Friday, December 14, 2018

The F Word: Censor-esque

Posted By on Fri, Dec 14, 2018 at 11:36 AM

In this world of political constriction, there are words we can no longer say. And the fact that we never should have used them to begin with is lost on some folks.

There are phrases that embody racism, sexism, abuse, and hate. And there's no getting around it. We consider some words so insidious that we only refer to them with the letter they begin with. You know: the F-word, the N-word,the C-word, and so on. However, spewing these abbreviated words is cheating and just causes the listener to say it in his or her head, thus defeating the purpose of trying to clean things up. It's rather peculiar. I bet if you approached a woman and said, "Hey, C-word," you'd wake up with a crowd standing around you and a mouthful of loose teeth.

I'm not advocating censorship, no. I just want to keep you aware of what you're saying and the origin of the words or phrases you use to frame it. Some words aren't outwardly hurtful; take, for instance, the avocado.

The Aztecs considered the avocado an aphrodisiac and called it "ahuacatl," which means "testicle." Come on and have a ball.

I've had the pleasure as a music critic to write about music I love, like gypsy jazz. But wait: that's a slight at the expense of the Romani people. Known mostly as a nomadic race in Europe, the Romani were mistakenly thought to have first come from Egypt, and have been unfairly characterized as swindlers and thieves. Not to impugn his work, but as much as I've written about Django Reinhardt and his ilk, I've always referred to the music as gypsy jazz. So from here on out, I'll be referring to gy--(there's that word again) as being Django-esque.

And I've got a feeling that the PC police have their eyes on the phrase "girl group." Since we're on an "-esque" kick, how about "estrogen-esque"? I'm not sure it'll translate with punk and metal, though.

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Wednesday, October 24, 2018

The F Word: Now I Wanna Be Your Cat

Posted By on Wed, Oct 24, 2018 at 4:00 AM

Rocco, the cat who let's me live in his house, talks a lot for a cat.

He chirps, chortles, meows, and yows between extended naps. And I respond, which leads to a cross-phylum kind of conversation of his meowing and my matter-of-fact patter. I refuse, however, to speak to him in baby talk. I treat him as my equal, even though there are things I can do that he can't, and vice versa. I'm not flexible enough to lick my own ass.

But back to the baby/pet talk. I recently had a first-hand baby talk experience at a check-up with the vet the other day for Rocco and his sister Dixie. Rocco was surprisingly timid, and the vet was very sweet, with an abundance of affirmations: "There, there," "Aww," and "What a good boy." The thing is, when explaining to me and my wife what she was doing during the exam, she didn't cut the pediatric palaver – and I loved it. I pointed this out to the vet and she laughed, but kept talking to me like I had four legs.

We walked out at the end of Rocco and Dixie's appointment, and I felt elated, appreciated, and loved. I felt like an animal. That is until I tried to get my wife to address me in pet-speak (because I'm a good boy, yes I am). She refused. Me-ouch.

So I was thinking. What about Rochester bands incorporating this idea in their between-song banter? I'm not just talking about the pretty voices like Mikaela Davis or The Demos or Jon Lewis. But don't you think it would be trés cool if Hot Mayonnaise's Jorge Alvarado offered you a treat simply for rolling over in front of the stage? Or what if Sulaco's bass-slingin' Lon Hackett scratched you behind the ears. Or better yet, how cool would it be if the entire audience at a Pony Hand show started howling like cats and dogs in heat? Fetch! F-out.

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Thursday, September 27, 2018

The F Word: Eating the ALPO

Posted By on Thu, Sep 27, 2018 at 6:15 PM

Part of my job as a music critic at CITY Newspaper is wading through a lot of music and recommending it to you all—or at least telling you what to expect and what to avoid.

The question I get asked the most is whether or not I like everything I hear. The criterion is simple: I don't have to love it, but I have to believe it. It's easy to like a band because it sounds good or plays in a style you inexplicably love. However, hating a band or style of music is a much more complex thing—in my case, especially with contemporary pop music.

I hate the over-singing, the auto-tune, the insipid lyrics, the whole phony facade of it all. It makes me angry because it takes precious time away from the bands I love. So I've decided to embrace my hate. Hell, it's worked in other aspects of my life as well—specifically when dealing with cigars, corned beef hash, and brown shoes.

About five years ago, I started smoking cigars at the rate of about one a year. I love the artwork they come packaged in and their un-lit aroma is intoxicating. They remind me of my Uncle Fred. But the love affair with cigars ends there. They taste like sucking the exhaust pipe of an overheating payloader and the cancer they promise. I don't know why I feel the need to smoke them, honestly.

Same thing goes for corned beef hash. I eat it annually just to remind myself why I don't eat it more often. Corned beef hash lies. It lures you in with its aroma and hearty appearance. You put a forkful in your mouth and you get hints of baby throw-up and ALPO.

That all changed this past weekend, when I had a bite of my wife's hash at The Original Steve's Diner on Penfield Road. It was delicious and was made all the more so when you consider I went in there with my mind made up. It didn't suck. It rivaled my French toast.

I went shoe shopping the other day and bought a pair of brown shoes. No big deal, right? Never in my adult life have I purchased or worn brown shoes. But they didn't have my size in black, so I punted and took a chance on what turned out to be a very comfortable pair of shoes. It's not like they were sandals.

Perhaps this is my age of enlightenment and maybe I should embrace more things I hate like liver and onions, crumbly blue cheese, just to remind me of my deep hatred and perhaps discover I like it (not likely). Maybe I could embrace Taylor Swift and any artist that falls under the category "new country." I could start using emojis, with my face planted in my cell phone everywhere I go. Nah, I'll just have another cigar.

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Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Fresh Cut: 'Pedaling' by The Able Bodies

Posted By on Wed, Sep 26, 2018 at 9:30 AM

It's hard to imagine a lecture on bicycling merged with music that makes you want to cut loose on a dance floor, but The Able Bodies pull it off on "Pedaling." The indie pop duo's fourth single, "Pedaling" fits a couple of found sound clips to an upbeat, synth-pop template that defines the pair's musical vision. Just when you're wondering if you should be dancing or taking notes, the song spins blissfully forward with robotic vocals, anchored by a pulsing retro beat and a seamless blend of synthesized and real instruments.

The Able Bodies — consisting of Eli Flynn (vocals) and John Viviani (guitars, production) — describe the song as a statement about moving forward and focusing on life's goals. The riff to "Pedaling" floated around for a few months, and once Viviani experimented with the vocoder effect in Ableton Live, the track came together in a few weeks. It was recorded at Viviani's home studio during the summer and was mixed by audio engineer Sam Polizzi.

The video, shot around the Cobbs Hill Reservoir, casts Flynn and Viviani as fitness enthusiasts. The often humorous portrayal has the duo riding bikes around the loop and performing other physical exertions. "Pedaling" is a joy to look at and listen to, from start to finish.

For more info on The Able Bodies, visit

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Wednesday, September 5, 2018

The F Word: Laughing Through Tears

Posted By on Wed, Sep 5, 2018 at 4:00 AM

If you see me crying on the street, chances are I'm actually laughing. Yet when something is sad, I cry...then laugh. As an addendum to Parkinson's, I have developed pseudobulbar affect, or PBA. It makes me feel like crying all of the time. The only problem is that I'm rarely sad, if ever. But who wants to laugh constantly?

I slipped out last Thursday to Abilene to check out Ross Falzone with Erin Futterer, who set my heart a-flutterer. It was magic. It was Tin Pan Alley ensconced in velvet. It was a trip to the moon on gossamer wings. There was nothing weird on stage: just Falzone and his guitar next to Futterer, who was parked behind a piano brandishing a French Horn.

I was enchanted, entranced, entertained. But as the duo worked through its set, I felt the laughter coming on, which meant the tears weren't far behind. My face started to screw up, and the tears began. I'm fearful of this because concerned patrons ask why I'm crying, only to be rebuked with, "It's OK, this is how I laugh."

The problem has recently brought about situations which I can address from either side--laughing maniacally, or sobbing my eyes out. My wife caught me in front of the TV, wracked in sobs and giggles the other night. The fact that Trump is actually still the President, the passing of John McCain and Aretha Franklin--all of it came crashing down in a torrent of tears followed by laughter. Why? Because it all seemed so effing funny. I mean, what will you do when you read this? Will you laugh or cry? Somebody get me a tissue, please.

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Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Fresh Cut: 'I'm in the Pool, Man' by Passive Aggressives Anonymous

Posted By on Tue, Sep 4, 2018 at 5:03 PM

John Valenti is at it again. Although the mastermind behind Rochester’s most darkly satirical indie band Passive Aggressives Anonymous recently relocated to sunny California, it hasn’t dislodged his tongue from his cheek. If anything, with his newly released music video, “I’m in the Pool, Man,” Valenti seems freshly inspired.

The musician and filmmaker is still busy poking fun at being self-involved—he’s just poolside this time. He assures the listener that he’s happy to help complete a task or make a kind gesture, but not now. It’s pool time. Lyrically, it’s not any more complicated than that.

Released under the PAA moniker and clocking in at just over two and half minutes, the song is electro-pop at its most minimal. Propelled by a straightforward drum ‘n’ bass hook that could be the perfect soundtrack for strutting down a fashion show runway, the quirky keyboard melody doesn’t come until the track is more than halfway done.

The visual aesthetic screams West Coast. The sun-drenched scene features Valenti and his girlfriend Tarah Venn, clad in salmon-colored swim suits. Valenti, who also occasionally sports a Members Only jacket, can be seen strutting his stuff in and around the pool, periodically floating by on an inflatable flamingo. It’s totally nonsensical and over-the-top, and delightfully so. But there’s also an important late-summer reminder, if you only look for it: get in the pool and stay there, while the weather’s still nice.

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Thursday, August 23, 2018

The F Word: I was there. Were you?

Posted By on Thu, Aug 23, 2018 at 4:00 AM

What rock 'n' roll offers, above all else, is its shared experience - shared in a way that includes those who may not have been in on the initial shared event. Take Woodstock, for example. If we are to believe all of the post-boomers who say they were there, the attendance would had to have been in the millions, as opposed to the 400,000 who actually were there.

It was June 1986, and my hair was perfect. I was a 20-year-old rock 'n' roller working on my hustle outside the club Rumours (what is now known as Lux) on South Avenue. You see, I was of legal drinking age when it was 19, but they had changed it to 21. And even though I had played in this joint with my band, there was a chance I wasn't going to get in to see what is still my favorite band, The Blasters.

Long story short: I got in. And apparently so did everybody else, as the place was sardined to the extreme. There was nowhere to go but up. People were dancing on the bar, perched precariously on bar stools, and flinging arms and legs carelessly about the place.

It was just a matter of time before the crowd spilled out onto the street while The Blasters' vintage American music blasted out of the door and to the attention of John Law, who shut the show down because of noise and the size of the crowd. Frontman Phil Alvin suggested they play acoustically, but to no avail.

What we did see of the show was magical and memorable. I've gone on to see The Blasters countless times all over the US, but nothing has come close to that night on South Avenue and the people who were there and - those purportedly there.

The Blasters come from Downey, California, and still manage to blow through town every year or so. I never miss it. Over the years, in the bizz-buzz of excited pre-show chit-chat, I started hearing about the show so many years back from a lot of people - alot. It was their shared rock 'n' roll moment.

I won't begrudge them their self-inclusion, whether it's true or not. But it's kind of like that Woodstock math I mentioned earlier. If all those who said they were there, were there, the club that held roughly 100 souls would have topped out at around 10,000.

So The Blasters played Abilene last Tuesday to a capacity crowd. Some people tapped their feet. Others danced like incurables in the steam heat as the band, all black leather and denim, played all the hits and performed like a band half its age. While I stepped out for some air, I heard fragments of conversation discussing the long-ago South Avenue show, but I pulled the fly-on-the-wall-act instead before walking over to The Blasters' bassist John Bazz to pull on his coat about that show. Hell. I know he was there all those years ago.

"That's one of my favorite shows," he said.

It was June 1986 and my hair was perfect...

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Monday, July 2, 2018

Jazz Fest 2018: Final thoughts

Posted on Mon, Jul 2, 2018 at 4:13 PM

If anyone feels like the nine days of this year's Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival went by in a blur, you're not alone. According to XRIJF organizers, more than 208,000 people followed the music downtown across this year's run. But if you missed it, the festival will be back for an 18th edition on June 21-29, 2019.

CITY music writers Ron Netsky, Frank De Blase, and Daniel J. Kushner were out every night of the festival, and all said and done, reviewed around 80 acts. You can check out all of that coverage right here.

After a much-needed Sunday recuperating, Ron, Frank, and Daniel had a few parting thoughts about the 2018 Jazz Festival.

What did you think of this year's festival? Join the conversation in the comments below.

Ron Netsky

After 17 years, the Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival continues to be a fantastic showcase for all kinds of music and a great event for Rochester. One night, as I sat with 800 others in the Temple Building Theater, I thought, right now there are another 1,000 people at Anthology, hundreds more at the Harro East Ballroom, and more at the churches, Kilbourn, Hatch, Max, Montage, Xerox Auditorium, etc., not to mention thousands at Kodak Theater, the Big Tent, and all of the outdoor shows. Tens of thousands of people swarming downtown Rochester.

Derrick Lucas of Jazz 90.1 lamented that it's like Brigadoon; it's here for nine days and then it's gone. If only it could be like this all year, he said. We've got a similar situation during the Rochester Fringe Festival in the fall, but for most of the year, downtown is far from thriving. I know we don't have the critical mass of Manhattan to make downtown lively every night, but these events show us what's possible. As the downtown revival continues, let's hope the planning involves lots of theaters, nightclubs, galleries, and restaurants, making downtown Rochester alluring all year long.

As for my favorites of the 2018 XRIJF: Early in the festival it was a joy to hear Sigurdur Flosason at the Lutheran Church, expressing his feelings about his native Iceland through his saxophone. A few nights later Lucia Cadotsch "Speak Low" rocked the same stage, singing gorgeously while her saxophonist and bassist played the most wonderfully wild accompaniment I've ever witnessed. Hometown hero Joe Locke whirlwinded over his vibraphone at Kilbourn Hall with a great band and superb special guests. And Jazzmeia Horn reinvigorated vocal jazz with four octaves of power at the Temple Building Theater.

Frank De Blase

The editors asked me to wrap up our Jazz Fest coverage with my likes, my dislikes, and my suggestions. I don't want to appear to be a Monday morning quarterback, but I've got a few likes, dislikes, and, whatever they're worth, some suggestions ... or one suggestion, actually.

Likes: The whole vibe and excitement of the hardcore jazz fans mixed in with those wide-eyed newbies who couldn't tell Dexter Gordon from Flash Gordon. Between each faction lies the reality of jazz. The air around and the space between the notes: That's where the jazz lives.

Dislikes: I really don't have any to speak of, except for VickiKristinaBarcelona's take on Tom Waits.

Suggestions: Yes, nine days is enough for a festival, and I don't want to make work for the producers, but I would love to see a series of XRIJF-presented events throughout the year. Just sayin'.

Daniel J. Kushner

The most incredible thing about the annual Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival is getting to hear so many artists live for the first time, in one place. Here are the 2018 acts that threw me in the best possible way:

No other band was more musically alluring than Phony Ppl, with its kaleidoscopic blend of pop, R&B, soul, and hip-hop. Elbie Three's vocals were slick and versatile, Bari Bass brought the low end with unrivaled swagger, and Elijah Rawk's supercharged guitar chops singularly upped the energy.

The Dustbowl Revival was undoubtedly my biggest surprise of the festival. It was downright stupefying how frontman Zach Lupetin and his cohort shifted from soul to Americana, from classic rock 'n' roll to swing so seamlessly — often within the same song. This eight-piece juggernaut feels like the next big thing.

Moon Hooch was so much fun to experience live, I went to hear them play the same set twice. The trio turned the festival into a wild dance party without warning, and they let loose with the heavy beats and soul-jarring squawks that left me clamoring for more.

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Sunday, July 1, 2018

Jazz Fest 2018, Day 9: Daniel reviews Eric Krasno Band, Geoffrey Keezer, and Abe Nouri

Posted By on Sun, Jul 1, 2018 at 1:09 AM

Rochester trombonist Abe Nouri played the Jazz Street Stage on Saturday at the Jazz Festival. - PHOTO BY ASHLEIGH DESKINS
  • Rochester trombonist Abe Nouri played the Jazz Street Stage on Saturday at the Jazz Festival.
Pianist Geoffrey Keezer had an elegant approach to the keys during his first set at Hatch Hall. His confident technical facility and flair for the whimsical in melody was a delight to hear. And his precision in the right hand was mesmerizing.

Keezer’s style as a whole was engrossing and effervescent, with a slight air of nostalgia. It was like reliving unspecified memories of childhood or lost love that you can't quite remember, but still feel deeply. The music was sentimental without being mushy or melodramatic, as Keezer delivered tender harmonies with great sensitivity to dynamics and the flow of phrases. The result was beautiful chamber music rooted in jazz.

Rochester musician Abe Nouri took the Jazz Street Stage in the early evening of the sweltering Saturday with an accessible, feel-good set. Nouri was bubbly and buoyant on the trombone, and had a tone that was not so brash but not too laid-back, either. Alongside saxophonist Rowan Wolf, drummer Matt Bent, and upright bassist Ryder Eaton, the vibe was suave and self-assured. Bent and Eaton kept the rhythmic flow going with incessant syncopations and dance-inducing swing.

Fittingly, I ended my 2018 Jazz Festival exactly where I started it — at Anthology. The Eric Krasno Band gave the crowd a riveting first set of blues rock with plenty of attitude and heart. Krasno, formerly of the band Soulive, was such an uninhibited, free-wheeling soloist, and brought a joyous spirit to his guitar playing.

He also possessed a smoothly pleasant voice in a simple, heartfelt delivery. He and his energetic band navigated their way through originals and covers alike, with renditions of songs by rock ‘n’ roll greats like Janis Joplin and Gregg Allman.

Krasno played some mean roadhouse blues, unfiltered and in your face, but he also eased back into slow-jam ballads. No matter the stylistic feel, these were predominantly songs of angry love, with unstoppable melodic flow.

And Krasno knew when to dig in, laying into notes for extra spice and hitting pinpoint choral accents. This was music you could feel in the core of your soul — which is exactly what we've all been chasing after at Jazz Festival after all.

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Jazz Fest 2018, Day 9: Ron reviews Matt Wilson's Honey & Salt Band, the Mark Lewandowski Trio, and Thomas Stronen

Posted By on Sun, Jul 1, 2018 at 12:09 AM

If you can create a Broadway musical about Alexander Hamilton using hip-hop, it doesn’t seem too radical to take the poetry of Carl Sandburg and set it to jazz. Matt Wilson’s Honey & Salt Band does exactly that, and Saturday night the group provided one of the most unusual concert’s I’ve heard at the XRIJF. Wilson is one of New York’s busiest drummers; he's known for his band, Arts & Crafts, and his work with many other artists. His Honey & Salt Band is pretty personal. He grew up in the next town over from where Sandburg grew up in Illinois. There was even a family connection.

But Sandburg’s poetry combined with jazz? Well, as Wilson explained, Sandburg loved jazz. So, who knows; he may have even approved. At one point Wilson did a drum solo, playing off of a tape loop of a couple of lines of Sandburg’s actual voice. Afterwards he said, “It’s fun to jam with Carl.” I didn’t catch all of the players’ names, but on stage were trumpeter Ingrid Jensen and guitarist Dawn Thomson, who also sang and performed spoken word. Thomson was especially strong on “Offering And Rebuff,” one of the few arrangements that sounded like a constructed song. Turns out Thomson can also sing country and make her guitar sound like a banjo.

Bassist Mark Lewandowski and his trio played Christ Church on Saturday. - PHOTO BY ASHLEIGH DESKINS
  • Bassist Mark Lewandowski and his trio played Christ Church on Saturday.
Over at Christ Church, the Mark Lewandowski Trio was paying tribute to the great “Fats” Waller. But it was not the standard homage, with arrangements that stayed true to the originals. Bassist Lewandowski views Waller as a songwriter relevant to the contemporary world, so he believes it’s appropriate to take the tunes new places.

My favorite Waller tune, “Jitterbug Waltz,” was certainly recognizable, but it got fairly abstract after the opening verse. “Lulu’s Back In Town” got a similar treatment. In some cases, the group got more subversive, speeding up a slow tune and slowing down a fast one. In a show about Waller, the pianist is a key figure, and Liam Noble was excellent, as were Lewandowski on bass and Francesco Ciniglio on drums.

I ended the festival with the most subtle set of music I’ve ever witnessed. It was played by Thomas Strønen and his group at the Lutheran Church. For one thing, it was totally acoustic — no microphones, no amps, no electronics of any kind. The instrumentation was also different: Ayumi Tanaka on piano; Håkon Aase, violin; Ole Morten Vågan, bass; and Leo Svensson Sander, cello.

Strønen was the drummer and aside from some pyrotechnics toward the end of the set, he was the quietest percussionist I’ve ever heard. Strønen was also the composer of these slowly building compositions. The players often used their instruments in unorthodox ways, tapping and scratching with bows to produce unusual sounds. Some jazz festival audiences would be impatient with this sort of subtlety, but the music was so compelling that almost the entire audience stayed.

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