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Live Reviews

2006 Rochester International Jazz Festival

By Published: July 7, 2006
The 2006 Rochester International Jazz Festival ran from June 9-17 this year. For nine days, Rochester, NY, was the Jazz Capital of the World. From legends like Wayne Shorter, McCoy Tyner and Etta James to perpetuators such as Karrin Allyson, Charlie Hunter and Robert Glasper, the festival had something for everyone.
In fact, it had so much music that it created a bit of a problem for this review. How do you fit 9 days, 600 artists and more than 100 shows into 1,000 words? For the answer, we turn to the world of hip hop: You make a mixtape. If you could get bootlegs of the performances from the festival, the following tracks would be the standouts. So put on the headphones of your mind and check out these new classics on your very own Rochester Improv Mixtape.
Track 1: "Higher Ground/Out Of Nowhere" by Charlie Hunter Trio
Guitarist Hunter spent a set ripping into some intense grooves, but this Stevie Wonder tune jumped off the stage and gave the crowd religion. Then it came to a screeching halt and turned into a haunting version of the classic bop standard.
Track 2: "Too Little, Too Late" by Juliet Lloyd
Hired to play between headline acts at one of the festival venues, singer/songwriter Lloyd charmed the crowd with her sweet-as-honey voice, accompanying herself at the piano. In a better world, this tune would be destined for radio play.

Track 3: "Bamboo Forest" by Mahavishnu Project
Drummer Gregg Bendian led his inspired jazz-rock outfit through the tortuous unison lines of this Jan Hammer composition, which is not for the feint of heart, nor the slow of finger.

Track 4: "Skylark" by Cedar Walton
"Skylark" may be a synonym for "warhorse," but pianist Walton managed to find every ounce of emotion possible in a lovely solo rendition.

Track 5: "One Finger Snap" by Eddie Henderson
This one is all about Billy Drummond, who performed a master class in texture and timing on the drums with his alternating washes of cymbals and driving toms and snares.

Track 6: "Something Worth Waiting For (Con Alma)" by Karrin Allyson
Lyricist Chris Caswell (who gets extra points for being a Rochester native) added words to Dizzy Gillespie's music. With Allyson's voice as the lead instrument, this one made folks melt into their seats with pleasure.

Track 7: "Within You Without You" by Joel Harrison
Guitarist Harrison's arrangement of fellow guitarist George Harrison's tune was inventive and powerful, particularly with saxophonist David Binney's screaming solo. A hair-raiser from start to finish.

Track 8: "You Call It Jogging (I Call It Running Around)" by Mose Allison
He may be 78, but singer/pianist Allison can still cook like it's dinner hour at the town diner. This song by John D. Loudermilk was a perfect fit for Allison's one-eyebrow-raised style.

Track 9: "Ian" by Respect Sextet
Described by the band as a "latin surf anthem," this joyous tune by trombonist James Hirschfeld was the perfect opening tune for their first set. Classic Respect — you feel like you've heard it before somewhere, but that's only because it's so well written.

Track 10: "Jupiter's Future" by Billy Bang
This Sun Ra tribute by violinist Bang could turn your mind to the stars and your guts into jelly. Trumpeter James Zollar came out of the gate on Rocket #9 and never looked back. Just when you thought it couldn't get any better, pianist Andrew Bemkey and Bang himself took it higher. A brilliant performance from the best set of the festival.

Track 11: "Enoch's Meditation/Maiden Voyage" by Robert Glasper
The Next Big Thing from Blue Note Records lived up to the hype with his trio show. This track was the tour de force—a medley of Glasper's own composition, followed by a 15-minute solo piano improvisation, into a version of Herbie's "Maiden" set over the chords of Radiohead's "Everything In Its Right Place." Breathtaking.

Track 12: "Alma de Santiago" by Jane Bunnett
Backed by pianist Elio Villafranca, bassist Keiran Overs and drummer Francisco Mela, Jane Bunnett had the whole crowd dancing with this amazing audio odyssey to Cuba. Her soprano sax solo alone was worth the price of admission.

Track 13: "Angelina" by McCoy Tyner
Despite the poorly miked piano, this has to be included for the face-scrunching power of bassist Charnett Moffett and drummer Eric Kamal Gravat, both of whom lifted this number by pianist Tyner to the stratosphere. Moffett is a force of nature, and the recently revived Gravat should have come back on the scene years ago.

Track 14: "Ruby's Roundabout" by Ben Allison
Bassist/composer Allison wrote this hauntingly beautiful tune for (scaring?) his 2-year-old daughter. Trumpeter Ron Horton worked wonders with his cloud-borne trumpet sound, and toward the end the whole band was unknowingly swaying back and forth like reeds in a light breeze.

Track 15: "Caravan" by Tom Harrell
After a set of reflective tunes on flugelhorn, Harrell turned to the trumpet and crushed his solo on this one, ably abetted by bassist Ugonna Okegwo and drummer Rodney Green.

Track 16: "Untitled" by Wayne Shorter
The name of the second tune in Shorter's set probably wasn't "Untitled," but I sure couldn't recognize which tune it was. Not that it mattered. When Shorter picked up his soprano sax and started to go, all other thoughts were pushed from my mind and it was all I could do to remember to breathe. Amazing. Legendary. Wayne.

Track 17: "Mingle in the Mincing-Machine" by E.S.T.
The Esbjorn Svensson Trio (aka E.S.T.) is finding new things to do with a piano, bass and drums. Case in point, this audiofest featured tubular industrial effects on the bass like Ravi Shankar in a Cuisinart, driving piano from Svensson, and a drum solo with effects made by what sounded like the first ENIAC computer. The whole thing will fold your mind into a nice package, suitable for mailing.

So there you have it. Pop this mixtape in your backpack and find a nice place to relax while you dig the sounds from Rochester, NY. Truly one of the hippest places on the planet—at least in June.



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