. - PHOTO BY DANIEL J. KUSHNER
  • PHOTO BY DANIEL J. KUSHNER
  • The Campbell Brothers brought church to the Squeezers Stage at the 2019 CGI Rochester International Jazz Festival on Sunday, June 23.
A kind of church

Rochester’s sacred-steel gospel stars, the Campbell Brothers, parted ways with the House of God because the Pentecostal church wanted to keep the music within its walls. The Campbells wanted to take the sound to the world. It was a difficult decision for the Campbells, but jazz festivals throughout this country and Europe have been richly rewarded — the CGI Rochester International Jazz Festival included.

So it was church for believers and heathens alike on Sunday night at the Squeezers Stage @ M&T Pavilion, on Parcel 5 — although it did take a while for the Campbells to properly loosen up their congregation. “We call this kind of music ‘Jump for joy,’ ” Phillip Campbell told the crowd of several hundred in the tent late in the second of two sets. And with that, the Campbells leapt into “Don’t Let the Devil Ride,” which did get the folks up and out of their seats, waving their arms and jumping for joy.

Yes, the Campbell Brothers are of the church. But they open their arms wide, with the three brothers – Phillip on electric guitar, Chuck on pedal steel and Darick on lap steel – welcoming ears of all faiths. It’s no wonder The Allman Brothers would welcome one or more of the Campbells onstage whenever the venerable southern rockers passed through Western New York.

In fact, with a rhythm section consisting of Phillip’s son Carlton on drums and bassist Daric Bennett, the Campbell’s opening number, “Wade in the Water,” sounded more like a rock anthem than the classic spiritual that it is. They brought out singer Denise Brown for the stomping groove of “I Ain’t Gonna Cry No More,” and then again on “Hell No Heaven Yes.” Chuck had his pedal steel talking in the signature whine of the sacred steel, mimicking the human voice, as Brown gave it the hands down for hell, hands raised for heaven. Phil leapt to his feet – the Campbells Brothers are generally seated while they play – and strutted across the stage, before clapping along in rhythm as his brothers’ instruments talked back and forth to one another.

“Amazing Grace” had more pedal-steel chatter, and then a break from the format — as the festival’s co-producer Marc Iacona was summoned to the stage with his trumpet for the classic blues of Miles Davis’ “So What.”

Perhaps next time, the Campbells will bring out the latest project they’re working on. A version of Bruce Springsteen’s “We Take Care of Our Own,” which they’re recording for a Philadelphia group assembling a benefit for veterans and first responders.

Today’s jazz haiku

Notes spiral upward
Atheists break down in tears
God’s groove in the sky

Circus maximus

Circus No. 9 hits many of the traditional bluegrass tropes. Seems like I heard the word “sorrow” a couple of times during the Tennessee band’s first show at Geva Theater Center’s Fielding Stage.
But what about when Matthew Davis with his banjo, and Thomas Cassell with his mandolin, left the stage for a few minutes, leaving us with just guitarist Ben Garnett’s spidery string-raking and double-bassist Vince Ilagan’s solo? That was jazz, I swear.
Despite the frequent doses of sorrow, the songwriting often deviates from traditional bluegrass subject matter. Circus No. 9 writes about disappearing into your headphones. The band members are virtuosos, and they play like they came out of a music school rather than off of a porch. Circus No. 9 drifts from laid-back cool to railway grooves. What’s with Ilagan’s bowed bass? That’s chamber-music stuff.
Circus No. 9 is a band of young overachievers who have you thinking: I’ve wasted my life in pursuit of treasure and sexual partners. Look at these guys: They’re just happy to be bluegrass musicians.

Day Four: Jeff’s picks

Paa Kow, 6 and 10 p.m., The Montage Music Hall. Upbeat, percussion-heavy polyrhythms from Ghana. This sounds like a party.
Djabe, 8:30 and 10 p.m., Big Tent. The Hungarian band’s fourth visit to the fest. It’s worldly jazz with some exotic instruments. The festival’s co-producer John Nugent usually shows up with his sax.
Bria Skonberg, 6 and 9 p.m., Kilbourn Hall. Skonberg plays trumpet and sings – not at the same time – with big energy. Behind those smoke-laden vocals, her songs address topical issues such as civil rights and a world oversaturated by media, which means I stop writing right here.

I’m planning on hitting the shows by Paa Kow and Enemy, a trio whose members are based in London and Berlin, playing what sounds like some maddeningly crazy rhythms at Christ Church.

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Jazz Fest 2019, Day 3: Frank reviews Stefon Harris & Blackout, Over the Rhine, and Michael Winograd & The Honorable Mentshn

Posted By on Mon, Jun 24, 2019 at 12:31 AM

Over the Rhine gave a moving performance at Geva Theatre Center on Sunday, June 23 as part of the 2019 CGI Rochester International Jazz Festival. - PHOTO BY KATIE EPNER
  • PHOTO BY KATIE EPNER
  • Over the Rhine gave a moving performance at Geva Theatre Center on Sunday, June 23 as part of the 2019 CGI Rochester International Jazz Festival.

In memory of Jack Allen


I am dedicating this blog entry and all those to follow this week to the memory of Rochester big band leader and trumpeter Jack Allen. Allen passed away peacefully Saturday. He was 93. Check out this story we did on Allen back in 2005. R.I.P., big daddy.

Like a cool breeze

The drummer called dibs on Kilbourn Hall at the early set from Stefon Harris & Blackout. The whole band was in Harris’s pocket and connected at the hip and heart. Harris shot dynamic slings and arrows on the vibraphone, and the band caught and emphasized them back in return. It was a fair fight.

Toward the end of the set, the capable saxophonist took up what looked at first like a cross between a fluorescent light bulb and a flute. He talked into it and it came out sounding like auto-tune (yuck), but more futuristic and tolerable as he went on in a beeline to the future. It grew on you.

As the star of the show, Harris was blinding one minute, introspective the next. You could almost feel the mallet-induced wind emanating from the stage like a cool breeze. He gave a thrill when he asked audience members to shout out random notes. Mine was B-flat, by the way. He proceeded to riff elegantly with just those notes as if it were a card trick.

Over the moon

I walked what felt like 40 miles next to Geva Theatre Center. It was like walking toward the sun — it never seemed to get any closer. It was worth the hassle, this traverse through zip codes, to hear Over the Rhine.

                                                                                                                                                                                VIDEO BY KATIE EPNER

The band was a magnetic, poetic tapestry that wrung tears from those who could feel. The three-part harmonies were luxurious, and the atmospheric slide guitar painted big sky vistas. Over the Rhine had fans over the moon, where the dish ran away with the spoon. Wood and wire poured together. Pretty effing amazing.

What’s so fun about klezmer is that it doesn't take itself too seriously. Walking into the Big Tent, I felt underdressed for the wedding. Michael Winograd & The Honorable Mentshn had the room in high gear with their rather onomatopoeia-esque toots and bleats and crashes. That and a frozen custard from Abbott’s, and I was done, son. Until another exciting adventure. Mazel tov.

Tomorrow I’ll be at the Willows’ show at Max of Eastman Place, Bria Skonberg's gig at Kilbourn Hall, and the Devon Lamarr Organ Trio's performance at the M&T Pavilion - Squeezers Stage. “Say goodnight, Gracie.”

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