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Live Reviews

Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival: Saratoga Springs, NY, June 30-July 1, 2012

By Published: July 19, 2012
But Vasandani also added guitarist / vocalist Camila Meza. Her wordless vocals added nice background on some songs, and her guitar work was tasty and fit in extremely well. Outstanding music, particular the originals. Krall was very good, but there was almost a "same ol'" feeling. She sang soft sambas that she recorded on her last album, like "Quiet Nights and Quiet Stars" and did them well, as well as other hits from previous recordings. Her rendition of Joni Mitchell's "A Case of You" is still a great pleasure and she even performed Tom Waits' "Jockey Full of Bourbon."

The piano trio, Trio of Oz, featuring Rachel Z on keyboards, Solomon Dorsey on bass and Omar Hakim on drums, is both slick and explosive. Hakim is an incredible drummer whose hands and feet propel the music that can include originals, or things from the rock world, like "King of Pain" or Coldplay's "Lost." It's hard not to keep your eyes on Hakim, who seems effortless even when the multiple rhythms are spewing out like sounds from the center of the earth. The music captivates. Rachel Z has great feel and the communication is what one expects of a high-level jazz trio.

A player who continues to amaze is Edmar Castaneda, whose Columbian harp sometimes sounded like an orchestra. His hands fly across the instrument and you seem to be hearing a lot more than his hands can be doing. Drummer Dave Sillman was with him every step of the way, coloring and accentuating, sometimes driving the music. The addition of Shlomi Cohen on soprano sax was a fine choice. He would spar with Castaneda at times, provide the right background sounds, then burst into his own energetic and creative solo.

Alto saxophonist Hailey Niswanger is now out of Berklee and pursuing a career full time. She's off to a good start. On both alto and soprano, she was crisp and creative and the band sound—all young cats who can be heard on her new album The Keeper (Camlit Productions, 2012)—is cool. She wailed on a strong set that included her compositions like "Norman," "Balance," "The Keeper" and the standard "Milestones," with which the band closed. Good energy. Good creativity.

Speaking of energy, trumpeter Abney had it all day. A hit at the festival a couple years back, he returned and played two sets. He can turn it on, his band swinging like mad and knocking out any bad vibes. He's also capable of subtlety on his horn, which exudes a sweet burnished tone. He's from Chicago, but there's almost a "let's go get 'em" New Orleans spirit about him.

Esperanza Spalding is the new favorite in the jazz world, especially after her Grammy win in 2011. She's a fine bassist and an impassioned singer, and writes cool stuff. But her latest project, the Radio Society, logged a set that seemed to waver too much. It was a disappointment to many. Parts of it were very cool, but other parts meandered. Spalding is a creative musician who will explore different paths as the spirit moves her. She should be lauded for that. Parts of this project fall flat, but that doesn't mean she should stop. It happens. There will be a lot more from this inquisitive, exploring, creative person.

Playing crossover music that hit the spot was the Yellowjackets, led by the sax of Bob Mintzer and the keyboards of Russell Ferrante, and driven by the rhythms of Will Kennedy. Added to the mix recently is Felix Pastorious on bass, son of the legendary Jaco Pastorious. They played mainstream stuff that swung like mad, ballads that had catchy pop elements as well as sweet solos, and gutsy fusion sounds that didn't wander off into oblivion. It's no wonder this group has grown its fan base for decades. They are solid.

Pastorious looks like his iconic father and plays a sweet bass that has a similar tone. Said Mintzer a few days before the show, "He's a brilliant bassist. We're all darn near 60 years old and we've all played in a million bands. He doesn't have that experience level, but he's a stunning musician. He's got something well beyond what his father did. He's got his own voice that is going to emerge in a big way." Stay tuned.

The person who has the most momentum in the jazz realm is Trombone Shorty, whose Orleans Avenue band is all about high energy. Shorty, nee Troy Andrews, plays real good trombone and trumpet. His band is tight and the lads—all youngsters—wail. He probably can take on the title "hardest-working man in show business." While it's fun and certainly does get the people moving and dancing, it's show business. There's nothing wrong with making music fun for people.

The band was hot, covering tunes like "My Feet Can't Fail Me Now," Ray Charles' "I Got a Woman" and "When the Saints Go Marching In," among many others. It's funk, jazz, pop, New Orleans. Music. It will be fun to see the avenues this band takes as time goes on.

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