Saturday, June 30, 2018

Jazz Fest 2018, Day 8: Frank catches Robin McKelle, Jill Scott, Pokey LaFarge, and one more song from Gwyneth Herbert

Posted By on Sat, Jun 30, 2018 at 12:50 AM

Jill Scott headlined Friday night at the 2018 Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival. - PHOTO BY FRANK DE BLASE
  • Jill Scott headlined Friday night at the 2018 Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival.
Rochester ex-pat Robin McKelle is far from your stock blues belter or jazz singer. She detours around those parameters , forging her own path. This path led her to the Harro East Ballroom last night. She has a jazzy voice that follows a certain discipline in tone and attack, especially when singing out-and-out jazz. There was an extended scat portion of the show to clear up any doubt.

Rochester ex-pat Robin McKelle performed at Harro East Ballroom. - PHOTO BY FRANK DE BLASE
  • Rochester ex-pat Robin McKelle performed at Harro East Ballroom.
McKelle also sang a couple of pop tune and totally reworked them: Sade's "No Ordinary Love" and Amy Winehouse's "Back To Black." Both tunes were jazzy in mood and execution, proving what a fine vocalist McKelle is and that jazz can pop up anywhere. And the capacity crowd ate it up.

I'm a little leery about modern R&B live shows, with their over-percussioned, over-keyboarded, over-bassed stage sound which often  makes them sound like rhythm & mush, but Jill Scott's show was blended precisely and beautifully. She had three male back-up singers, which was refreshing, and a band that threw down a velvety shag. But most of all, the woman at the front of the whole initiative, Scott, sang with a rich and rafter-tickling alto and authority that packed so much power that I'm not that leery anymore. Call me a convert.

Pokey LaFarge played his set at Martin Luther King Jr. Park on Friday night. - PHOTO BY FRANK DE BLASE
  • Pokey LaFarge played his set at Martin Luther King Jr. Park on Friday night.

In his Canadian tuxedo, Pokey LaFarge played some awfully sweet, post-war bop at Martin Luther King Jr. Park. Not to be thrown in with other retro rockers who simply re-hash, LaFarge and crew write their own stuff. It could be argued that it's still a throw back, but the people in front of the stage didn't care; they had some ass-shaking to do.

On my way out I stuck my head into Christ Church to catch up with Gwyneth Herbert again. I wanted to see if that song written from ideas submitted by eager audience members the night before included my fears. I wanted to see if — in the face of helping immortalize our fair city — Herbert had included the Garbage Plate. Well, yes: Herbert included a line about eating trash in an otherwise pretty song. Sometimes, this town steps on its dick.

If you wanna argue with me Saturday about the Garbage Plate or discuss other kinds of self-abuse, you can catch me at Deva Mahal and Tower of Power featuring my good buddy Ron Mesh.

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Jazz Fest 2018, Day 8: Ron reviews the Geoffrey Keezer Trio, Maciej Obara Quartet, and Jean-Michel Pilc

Posted By on Sat, Jun 30, 2018 at 12:00 AM

Jean-Michel Pilc performed in Hatch Hall on Friday night at the 2018 Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival. - PHOTO BY JOSH SAUNDERS
  • Jean-Michel Pilc performed in Hatch Hall on Friday night at the 2018 Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival.
Sometimes a group with a big name in the title only has one true star, but at Xerox Auditorium, the Geoffrey Keezer Trio proved to be a band of equals. Keezer may be the most well known member; after all he’s played with Sting. But every time bassist Ben Williams or drummer Billy Kilson took a solo, they were top notch. And as a trio playing together, they could not have been tighter.

Keezer played some original tunes, including one evoking a perfect night in Alaska, titled “Port Alexander Moon,” but he also took on one of Thelonious Monk’s most challenging compositions, “Brilliant Corners.” On the Monk tune Williams switched from an upright bass to an electric bass and was a lot funkier. Keezer also played electric piano and, for much of the rest of the concert, he had his left hand on the acoustic piano and his right on the electric. The group got pretty far out on a long, unidentified tune but came back down to Earth for a beautiful rendition of “Across The Universe,” which was part of a John Lennon medley to end the set.

At the Lutheran Church, members of the Maciej Obara Quartet were very happy to be in Rochester after numerous travel problems. They got so deeply into their music, I don’t know if they realized that they spent about a half-hour playing the title track of their new album, “Unloved,” written by film-score composer Krzysztof Komeda. Obara’s playing ranged from gorgeously lyrical to downright furious. In fact, the entire group was capable of building up the momentum so gradually that you could be caught off guard by the mood shifts.

Obara’s quartet also boasted excellent players. Dominik Wania played the kind of piano solos that sound like a running brook, sometimes calm and sometimes cascading, but always moving. When the band really got going, bassist Ole Morten Vaagan was totally unified with drummer Gard Nilssen. Toward the end of the set Nilssen got a chance to cut loose with a great solo using mallets instead of drumsticks.

I’m not sure what Jean-Michel Pilc was up to a Hatch Hall and I’m not sure he knew either. It seemed like the case of a brilliant player not knowing quite what to do with his set. First he tried comedy, doing physical jokes at the piano in a manner reminiscent of Victor Borge. He said he would warm up and proceeded to play a scale. Then the scales turned into something akin to Paganini's Caprice No. 24; he played scales high and low and simple and filigreed, lots of variations. This was followed by a piece where his left hand played a pattern in the middle of the keyboard while his right hand played on both sides of it.

Pilc did a lot of slamming his hands down on the keys and there were dramatic gestures each time he finished playing. There were quotes thrown in through out — a line from “Ravel’s Bolero”; a line from “Norwegian Wood” — and there was a lot of meandering. Pilc obviously has the chops to play whatever he chooses. Maybe it was some kind of new piano-of-the-absurd thing that I’m not hip to, but all I heard was a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing.

On the last night of the festival, I’ll catch Mark Lewandowski at Christ Church, Thomas Stronen at the Lutheran Church, and Matt Wilson at Kilbourn Hall.

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Friday, June 29, 2018

Jazz Fest 2018, Day 7: Frank stumbles upon Gwyneth Herbert, takes a Lake Street Dive, and goes Sax-O-Matic in the process

Posted By on Fri, Jun 29, 2018 at 12:48 AM

Lake Street Dive headlined day seven of the 2018 Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival. - PHOTO BY FRANK DE BLASE
  • Lake Street Dive headlined day seven of the 2018 Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival.
There's no explaining how Gwyneth Herbert arrived at her arsenal of  eclectic instrumentation. but there she stood on the Max of Eastman Place stage behind half a drum set, a ukulele, and a melodica, an actual instrument that looks like a mini keyboard with a hose to blow into on one side. It's cool really.

But the real orchestra is in Herbert's voice as she warbled and coo'd and whistled with a super high-pitched falsetto out of her throat. It was like a  bird whistle with the blast of an air raid siren. Remember Kate Bush?

Herbert had paper and pencil passed around and she instructed folks to write  something memorable about Rochester for a custom song she would compose later and perform at tonight's show. Well, before the crowd even started shouting out, I knew what they'd say. Yup, that gastric tragedy. The act of throwing up in reverse. The beloved Garbage Plate. I guess it's not as bad as the one I was tempted to contribute. But alas, I didn't have the guts to shout out: "Jack the Ripper!"

Gwyneth Herbert plays again Friday, June 29, at Christ Church. 6:45 p.m. and 8:45 p.m. $30, or a Club Pass.

Gwyneth Herbert played Max of Eastman Place on Thursday night. - PHOTO BY FRANK DE BLASE
  • Gwyneth Herbert played Max of Eastman Place on Thursday night.
I was in sheer awe with Lake Street Dive's pageantry and majesty  as they lorded over a sold out Kodak Hall for nearly two hours. Front woman, and my new favorite singer, Rachael Price picked up the baton where Amy Winehouse left it and sang in a smokey contralto that knocked me flat. The band made a big sound for not being that big, with hints of Aretha and Motown wafting off the stage with the fog and  lights.

Sax-o-Matic played on The Stooges' a bit before blasting away into "Splish Splash" over at the Big Tent. I love the baritone sax especially, and these cats know how to rock it like a hurricane. But too much jazz, fried chicken, and frozen custard makes this boy feel his age. I split for home so as to write you this sordid tale.

Friday night, catch me at Robin McKelle at Harro East, Jill Scott at Kodak Hall, and running over to MLK Park for Pokey LaFarge.

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Thursday, June 28, 2018

Jazz Fest 2018, Day 7: Daniel reviews The Suffers, GoGo Penguin, and Pilc Moutin Hoenig

Posted By on Thu, Jun 28, 2018 at 11:55 PM

Pilc Moutin Hoenig played the Lutheran Church on Thursday night. - PHOTO BY JOSH SAUNDERS
  • Pilc Moutin Hoenig played the Lutheran Church on Thursday night.
The joy and the enthusiasm coming from The Suffers during its first set at Harro East Ballroom felt effortless. In the Houston soul band’s debut performance in Rochester, it was all about the presence of frontwoman Kam Franklin, whose delivery could be sensitive and understated but frequently involved first-rate vocal pyrotechnics.

The band was nothing if not balanced, from the sassy but sophisticated brass section of Jon Durbin and Michael Razo to the sumptuous, bell-like tones from Pat Kelly’s keyboard and the head-bobbing bass guitar of Adam Castaneda. There’s beauty in concision, but The Suffers’ songs were almost too short. I could have lost myself in its cool grooves for much longer.

It was then on to something entirely different with English piano trio GoGo Penguin in its early time slot at Xerox Auditorium. Specializing in contemplative, brooding jazz-pop, the band was exceptionally tight.

Pianist Chris Illingworth’s melodies were gorgeous and elegiac, and drummer Rob Turner provided steady, dance club-worthy beats. But upright bassist Nick Blacka was most impressive. With fleet, roaming bass lines, he provided gritty texture and vital melodic interest, especially given Illingworth’s focus on sparse, harmonic accents over detailed hooks.

My favorite composition here was “Bardo,” from the recently released album “A Humdrum Star.” With 1980’s evocations, the music was atmospheric and reverb-laden, resulting in an introspective yet catchy soundworld.

Pilc Moutin Hoenig played the Lutheran Church on Thursday night. - PHOTO BY JOSH SAUNDERS
  • Pilc Moutin Hoenig played the Lutheran Church on Thursday night.
Another piano trio, simply called Pilc Moutin Hoenig (for each of its members), truly caught me by surprise. In its first set at the Lutheran Church, the group quickly carved out an experimental niche all its own. This was jazz, deconstructed, and with no safety net: no extended, flashy solos; no dense instrumentation in which to hide. New York City-based Pianist Jean-Michel Pilc’s musings in particular were chromatic and impressionistic, filled with fragmented tunes. Essential melodic motives and stylistic touchstones were intact, but he seemed more fixated on brief gestures than fully formed jazz exposition.

Upright bassist François Moutin was similarly esoteric, spending most of the set far down on the neck of the instrument, plucking out insistent, wispy melodic phrases. Drummer Ari Hoenig pursued what amounted to abstract sound painting, even creating inventive pitch variations with the toms. About 35 minutes into the set, the three musicians suddenly morphed into what could at last be called straight-ahead jazz, with a charming swing rhythm, seemingly only to demonstrate that they could do so.

The very next piece was an improvisation, which featured Moutin intermittently scratching against the frog of his bass and Hoenig brushing his fingernails against the drum heads, while Pilc played a minimally adorned, seven-note melody that was starkly beautiful. This music was so intuitively crafted, it would have been virtually impossible to tell it was off-the-cuff, had Pilc not announced it from the stage.

In all, there was something wry and clever about the trio’s enigmatic music, as if every note and phrase were being played with a knowing smirk. That said, this was undoubtedly serious business, although the sound was cerebral without being stodgy. The true genius of Pilc Moutin Hoenig was the way the music seemed to revel in mystery, as if to remind us that every meaningful thing doesn’t have to be fully deciphered.

As we head into the home stretch of the festival on Friday, Day 8, I’ll be checking out the Jerry Granelli Band featuring Robben Ford at Temple Building Theater, the Miles Electric Band at the East Ave. and Chestnut St. Stage, and guitarist Stephane Wrembel at Max of Eastman Place.

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Jazz Fest 2018, Day 7: Ron reviews the Vincent Herring Quartet, the Georgia Mancio/Alan Broadbent Quartet, and Megumi Yonezawa

Posted By on Thu, Jun 28, 2018 at 11:48 PM

Vincent Herring performed with his quartet at Kilbourn Hall on Thursday. - PHOTO BY JOSH SAUNDERS
  • Vincent Herring performed with his quartet at Kilbourn Hall on Thursday.
The Vincent Herring Quartet put on quite a crowd-pleasing show at Kilbourn Hall Thursday night. Part of the charm was Herring’s personality; he had a great rapport with the audience. But the other reason was his song selection. There were no brooding ballads, just lively tunes with great heads and perfect chords to improvise over. The songs, by greats like Hank Mobley, Mulgrew Miller, Ray Charles and Freddie Hubbard, soared through Herring’s alto saxophone and were ripe for his band’s improvisation.

And what a great band he had. Dave Kikoski was the second star of the show on the piano. At one point Herring said, “We’ve got a great pianist here and a great piano. Let’s bring them together.” For the next 10 minutes Kikoski played spectacularly at the Steinway. Yasushi Nakamura was excellent on bass, playing especially melodic solos. And I’m not sure if Herring was exaggerating when he said drummer Carl Allen was the only one who could get the right vibe on Mobley’s “Soft Impressions,” but the timing did seem tricky and Allen definitely had it down.

At Christ Church the Georgia Mancio/Alan Broadbent Quartet played something like an intimate cabaret show, showcasing songs from an album Mancio and Broadbent wrote and recorded together. Broadbent, who has won two Grammy Awards, has played with everyone from Charlie Haden and Diana Krall to Natalie Cole and Paul McCartney. He was at the piano playing his music while Mancio sang her lyrics after telling the stories behind each song.

The whole quartet — with Don Falzone on bass and Dave Ohm on drums — got to stretch out on “One For Bud,” a tune about a man obsessed with Bud Powell. But for much of the set, the accompaniment was in the service of the songs, with Falzone and Ohm playing as subtly as possible, a good move given the church’s acoustics. My favorite of the tunes was “Where The Soft Wind Blows,” a song Broadbent wrote the music for when he was 17. Mancio’s lyrics nicely describe the life of a man who lived his entire life in the same London home, and was, at the end, a face in the window.

Megumi Yonezawa was a bit shy at Hatch Hall. She was certainly confident at the piano, but she seemed reluctant to talk about what she was playing. So, for a long time I felt like I was lost in a sea of notes — not a bad place to be, but kind of a musical dream state where things sounded familiar with pieces of this and parts of that but nothing quite gelling into a coherent composition.

Yonezawa did finally speak and it turned out she was playing some of her own pieces, greatly influenced by dissonant 20th century classical music (vindicating some of what I felt). She went on to play one standard, “Body And Soul,” gorgeously. And for her last tune, the classically trained jazz pianist said, “This is a great piano, can I play a classical piece?” The audience gave her permission and she played a gorgeous rendition of Bach’s Sarabande from the French Suite in G Major.

Friday I’ll catch Jean Michel Pilc at Hatch Hall, Maciej Obara at the Lutheran Church, and the Geoffrey Keezer Trio at Xerox Auditorium.

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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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