4th Rochester International Jazz Festival (June 10-18, 2005) Concert Diary
Back to the Festival Tent to hear George Schuller's group Circle Wide. The cue for this group lies in that moment, just before Miles Davis totally electrified (ca. Circle In The Round, Filles De Kilimanjaro ). This edition of the band featured Don McCaslin on tenor, Tom Beckham on vibes, Brad Shepik on guitar and Dave Ambrosio on bass. It was interesting to hear a Miles-inspired band without a trumpeter. But the band brought the music to life with a set of originals, inspired by the looping themes Miles was working with around that time. The vibes of Beckham was an excellent choice for the band functioning with a far richer harmonic and textural palette than if Schuller had gone with a Fender Rhodes. Schuller's "Round About Now was a particularly effective piece with each soloist being accompanied by a different rhythmic backdrop, including a fiery duo between Schuller and Shepik that was the set's high point.
Friday night at Montage, Danish pianist Jacob Anderskov led a trio with the same players who backed Harold Danko: Michael Formanek (bass) and Jeff Hirschfield (drums.) Montage is a restaurant that regularly presents music and recently had facelift. It is now a more intimate space that was ideal to hear Anderskov's intimate music. Once the music unfolded, the trio had an intense communication going. By the time of the new piece, provisionally entitled "Scarf , they had achieved that quiet intensity and organic unfolding of the material that was perfected by Paul Bley's late 60s trios and achieved by few ever since. But, unlike that trio, Anderskov and company would also venture into a dense trio interplay that was equally effective. An added bonus to this set was getting to hear how Formanek and Hirschfield maneuvered their way around Anderskov's open structures as opposed to Danko's more tradition-bound, yet no less modern, approach.
Rochester-based trumpeter Paul Smoker brought his Notet, Steve Salerno (guitar), Ed Schuller (bass) and Phil Haynes (drums) to the Little Theatre for an electric set of group interaction. Working with a set of Smoker compositions, they took the music in all different directions and quartet permutations. On "Even Steven (a feature for guitarist Salerno) they came on as a fusion ensemble with brains not just muscle. It was impressive how Haynes and Schuller effortlessly slipped from a funky fusion-style beat during Salerno's solo to a straight ahead swing for Smoker's solo. An untitled new piece ended with a beautiful duet between Smoker and bassist Schuller. Haynes drove the set with his characteristic mixture of power and subtlety. Salerno was particularly effective accompanying with slashing chords at moments of climax and with effective, at times barely audible harmonics during quiet moments. The leader was in fine form clearly relishing this band and the way they were handling his compositions. Smoker's Notet was yet another festival highlight.
Final concert of the RIJF was the trio of David Eyges (electric cello), Arthur Blythe (alto sax) and Keno Speller (drums, kalimba) at the Little Theatre. This was a strangely disappointing concert and I'm not sure where the blame lay. Speller was a dynamo and ready to play. When Blythe started playing his beautiful, soulful sound shone through but his early solos never caught fire. Eyges seemed to be having problems with his electric cello. At times, especially when he was playing pizzicato (which was a majority of the time), the sound was harsh and unattractive, the plucking of the strings being rendered with a sharp percussive sound. It was surprising since Eyges is a musician whose recordings have almost always delivered. I'm not sure if the blame lay in the electric cello itself (the music would have surely sounded better with an acoustic instrument) or in an unfriendly sound system or perhaps it was just a lack of inspiration. The trio rarely seemed connected. But it was still nice to hear Blythe and when he broke through, particularly in a duet section with Speller, it was a thing of great beauty.