Thursday, June 28, 2018

Jazz Fest 2018, Day 6: Daniel reviews ‘Songs of Freedom,’ Shake Stew, and Ghost-Note with MonoNeon

Posted By on Thu, Jun 28, 2018 at 1:12 AM

Drummer Ulysses Owens Jr.’s “Songs of Freedom” was a different kind of American Songbook concert. For this performance, Owens and his band looked no further than a trio of powerhouse singer-songwriters from the 1960’s — Nina Simone, Abbey Lincoln, and Joni Mitchell — to conjure up the sounds of liberation.

The assembled quartet was prolifically expressive. Owens’s cathartic drumming style was replete with rolling fills that came rumbling through like a beautiful storm. David Rosenthal’s lightning-quick guitar flashes carried rich, fully articulated melodies. And precision-pianist Isaiah Thompson’s rollicking piano lines and bassist Reuben Roger‘s resonant, edge-of-the-seat playing also helped to keep the adrenaline pumping during an all-too-brief first set at Kilbourn Hall.

But it was the stunning vocal performances from Alicia Olatuja and Theo Bleckmann that made this concert stand out. Olatuja sang with a velvety timbre and crystalline intonation that entranced from the beginning. She was particularly adept at interpreting the songs of Nina Simone; Olatuja’s luxurious voice and charismatic personality were transcendent. The highlight for me was the funky rendition of “Be My Husband,” in which she sang with a soulful snarl that suddenly turned sweetly coquettish, before returning again to defiant swagger.

There is no smoother voice, in any genre, than that of Theo Bleckmann. His otherworldly tone is surpassed only by his extremely versatile range — deep, welling sounds in the lower range and a stratospheric falsetto on the other end.  His interpretation of “There Is a Balm in Gilead” was both comfortingly familiar and unsettling experimental. It was brilliant.

Next up was the funk band Ghost-Note with MonoNeon, playing at Harro East Ballroom. There was a feel-good freshness to the music that was vibrant and uplifting, but the audience was a little slow to warm up to it. Perhaps it was a psychological response to the rainy weather, word of the day’s national headlines, or just the mid-week grind of the festival itself. Whatever the reason, the vibe of the room was oddly subdued, and the crowd — though attentive and appreciative — seemed tepid.

A guest appearance by the gifted blues rock guitarist Ron Artis II, with his dynamic solos and soulful vocals, helped to up the energy. After that, the band’s chunky sax blasts, fuzzed-out bass licks, and the pop-and-sizzle of the drums did the rest of the work.

Ghost-Note with MonoNeon plays again Thursday, June 28, at Anthology. 7:45 p.m. and 9:45 p.m. $30, or a Club Pass.
Ghost-Note with MonoNeon played Harro East Ballroom as part of the 2018 Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival. - PHOTO BY ASHLEIGH DESKINS
  • Ghost-Note with MonoNeon played Harro East Ballroom as part of the 2018 Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival.

My evening ended at Xerox Auditorium with one of my most highly anticipated performances of the festival. Any band that has two drummers has instantly won me over. But in the case of Austrian-German septet Shake Stew, I was a fan the moment I learned it was Lukas Kranzelbinder’s band. The bassist has already played at the Jazz Festival twice as part of trumpeter Mario Rom’s Interzone. This time, Rom and Kranzelbinder were joined by five new musicians for a set of proggy jazz that was equal parts delightful and challenging. With Kranzelbinder at the helm, I knew the music was going to be fast. But I wasn’t fully prepared for alto saxophonist Clemens Salesny’s full-throated wail or the ephemeral beauty of Johannes Schleiermacher’s tenor sax playing.

The dual drumming attack of Niki Dolp and Andi Haberl was a wonder to behold and, combined with the twin basses of Kranzelbinder and Manuel Mayr, their interlocking rhythms wove a warm fabric of sound in which the horn section was free to explore inventive, hyperactive solos. The energy was manic at times, but the band was never in danger of going off the rails. Fittingly, the show ended in a free-jazz freakout.

For Day 7, I’ll be headed back to Harro East Ballroom to hear The Suffers and Xerox Auditorium to witness GoGo Penguin. A visit to the Lutheran Church for Pilc Moutin Hoenig rounds things out.

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Jazz Fest 2018, Day 6: Frank reviews Liz Vice, Davina and The Vagabonds, and Rai Thistlethwayte

Posted By on Thu, Jun 28, 2018 at 1:08 AM

Liz Vice played Montage Music Hall on Wednesday as part of the 2018 Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival. - PHOTO BY FRANK DE BLASE
  • Liz Vice played Montage Music Hall on Wednesday as part of the 2018 Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival.
The dampness put a damper on the vibe last night, I'm afraid. Still, those who had umbrellas soldiered on despite the inclemency.

Last night, I started off at Montage to see an artist I knew little of: Liz Vice. Her story is one of triumph over adversity. She was raised by a single mother with four other children,  and health issues plagued her as a young woman. But what you see and what we heard last night was vindicated soul that hasn't lost sight of its roots.

I got the feeling she could've opened up and stretched her legs a bit more, vocally speaking. Her songs weren't at all obtuse; they came from a real place. It's the music that lacked edge for me. I wasn't looking for screaming; I just wanted the music to share its heart as well.

Another little distraction, not all Vice's fault: Her hobo-looking,  hirsute bass player, who stood in front of her with his back to the audience, shaking his ass in clothes that looked slept in.

You can put Davina and the Vagabonds virtually anywhere. The Nuge put 'em in the Big Tent, where I glammed my glims on them during the early show. What a difference a real piano makes. I'd seen the band three times before, all with Davina parked in front of an electric keyboard. But not tonight. She walked and pummeled those elephant teeth like Jerry Lee Lewis in itchy underpants. The brass-centric rest of the band swung low like an elephant's trunk and kept the joy jumpin'. They had me on my feet for Louis Jordan's "Knock Me A Kiss." — a personal favorite in the De Blase household.

You can see Davina and the Vagabonds on Thursday, June 28, at Montage. 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. $30, or a Club Pass.

Rai Thistlethwayte is as fascinating an artist as his name is to pronounce. I caught the late set at Anthology, where — on another real piano — the man coaxed, cajoled, and convinced the crowd to hear it his way, a hybrid of pure pop with a twist of jazz fusion and  indie rock. Thistlethwayte handled the bottom end with an bass octave keyboard like The Doors, while his drummer summoned the thunder below. Thistlethwayte is this generation's Randy Newman, or Ben Folds ... only less nerdy.

Sax-o-Matic and Lake Street Dive is where you'll find me tonight.
Davina and the Vagabonds played the Big Tent. - PHOTO BY FRANK DE BLASE
  • Davina and the Vagabonds played the Big Tent.

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Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Jazz Fest 2018, Day 6: Ron reviews Jazzmeia Horn, Harold Danko, and Torben Waldorff

Posted By on Wed, Jun 27, 2018 at 11:38 PM

Jazzmeia Horn performed at the Temple Building Theater on Wednesday night. Look for more photos in a slideshow below. - PHOTO BY JOSH SAUNDERS
  • Jazzmeia Horn performed at the Temple Building Theater on Wednesday night. Look for more photos in a slideshow below.
When Jazzmeia Horn took the Temple Building Theater stage Wednesday night, it was obvious she was a commanding presence in a long green dress and brightly colored African head wrap. As soon as she launched into her first song, Betty Carter’s “Tight,” there was no doubt that there was plenty of substance to go with the striking image. Horn was well supported by pianist Victor Gould, bassist Endea Owens and drummer Henry Conerway III, all of whom took excellent solos. Gould was especially strong on every excursion.

Of course, Horn took the most fanciful excursions of all, deviating from the lyrics of every song with sounds ranging from the highest bird-calls to the lowest guttural utterings. She sometimes did this high-and-low back-and-forth in a unique form of call and response with herself. And when this band traded eights at the end of a tune, it wasn’t with the usual instruments: It was Horn’s free-ranging voice improvising and dueling with the drummer.

In a way Horn is old-fashioned, covering standards like “East of the Sun (And West of the Moon)” and “Night And Day” and scat-singing like Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong. But she is also future-oriented, stretching the human voice beyond the usual limits and adding her own decidedly contemporary lyrics to subvert the meaning of those standards. “Willow Weep For Me” is a great song about self-pity but in the hands of Horn that willow is weeping for the current state of affairs in our country, violence in the streets, and private prisons.

Harold Danko
was a little like a wonderfully absurd character in a Woody Allen movie at Hatch Hall. The Eastman School of Music Professor Emeritus told himself a few times not to talk too long. And he explained to the audience why he was more comfortable starting songs in the middle before getting to the beginning. He also said that, because so few people play it, he is devoted to his own music. He then proceeded to play tunes that, in a couple of cases, have been covered by Chet Baker, Lee Konitz, Rich Perry, and Teddy Charles. Not bad.

The tunes were all strong, but what was more impressive was Danko’s ability to create endless variations of his verses, from sparse to grandiose, on every tune. A particularly fascinating series of compositions in the middle of the set paid tribute to his jazz heroes, including Bud Powell, Wayne Shorter, and McCoy Tyner, and the tunes had stylistic similarities to the work of those heroes. The Tyner tune was especially evocative, with extraordinary technical flourishes. Danko saved the best for last, his wonderful “Tidal Breeze.”

Over at the Lutheran Church guitarist Torben Waldorff played a set that was hampered by good acoustics. Churches are constructed so that voices from the stage can be heard in the balcony, not for amplified electronic quartets. So Waldorff, who is an excellent guitarist with a high, ringing tone reminiscent of Pat Metheny, sounded a bit muffled when playing with his full band. The only time he and the others sounded as good as they should have sounded was when things got subtle, as they did when the band played a ballad, “Our Sound Of Love.”

I’ll start Thursday night with saxophonist Vincent Herring at Kilbourn Hall. Then I’ll head around the corner to Hatch Hall to hear pianist Megumi Yonezawa. Finally, I’ll head to Christ Church to hear Georgia Mancio and Alan Broadbent.

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Jazz Fest 2018, Day 5: Frank grooves on Dmitri Matheny, Junior Brown, and VickiKristinaBarcelona

Posted By on Wed, Jun 27, 2018 at 1:43 AM

Dmitri Matheny played the Wilder Room on Tuesday at the Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival. - PHOTO BY FRANK DE BLASE
  • Dmitri Matheny played the Wilder Room on Tuesday at the Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival.
The man with the loudest finger snaps and the creamiest horn, Dmitri Matheny, took the Wilder Room stage while there was still plenty of threatening rays of light streaming in through the windows. For the mood of  the music on the menu this early summer evening was dark. Matheny shines as a  flugelhornist and a composer overall. But this cat's sound is out of the shadows and outtasight.

Known for his interpretation of film noir themes, Matheny paints everything with a dark brush. But he wasn't the least bit sinister in his demeanor for the early set; he was downright cordial. He played his slightly accelerated take on The Duke's "Caravan," which still exhibited the same snake charmer shuffle and swing that the kids dig.

It remained dark, or at least dusky, for "Wichita Lineman," an odd but pretty choice. It was the most, though, when he pulled out his spoken word chops in all their Beatnik beauty — that I could have easily listened to all friggin' night. Matheny was and is utterly cool.

Junior Brown at the Anthology stage. - PHOTO BY FRANK DE BLASE
  • Junior Brown at the Anthology stage.
Junior Brown's head was on fire and his ass was catching as he spun, slid, and finger-picked guit-steel gold. The packed Anthology got more packed and swelled to capacity the more Brown got down. It was the wildest I've ever seen him as he  backstroked like a maniac into the ether. He was looking for something, perhaps an illusive riff or troublesome hook. He whittled away to the slack-jawed crowd while looking for it. I think he found  it. I know we did.

But again with this place and the rude crowd: The audience in back was talking too loud for people stuck back there with them to hear. To many honkys drowned out Brown's tonky.

As I've said before, covering Tom Waits' material is like wrestling with an alligator: If you do it right, you've got a new pair of shoes; do it wrong and you're dead. VickiKristinaBarcelona are three NYC women who sing mighty and pretty covering Tom Waits.

It was to a packed Montage that these women tried their hand at Waits. Well, they got the words right and the sparse instrumentation was interesting to say the least. But there was no grit, no gunpowder, no humor. It was all so clean. There was no irony or filth. So did the ladies get their shoes? I wouldn't say the alligator killed them, but as far as I'm concerned, they left barefoot.

Tomorrow night I'll be heaping hellfire and brimstone on  Liz Vice,  Davina and the Vagabonds, and Rai Thistlethwayte.

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Jazz Fest 2018, Day 5: Daniel reviews Béla Fleck & The Flecktones, House of Waters, and Partikel

Posted By on Wed, Jun 27, 2018 at 1:37 AM

You won’t hear anyone else like New York City’s House of Waters at this year’s Jazz Festival. Singularly hypnotic, the trio features the hammered dulcimer playing of Max ZT, who takes what is primarily known here in America as an Appalachian folk instrument and turns it into a multicultural mashup of East meets West.

During the first House of Waters set at Max of Eastman Place, ZT ripped spellbinding runs that evoked the fluidity that the band’s name implies. Moto Fukushima showcased his melodic ingenuity and versatility on the six-string bass guitar with funky aplomb. And Ignacio Rivas Bixio kept the forward momentum going with measured intensity on the drums.

It would be tempting to call this music “easy listening,” but that would be too reductive, insulting even. Sure, House of Waters is the band I would choose to listen to on a spa day, but the group’s sound was too thoughtful and nuanced to be mere background fodder. That said, it wasn’t so cerebral that I couldn’t kick back and let go, either.

Stylistically, there were hints of Indian raga, pentatonic scales, and kora-inspired passages — African and Asian influences that the band then diffused through a smooth jazz filter. The synchronicity between the three players seemed the very definition of “snug.” Perhaps most impressive was ZT’s masterful control and dexterity, as he frequently kept a tremolo in the left hand while playing a roving, inventive melody in the right hand.

Simply put, House of Waters makes chill music for unhinged times and celebrates the universal human experience across numerous cultural traditions.

After the House of Water’s set, I quickly made my way to Christ Church to catch the London quartet Partikel. After witnessing numerous festival artists whose sound embodied the physicality of their playing, it was refreshing to encounter some spacy, progressive jazz. The opposite of visceral, Partikel’s compositions were full of airy evocations: Duncan Eagles’s mercurial tenor saxophone percolations; Ant Law’s astral guitar swells; Max Luthert’s buoyant upright bass; and Eric Ford’s shuffling drums.

There was something contemplative about the music, even during more swift, blissed-out moments. The sounds were welcomingly heady and ponderous, a respite from the high-octane nature of the Jazz Fest. And still, Law’s psychedelic guitar chops stole the show when a solo briefly turned the concert into a jazzy acid trip.

Going into the evening’s headlining set from Béla Fleck & The Flecktones, I knew that nothing was going to top it. The band has been a fixture in the music world for 30 years, combining the best elements of folk, funk, rock, and jam band aesthetics. The complete, original lineup is back — Fleck on banjo; pianist and harmonica player Howard Levy; bassist Victor Wooten; and his brother Roy “Futureman” Wooten on a synthesized percussion instrument known as a “drumitar.” The band is still inscrutable, bordering on mystical.

On this night in Eastman Theatre’s Kodak Hall, Victor Wooten was ever the rhythmic anchor, with his explosive slap bass style and legendary sleight-of-hand solos. There was something quizzical about Fleck’s banjo playing: the cascading melodies that slunk chromatically up and down the frets, the effervescent fingerpicking that leaves one feeling breathless. His textured harmonies and serpentine solos on the banjo gave the compositions profound depth, while Futureman’s indispensable syncopations added an aura of perfection.

But it was Levy who was the real revelation. Perhaps the best harmonica player I’ve ever heard, Levy possessed a melodic flexibility that was as expressive and inspired as anything played all week by supremely skilled trumpet players at the festival. His piano solos were every bit as satisfying, too. The best moment of the night came when Levy played “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” on the harmonica. I like to think that Kodak Hall’s bust of J.S. Bach was beaming with pride from the shadows just then.

Were The Flecktones’ music not so enjoyable, the unadulterated talent highlighted on the stage might have been sickening. But hearing Fleck and company was one of those rare, “pure music” experiences. There was no ego, no pretension; just the love of making music. In fact, 45 minutes into the concert, there had been only one word of between-song banter, when Fleck simply said “Thanks,” before jumping into the next song.

My night was officially made when the quartet closed the set with “Sinister Minister,” my favorite Flecktones tune. There was nothing more delicious than hearing that tantalizing bass line, to which Wooten added his signature melodic finesse. For the encore, The Flecktones brought out a new song, a whirling, rhythmic monster called “Vertigo.” Needless to say, I went home happy, and I think the packed house at Kodak Hall did, too.

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Jazz Fest 2018, Day 5: Ron reviews Joe Locke Group, Lucia Cadotsch 'Speak Low,' and Gary Versace Trio

Posted By on Wed, Jun 27, 2018 at 12:32 AM

The Gary Versace Trio brought the strange sight of seeing more than just a piano in Hatch Recital Hall. - PHOTO BY JOSH SAUNDERS
  • The Gary Versace Trio brought the strange sight of seeing more than just a piano in Hatch Recital Hall.
It’s one thing to hear great music; it’s quite another to witness a super-human performance. That’s what two full houses at Kilbourn Hall experienced Tuesday night with the Joe Locke Group. Locke played selections from his new album, “Subtle Disguise,” with Jim Ridl on piano, Lorin Cohen, bass, and Samvel Sarkisyan, drums. Guest singer Paul Jost sang and played harmonica on Blind Willie Johnson’s “Motherless Children” and provided a wordless vocal on “Red Cloud,” a tune about a Native American tribal chief. And Locke's band-mate from many decades ago, saxophonist Tommy Smith, joined the group on two tunes.

All of the musicianship was superb, but there’s something more to a Joe Locke concert — and not just because he grew up and began his career in Rochester. When he plays, he throws his whole body into it, his four-mallets accelerating to the point where the white ends appear to be a dozen balls bouncing over the bars. When he talks emotionally about his “touchstone” on vibes, Bobby Hutcherson, who died last year, or about Chief Red Cloud, or his own feeling about being separated for a short time from his mother when he was a child, he really feels it. Every tune Locke plays has great meaning to him, and if he looks like he’s becoming one with his music, it’s because he is.

Earlier in the evening at the Lutheran Church, Lucia Cadotsch “Speak Low” was great in a different way. The combination of saxophone, bass, and voice seemed strange, but once the trio got started, it got wonderfully stranger. Otis Sandsjö on sax and Petter Eldh on bass served as a wild, rough, and raunchy texture framing a gorgeous voice. Beauty and the beasts. The two instrumentalists even looked beastly, gyrating toward Cadotsch as she sang. She maintained a stone face throughout.

In her singing Cadotsch had an understated approach, reminiscent of Astrud Gilberto. “Don’t Explain” morphed into the group’s namesake song, “Speak Low.” She sang a moving version of Randy Newman’s “I Think It’s Going To Rain Today” and a rendition of “What’s New,” based on Ahmad Jamal’s 1958 recording, which she called the first hip-hop record. The sax and bass just got better and better, providing insanely dynamic back-up. At one point Sandsjö got into a circular breathing cycle that allowed him to play a melody while maintain his rhythmic pattern.

It’s been a good week for mash-ups at Hatch Hall. On Sunday, Bill Dobbins combined Chopin and Jobim, and Tuesday night Gary Versace merged a jazz standard — "The Way You Look Tonight" — with a Bangles tune, “Eternal Flame.” It was kind of funny the way he and the guitarist kept switching off from the jazz standard to the Bangles tune.

Did I just write the word “guitarist”? In Hatch Hall? Is nothing sacred? Versace played with his trio, Keith Ganz on guitar and Sean Smith, bass. I have to admit, after years of solo piano in Hatch, it was jarring. But it was a fine trio, playing a few originals and a spirited arrangement of another pop tune, “More Today Than Yesterday.”

I’ll start Wednesday night at Hatch Hall where Harold Danko will be at the Steinway. Then I’ll head over to the Lutheran Church to hear Torben Waldorff. I’ll finish the evening with the new singing star Jazzmeia Horn at the Temple Building Theater.

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Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Jazz Fest 2018, Update: Miles Electric Band to replace St. Germain

Posted By on Tue, Jun 26, 2018 at 10:35 PM

The Miles Electric Band revisits Miles Davis's electric years. - PHOTO COURTESY XEROX ROCHESTER INTERNATIONAL JAZZ FESTIVAL
  • The Miles Electric Band revisits Miles Davis's electric years.
The Miles Electric Band, an ensemble of Miles Davis alumni revisiting the repertoire of Davis's electric years, will play the free, 9 p.m. outdoor show at the Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival on Friday, June 29. The French house and jazz musician St. Germain was scheduled for Friday's show, but had to cancel his North American tour due to an "unforeseen medical condition and doctor's order," he said on his  Facebook page.

The Los Angeles-based Miles Electric Band is led by Vince Wilburn Jr., Davis's nephew, and is a rotating collective of first-call musicians, most of whom played with Davis. Friday's show will feature Wilburn on drums; Debasish Chaudhury on tabla; percussionist Darryl Munyungo Jackson; pianist Robert Irving; Richard Patterson on bass; guitarist David Gilmore; and saxophonist Antoine Roney. Carrying the heavy burden on trumpet is Jeremy Pelt.

The Miles Electric Band will play Friday, June 29, at the East Ave & Chestnut St. Stage. 9 p.m. Free. More information at and

EDITOR'S NOTE: This article has been updated to correct the lineup for Friday's concert.

Jazz Fest 2018, Day 4: Frank checks out and exudes much joy for the Joe Farnsworth Quartet feat. Eric Alexander, Trail of Souls, and Johnny Goldtooth and the Chevy Casanovas

Posted By on Tue, Jun 26, 2018 at 1:30 AM

Johnny Goldtooth and the Chevy Casanovas. - PHOTO BY FRANK DE BLASE
  • Johnny Goldtooth and the Chevy Casanovas.
Holy shit. That was one healthy dose of pure jazz. So powerful I had to wash it down with Raisin Jack, Jack.

The Joe Farnsworth Quartet featuring Eric Alexander played some hard bop with blinding heat. And even with bass and drums in the pocket so deep they were covered in lint, the show at Max of Eastman Place was a showdown between gunslingers Farnsworth on drums and Alexander on sax. Both are considered go-to guys with their respective instruments.

Farnsworth and Alexander traded off generous forays which popped up liberally. Farnsworth seems to always be playing at breakneck speed even in the gentler passages. The man is a dynamo and plays his whole kit, often moving tom rolls to the hardware which was reminiscent of the sound silverware makes when you catch it dancing in the drawer. They ended the set with Coltrane — how about that, Jack?
Singer Solveig Slettahjell of Trail of Souls. - PHOTO BY FRANK DE BLASE
  • Singer Solveig Slettahjell of Trail of Souls.

More from the holy shit department: Somehow over time, when we weren't looking, traditional Norwegian folk songs blended with jazz to create a third indigenous music, exhibited exquisitely last night by Trail of Souls at the Lutheran Church.  What first struck me was the guitar drenched in warbling vibrato at the hands of Knut Reiersrud.  He played it to sound like a caged bird which he periodically let out to fly at greater volume, around the church unfettered and booming. Singer Solveig Slettahjell kept it on the cool tip and the whole thing came off as a mystical journey. It was lovely and a bit of a break from the out-there stuff reserved for this venue.

Holy, holy shit shit: Johnny Goldtooth and the Chevy Casanovas slinked across the Big Tent stage like a gang of double knit pimps on dollar night; all cocksure swagger and instrumental sleaze. Goldtooth is an alter-ego of Canadian hired gun Kevin Breit (he's recorded with Norah Jones and k.d. Lang) that proves just how deadly a guitar player he is. As Goldtooth, Breit plays a bad guitarist playing good at playing bad. That's how good this cat is. He sounds good even when he's bad ... on purpose. The musical is the kind of disjointed, dysfunctional jazz heard in a busted neon bump 'n' grind strip joint for the 5 a.m. crowd. But the Big Tent worked just as well.

Tomorrow night I'm gonna see Dmitri Matheny, Junior Brown, and VickiKhristinaBarcelona singing the music of Tom Waits.

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Jazz Fest 2018, Day 4: Daniel reviews Teagan and the Tweeds, Cold Chocolate, and Zara McFarlane (and catches Moon Hooch again)

Posted By on Tue, Jun 26, 2018 at 12:14 AM

Zara McFarlane performed with her band at Christ Church on Monday as part of the 2018 Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival. - PHOTO BY JOSH SAUNDERS
  • Zara McFarlane performed with her band at Christ Church on Monday as part of the 2018 Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival.
At the festival Sunday, I had gotten a taste of magic, and the following day, I couldn't shake it. I was having cravings, and I had to give in: I needed more Moon Hooch. So I crept into The Montage Music Hall for the infectious trio's first set of Monday night. This time, the room was more intimate and the night club vibes were in full force. Moon Hooch delivered the welcome elixir to other festival attendees who made their way to the front of the stage, and like me, just needed to get their dance on.

At the Fusion Stage, local heroes Teagan and the Tweeds did what they do best: delight a capacity crowd with sweet and smoky rock ‘n’ roll, complete with a bluesy glaze. Teagan Ward's commanding, soulful voice drove the music forward, but it was the blue-collar work ethic of the band behind her that kept things on course.

It's almost shocking that Teagan and the Tweeds have yet to receive more widespread notoriety outside of the region. For now, the band continues to be one of Western New York's best-kept secrets.

The Boston-based trio Cold Chocolate specializes in dusty-road, down-home country and Americana. At times, the band's laid-back sound was a bit underwhelming to my ears. But that was no fault of the musicians on the stage; I was still keyed up from Moon Hooch.

That said, the cozy, three-part harmonies of upright bassist Kirsten Lamb, guitarist Ethan Robbins, and drummer Ariel Bernstein made me melt a little inside. From the beautifully folksy original “Drawing a Blank” — sung with a silky shot of blue by Lamb — to a charming rendition of Bob Dylan's “I'll Be Staying Here With You,” it was impossible not to enjoy Cold Chocolate.

I closed the evening with the second set of London singer Zara McFarlane and her band, whose music was like a heaven-sent breeze on a hot night. This brand of jazz was decidedly postmodern and impressionistic, with a covert infusion of soul.

McFarlane’s vocal presence was sultry, with an ethereal timbre that was half-R&B croon, half-jazzy serenade. In more effusive passages, her notes were bright and bold. In subtler moments, her voice turned lush and mellow.

The instrumentation of McFarlane’s backing band was seductive: the mellow keyboards of Peter Edwards; Max Luthert’s deep bass tones; the intricate drum flow of Sam Jones; and Binker Golding’s blistering tenor saxophone. The net effect was the most romantically evocative performance I’ve heard at the festival so far. The highlight of the set was the utterly enchanting “Allies or Enemies.”

My Day 5 is sure to be eccentric — the London band Partikel (which includes Max Luthert on upright bass) at Christ Church, the hammered dulcimer-led House of Waters at Max of Eastman Place, and not least of all, headliners Béla Fleck & the Flecktones at Eastman Theatre’s Kodak Hall.

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Monday, June 25, 2018

Jazz Fest 2018, Day 4: Ron reviews Jane Bunnett & Maqueque, Christian Sands, and Strings Attached

Posted By on Mon, Jun 25, 2018 at 11:47 PM

Jane Bunnett & Maqueque played the Temple Building Theater on Monday night. - PHOTO BY ASHLEIGH DESKINS
  • Jane Bunnett & Maqueque played the Temple Building Theater on Monday night.
In Cuban Spanish, the word “maqueque” means “the energy of a young girl’s spirit.” In Jane Bunnett & Maqueque, the spirit of five young Cuban women came through loud and clear. The band played a lively show of Afro-Cuban jazz to a near-capacity crowd at the Temple Building Theater Monday night. Working with Cuban musicians is nothing new for Bunnett, a Canadian flautist and saxophonist. Maqueque is merely her latest project; it should serve to launch the musical careers of five gifted players.

Vocalist Elizabeth Rodriguez of Jane Bunnett & Maqueque. - PHOTO BY ASHLEIGH DESKINS
  • Vocalist Elizabeth Rodriguez of Jane Bunnett & Maqueque.
At first the music seemed pretty tame, but halfway through the second tune the group came alive with irresistible percussion from Yissy Garcia on drums and Magdelys Savigne on congas. Celia Jiménez played an infectious bass line and Elizabeth Rodriguez authoritatively took the lead on vocals. But the stand out member of the group, to my mind, was Dánae Olano. Every time she took a solo on the piano, it was electrifying.

Of course Bunnett was blending right in, weaving around beautifully on alto saxophone when she wasn’t standing to the side, proudly watching the members of her group. The repertoire mostly consisted of unfamiliar, indigenous Cuban music. The one exception was an Afro-Cuban tinged version of Bill Withers’s “Ain’t No Sunshine.”

This was my first show at the Temple Building Theater, a theater that I didn’t know existed, and it was a positive experience. The seats weren't great but the sound was excellent and that’s not true of every XRIJF venue.

Pianist Christian Sands has made a lot of fans in Rochester. Hatch Hall was filled and people were still lined up outside for his concert. Once he began to play, it wasn’t hard to understand why. He started out in a pretty quirky way, turning on the sound on his phone and placing it in the piano where it resonated nicely. Birds were singing and Sands began to sing back with his fingers on the keys. He explained later that he had woken up to birds, so he recorded them on his phone.

It was that kind of spontaneity that prevailed in his set. Early on he thanked the audience for coming and "hanging with me for a while, listening to me practice." That got a laugh, but he said he had no set list, he would just be improvising. Still, there were vehicles that got him going: “Stella By Starlight,” “Tea For Two,” an elaborate blues, etc. But every one of them was a wild ride, with multiple intersecting styles, incredible pyrotechnics and a great musical imagination at work.

Strings Attached at the Xerox Auditorium boasted four excellent guitarists — Jack Wilkins, Vic Juris, Ron Affif, and Mark Whitfield — but the concert still managed to lack excitement. Maybe it was the format. The guitarists, seated in chairs, started a tune, each one took a solo and they ended the tune. The only one who stood up and really got into his solos was Mark Whitfield. He also stood out for the exuberance in his playing. These guys had musical cred; at one point Wilkins introduced a tune by saying, “This is an obscure Charles Mingus tune called 'Diane.' We used to play it a lot when I was in Mingus’s band.”

Tuesday night, I look forward to hearing Eastman Faculty member and first-call keyboard player Gary Versace at Hatch Hall. Then I’ll catch Lucia Cadotsch at the Lutheran Church before ending the night with home-grown vibraphone star Joe Locke at Kilbourn Hall.

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