4th Rochester International Jazz Festival (June 10-18, 2005) Concert Diary
The second night, a septet going under the moniker of a classic Blue Note album, Night Of The Cookers , had all the promise of being a hard bop rave-up. The original albums that gave this group its name (oddly enough, not among the more memorable Blue Note classics) sported the front line dual trumpet lineup of Lee Morgan and Freddie Hubbard. This concert featured two of today's finest up-and -coming trumpeters: Jeremy Pelt (who led a quartet at last year's fest) and David Weiss. But the real draw of this group was the presence of two members who were participants on the original recordings, saxophonist/flutist James Spaulding and drummer Pete LaRoca-Sims. Tenor saxophonist Craig Handy completed the front line, and veteran pianist George Cables and bassist Dwayne Burno rounded out the rhythm section. Spaulding excelled and showed himself to be a player of undiminished powers, with glistening alto solos and lovely flute work on Freddie Hubbard's "Up Jumped Spring (he performed the same function on that tune on Hubbard's 1966 Backlash LP). LaRoca-Sims laid down solid bop-based grooves giving the music power and energy to spare. Though named after the 1965 albums, this group didn't perform any material from them. Rather they did selections of tunes by Hubbard and Morgan, ending with a particularly fiery version of "Zip Code (a Morgan tune) where everyone delivered riveting solos. The concert was held in Kilbourn Hall of the Eastman School of Music, usually an excellent place to hear music. But it was plagued by sound problems: annoying feedback, inaudible bass, etc. But the band, troupers that they were, pulled through (Pelt had a particularly fiery night) and by the concluding piece they were firing on all cylinders, moving straight ahead as the music demanded.
On Sunday night, Milestones, a club venue, was SRO an hour before the start of the early show of the Willem Breuker Kollektief due to the buildup of a healthy word of mouth. The steamy air was pregnant with anticipation and the band delivered. Playing a seventy-minute set of old Kollektief favorites, interspersed with selections from Breuker's score for Murnau's silent classic "Faust, the band was fired up and bowled over the audience with a series of stellar solos and precision reading of the charts. Honors go to tenor player Maarten van Norden's rough-and-tumble leadoff solo that seemed to set the stage for the night. The band kept the joking to a minimum and toward the end of the set. The encore found Breuker crooning "My Resistance Is Low to the ladies in the audience, one of whom came up to the stage and engaged in a little ballroom dancing (well, as much as the club's small stage would allow) with the leader. This concert was definitely an early highlight of the festival.
Later that night at the Little Theatre, drummer Ted Poor led his trio Third Wheel through a beguiling set of free improvs, original compositions and a pair of standards. With Ralph Alessi on trumpet and Red Wierenga on piano (Poor's rhythm section mate in the Respect Sextet), they delivered a set that was deceptively low-key but was full of meaty improvisations. An Alessi original, "Equal Or Lesser Value centered around a left-hand figure from Wierenga and had the soloists weaving in and out of the figure both harmonically, rhythmically and tempo-wise. It was a hypnotic performance. A highly abstracted version of "I'll Remember April was the highlight of the set and ended with an extended wind-down with Wierenga essaying a repeated chord change, subtly varying the interior notes accompanied only by Poor's rhythmic figure on hi-hat and snare. The performance was a subtle gem.
After taking Monday off, Tuesday night it was back to Milestones. Representing New York-style free jazz at the festival was one its finest bands: Steve Swell's Slammin' The Infinite. With Sabir Mateen on his full arsenal of reeds, Matthew Heyner's bottomless bass and drummer Michael Wimberly (a last minute replacement for an ailing Klaus Kugel), they delivered a blistering set at Milestones that had the crowd applauding wildly. This is a band that's grown quite a bit since their last release. A comparison of the group's performance of "Box Set with the version on the album would attest to that. For this show, the energy level was cranked up (Wimberly's drumming style is rooted in classic New York energy) and with familiarity, there appeared to be a stronger handling of the material. Mateen delivered an alto solo that mutated from Bird-like agility to Dolphy-esque zig- zagging and ultimately to Ayler like shrieks and cries. Heyner's deep rumbling bass was a force all its own. Throughout the set Swell demonstrated why he is one of the most in- demand trombone players in New York. One untitled piece over an ostinato in 7 found him cutting up the rhythm in oblique ways, always keeping it fresh. After the set was over Swell eyed the audience, surprisingly large and with little of the attrition that usually occurs in free jazz concerts at "mainstream festivals) and commented, "This is more people than I've seen in New York in three years." Slammin' The Infinite was another festival highlight.