5th Rochester International Jazz Festival, Part 2-3
Roberto Occhipinti Quintet
Roberto Occhipinti-bass; Kevin Turcotte-trumpet; Kelly Jefferson-tenor saxophone; Manuel Valera-piano; Dafnis Prieto-drums.
Canadian bassist Occhipinti is one of those utility bass players who can play with virtually anyone. But with his quintet he seems to favor a robust style of hard bop with Latin underpinnings courtesy of Cuban pianist Valera and superb drummer Dafnis Prieto. At the early show in Montage, the opener, "Plena by the pianist was a hard bop flag waver that set the tone for the rest of the set. The group performed mostly tunes from Occhipinti's recent "Yemaya , a wonderful and diverse record. Trumpeter Turcotte seemed particularly inspired. The entire proceedings were driven by Occhipinti and amazing drummer Prieto spurring the soloists with vigorous accompaniment. It was enjoyable set, well-appreciated by the almost sold out crowd.
Joel Harrison Quartet: Harrison Plays Harrison
Joel Harrison-guitar; David Binney-tenor saxophone; Dave Ambrosio-bass; Dan Weiss-drums.
This was the surprise set of the festival for me. I was familiar with guitarist Harrison's work and have enjoyed his records. But it seemed the concept for this show (playing the music of George Harrison) was a bit of a joke. Having not heard the record, hearing only sound samples didn't help since they really didn't begin to show the scope of this band. But my curiosity got the better of me. I walked in and the band had already begun. The song was in mid performance and I thought I'd walked into the wrong place. The music was free and beautiful with saxophonist Binney reaching the upper registers of his tenor (great sound on this guy) and the rhythm section pushing him along with washes of sound. What Harrison song was it? Couldn't tell. But then as the solo reached its conclusion a misshapen riff appeared that gradually came into focus and then I realized it was "Here Comes The Sun . Very, very nice. They performed an original, "You Bring The Rain that allowed the group to splinter off into various combinations with an especially effective sequence between Harrison's fuzzed guitar and Ambrosio's acoustic bass. On "All Things Must Pass the theme was played but soon it was left behind and the group opened up into a section of hovering, shimmering psychedelic beauty. They concluded with a driving version of "Love You Too by the Raga Beatle. All in all, a surprisingly creative concept that not only made me appreciate Joel Harrison's arranging abilities but also made me hear the original music with different ears. Great show!
John Hollenbeck-drums; Chris Speed-tenor saxophone, clarinet; Ted Reichman-accordion; Matt Moran-vibes; John Hebert-bass.
The Little Theatre was the perfect venue in which to hear this terrific band and the place was about 80% full. They had performed an earlier set in the Festival Tent, the least attractive venue of the festival and it was probably the worst place to hear this group's intricate music. Hollenbeck's group is a unique blend of elements from minimalism, avant-garde jazz and prog rock from the Henry Cow side of the spectrum. It's blended into a unique seamless whole. Although the instrumentation would scream effete, that is far from the case. This band can cook when they want to and get as loud and chaotic as the best of them. This set provided a couple of older pieces including "Opening , from their first LP(always a good beginning). "Drewslate from the band's current disc Semi-Formal was given a far more energetic reading than on the recording. They introduced some new material as well. A slow, hypnotic piece, "This Too Shall Pass had some remarkable moments of hovering group stasis. It was contrasted with the rowdy "Be Happy which had a kicking tenor solo by Chris Speed. But the Claudia Quintet's music isn't necessarily about solos, it's as much about group textures and rhythmic energy. The blending of the frontline instruments takes care of the former and Hebert and Hollenbeck took care of the latter, giving the music the energetic charge it needed. The band turned in a great set that was one of the festival's highlights.
Billy Bang Quintet
Billy Bang-violin; James Zollar-trumpet; Andrew Bemkey-piano; Todd Nicholson-bass; Newman Taylor Baker-drums.
Disaster nearly struck the early Billy Bang show at Montage when drummer Newman T. Baker missed his flight. A call was in for a Rochester replacement. While initially no one seemed to be around, Dave Cohen was eventually roped in as a last minute replacement. Which was a good thing since the place was literally packed to the rafters. This was one of the shows that had the biggest word-of-mouth advance. When Bang last appeared at the RIJF in 2004, his show was cited in both local papers as the concert of the festival. Since then he's been back to Rochester several times, playing the Bop Shop (who have presented Bang in a variety of contexts since 2000) and working with Garth Fagan Dance (a local dance troupe with an international reputation) for several performances. As he eyed the crowd of people in front of him before the performance started, Bang said, "I feel like I've been adopted by Rochester .
He and his band delivered a superb performance of mostly Vietnam material. Kicking off with "Yo, Ho Chi Minh Is In The House , drummer Cohen, was initially overbusy but he fell into the groove of the piece with a little direction from Bang as Zollar began his solo. Midway through the performance, a figure was seen wending its way through the crowd and it was Newman T. Baker who wound up catching a later flight. Once the first number was over, Baker took the stand (with effusive praise by Bang to Cohen as he departed) and the concert proper got underway, with a rousing performance of "Bien Hoa Blues . That was followed by one of Bang's most affecting tunes, "Moments For The KIAMIA . It's a song he mines for its fullest emotional resonance and it always draws out the best in him. Bemkey also contributed a solo full of rippling beauty. They concluded with the Latin groove of "Chan Chan (made famous by the Buena Vista Social Club)which had the audience bopping all around in what limited space they had. What started out as an imminent disaster turned into another Rochester triumph for Bang.
Gibbs St. Stage
Eli Asher-trumpet; James Hirschfeld-trombone; Josh Rutner-tenor saxophone; Red Wierenga-keyboard; Malcolm Kirby-bass; Ted Poor-drums.
Another show that had a lot of anticipation attached to it was the homecoming of the Respect Sextet. They're former locals much beloved by this city. The band got their start here five years ago with a two year Wednesday night residency at a local coffee house. Since then most members have moved down to NYC and Rochester hasn't quite been the same since. Ironically, their outdoor set was about 50 feet away from the spot of their residency. Another anticipatory feature of this concert was the band's reunion with their original bassist, Malcolm Kirby who stayed in Rochester for a permanenet bass gig with Sacred Steel masters The Campbell Brothers. The street took on the atmosphere of a block party and when saxophonist Rutner eyed the sea of people he shouted "Look at this crowd. I just have one question. Where were all you people on Wednesday nights?
The band was exuberant as they premiered some new material and pulled out a couple of old favorites. They opened with "Ian a Latin-influenced groove piece by trombonist Hirshfeld. That led into an old band favorite, Herbie Nichols' "Step Tempest . By the third number the band was in full flower. A new tune "Copacabanitsa based on a Bulgarian rhythm (written for a recently presented a concert in NYC at the Cornelia St. Café entitled Respect Sextet Presents American Jazz Expression of Bulgarian Folklore), was in some godforsaken time signature and they also somehow managed to take a detour into Sun Ra's "Call For All Demons . The band's strong point, their spontaneous arranging was well to the fore throughout the set. One song was announced as an "old favorite and the band ripped into a mighty rendition of Albert Ayler's "The Truth Is Marching In . It's rare that one hears Ayler's music blaring at a block party but it did on this night and it drew wild applause at its conclusion. The audience was surprisingly attentive for an outdoor audience and when the band concluded, the entire street erupted. It was a triumphant homecoming for this terrific band.
Max's of Eastman Place
Michiel Braam-piano; Wilbert DeJoode-bass; Michael Vatcher-drums.
One of the big advantages of the RIJF is the ability to hear international acts who would not normally be able to play this city (due to a number of reasons: financial, logistical). Trio Braam-DeJoode-Vatcher is one such group. (Actually bassist DeJoode had played the Bop Shop a month previously with the Ab Baars Quartet and it was great to see him again.) They played in the glassed in atrium of Max's of Eastman Place, an upscale restaurant. Braam's piano trio music is brimming with vitality, playfulness and humor. He's a modernist with a respect for the tradition but that respect doesn't bog his playing down in historical cliches. If anything, he does just the opposite. He takes signposts such as a stride left hand or a boogie pattern and turns it upside down and inside out. DeJoode is a resourceful bassist who is able to get the most amazing sounds out of his instrument and he plays with a hard, scrabbling energy that makes his bass an equal in any group he's playing. Vatcher's unique approach to drums seems like it's fragmenting the rhythm but when it's all put together one realizes he's swinging this group in unique and wonderful ways. Braam's music gives the bass and drums plenty of space and it's apparent the pianist views all three members of the trio as equals, not a pianist with bass/drums accompaniment. The set was comprised of pieces from the trio's most recent release, Change This Song with the dark and moody "Nightsong Aches (all song titles are anagrams of the album's title) being a particular standout. This edgy, not-easily-absorbed music was surprisingly well-received and the trio was brought back for an encore by the capacity crowd. The set was another of the major highlights of the festival.
Roberto Occhipinti Quintet, David Binney, and Trio Braam-DeJoode-Vatcher by Garry Geer
Claudia Quintet and Respect Sextet by Don Ver Ploeg
Billy Bang Quintet by Thomas P. Frizelle