4th Rochester International Jazz Festival (June 10-18, 2005) Concert Diary
Sonny Rollins Quintet
Harold Danko Trio
Night of the Cookers
Willem Breuker Kollektief
Ted Poor/Third Wheel
Steve Swell Slammin' the Infinite
Ernie Krivda Quintet
Ethnic Heritage Ensemble
Dave Brubeck Quartet
Jacob Anderskov Trio
Paul Smoker Notet
I opted to start my RIJF with a performance by Sex Mob, Steve Bernstein (slide trumpet), Briggan Krause (alto sax), Tony Scherr (bass) and Kenny Wolleson (drums). They were also late in starting due to a mix up at the airport and no drums for Wolleson. ("Seized by homeland security was Bernstein's pronouncement). But as a band whose self-proclaimed mission is to "put fun into the music, such a situation wouldn't stop Sex Mob. Once the reserve kit was set up, the band launched into a wild and wooly non-stop hour-long performance flitting from tune to tune going from Prince to Duke. Bernstein won the crowd over with his personable introductions, humorous banter ("this is the furthest north we've ever been") and brilliant slide trumpet playing, a mix of Cootie Williams-like insouciance, Jonah Jones haminess and Roswell Rudd-like sonic explorations. Krause delivered a pair of idiosyncratic solos and Scherr and Wolleson (who seemed particularly fired up) held it all together. The end of the show saw the crowd on their feet and it was a great start to the festival.
Next up was one of the main festival events: the return of Sonny Rollins. Rollins played the festival two years ago and the performance seemed perfunctory, at best, marred by an overbusy drummer and a Rollins who didn't seem all that inspired. I was actually debating on whether or not to attend this one. But with Rollins you never know. Things got off to a shaky start when the band failed to show after the introduction, then each member casually sauntered onto the stage. One good sign: Al Foster was the drummer. The band launched into "Why Was I Born with a vigorous opening solo by Rollins' left-hand man, trombonist, Clifton Anderson. Then, rather than going into a solo, Rollins unexpectedly went into trading fours with Foster. That led into a lengthy drum solo. Finally, after about 10 minutes of anticipation, Rollins launched into a 15-minute solo that built slowly at first. He seemed to be emphasizing a wide vibrato, stretching the phrases in unexpected ways. "Everything Happens To Me followed and concluded with one of Rollins' patented unaccompanied cadenzas. A recent calypso, "Global Warming concluded the first set on a promising note. The band came out for the second set and launched into "Falling In Love With Love. From the first note it was evident this was it, the moment a Rollins fan waits for. For 15 minutes Rollins fired chorus after chorus of his improvisatory genius. Each chorus took the song off in a different direction. Big blustery phrases, short staccato bursts and langorous descending phrases were shadowed by Bob Cranshaw's electric bass, Al Foster's incisive drumming, and decorated with unobtrusive textures from an African percussionist (whose name I didn't catch). It was the Rollins performance of the evening. As I said, with Rollins, you never know and I'm glad I second- guessed myself.
Winding down the first night I decided to take in one of Rochester's great musical treasures, pianist Harold Danko. For the past five years Danko has resided in this city as the chair of the jazz department at the Eastman School of Music. He's had a spot at each year's festival and this year he brought the trio that's essayed four superb Steeplechase releases: bassist Michael Formanek and drummer Jeff Hirschfield. They've developed into one of the finest piano trios playing creative improvised music.
Danko was in a relaxed mood, joking with the audience on the intros. He announced the original "Waiting Time with the comment "the title is a description of my career. The band was obviously in the mood to play as they wended their way through expansive versions of material from their catalogue: Duke Jordan's "Flight To Jordan, "Monk's Dream, two from their recent Earl Hines tribute Hinesight and a pair of Danko's tasty originals including an exploratory rendition of "Smoke House. Danko really took off on a stretched-out version of Hines' "Cavernism, including a lengthy solo intro and a lot of inside-the-piano play over a funky second-line strut rhythm. It showed how to pay tribute to an influence and hero without aping his licks. Rochesterians are fortunate in being able to hear Danko on a fairly regular basis, yet many still turned out for this performance. Those who didn't missed out on a brilliant set that showed why Danko is one of the most under-recognized pianists in jazz.