6th Rochester International Jazz Festival, Part 2


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Rochester International Jazz Festival 2007—6th Edition
Rochester, New York
June 8-16 (Part 2)

Mamadou Diabate
Kilbourn Hall
June 11, 2007
Mamadou Diabate: kora, vocals; Balla Kouyate: balafon + unidentified electric bassist and percussionist.

Much like Fred Hersch, Malian kora master Mamadou Diabate has developed a strong following in Rochester due to his frequent playing here. He played the jazz festival in 2005 (in a duo with balafonist Kouyate), a set that was praised by all who saw it. He also performed at Kilbourn Hall in 2006 as part of the Eastman School of Music world music series (two sets—one solo, the other with his band). One might think a third appearance in three years would be overload, but Kilbourn Hall was filled to capacity, and everyone appeared ready as he strode regally onstage.

They opened with "Djanjo," a traditional song that was played delicately with a languid sway. Kouyate's balafon provided ornamentation to Diabate's quicksilver kora lines. This is a wonderfully balanced ensemble with each member giving the music its distinct character. The brittle contrapuntal lines of the balafon interact with the thicket of strings, creating a dense texture. Underneath, the flowing lines of the electric bass and the percussionist's cross-rhythms give flexible support. Diabate's set was a good mixture of the various moods of Malian music, including a love song, a hunter's song, celebration song etc. He also played a couple of originals. Audiences were dazzled by the arrangements with their abrupt tempo shifts and start/ stop sequences. The group established a groove that initially had people dancing in their seats and later, by the end of the set, in the aisles clamoring for a well-deserved encore. It wasn't jazz (although Diabate has collaborated with several jazz musicians including Roswell Rudd and Ben Allison), but it surely had a place at this festival.

Lutheran Church Of The Reformation
June 11, 2007
Lisen Rylander: tenor sax, vocals, electronics a/o; Liese Nordstrom: bass flute, vocals, electronics a/o

This concert was part of the Nordic Jazz Now series, and I have to own up to being a bit lukewarm about having to see this show. While I find some electronica enjoyable, a good chunk of it I find wanting. But since the club pass always gives one the option to leave and check something else out, I figured I'd give it a shot. Besides, as my wife said, "Two girls and electronics ...what's not to like? So Sweden's Midaircondo was our next destination.

We arrived late (Diabate ran overtime), and the venue was packed and hot—standing room only. My apprehension only increased when I realized the concert hadn't started, and I could see the duo (looking like characters from a Guy Maddin movie) plus a sound man and festival promoter John Nugent frantically trying to maneuver their way around a forest of electronic equipment on the table. Obviously something wasn't working. Apparently this was their first time performing in the U.S., and they hadn't accounted for the difference in voltage.

Eventually the problem was resolved, and the music started. It was a two-voiced loop type thing that wasn't particularly effective. There was the usual attrition after the first piece, and some nearby seats became available. I thought I'd stick around a little more. The second tune seemed a little more interesting, incorporating more instruments, though I was far from won over. However, something happened, and by the third tune I realized I was being drawn into this music. Rylander picked up her tenor and started playing some interesting lines with a really nice tone. Nordstrom picked up the bass flute, and the blend of the two instruments over electronics was quite attractive. This duo had a really unique sound, and it sounded quite nice and spacious in the church. The one exception was the vocal element, which was a bit lost in the church's acoustics. The visual element didn't particularly seem essential. They performed in front of a large projection screen that flashed various images (floating jellyfish, toy reindeer, skylines etc) that may or may not have been related to the lyrics. But by the final piece, they had won me over with their unique blend of voices, electronics and reeds.

It was a fascinating hour of music. And it made for an extreme listening contrast with the more "natural music of Diabate. But there was one thing the two bands had in common: like Diabate, Midaircondo wasn't jazz, but they surely had a place at this festival. And this band was a good example of one of the consistent qualities of the RIJF: the sound of surprise; there always seems to be at least one band exceeds expectations.

Hanna Richardson Quartet
Jazz Street Stage
June 12, 2007
Hanna Richardson: vocals; Bob Sneider: guitar; Phil Flanagan: bass; Mike Melito: drums

There were plenty of vocalists to be heard at this festival, including Tessa Souter, Madeline Peyroux and Nancy Kelly. But many missed one of the finest singers at the festival, Hanna Richardson. She performed a free outdoor concert at the Jazz Street Stage with her quartet early Wednesday evening at 6:00 when most of the early club concerts were starting.

Richardson is a singer influenced by the great singers of the 40s and 50s who came out of the big band scene: Anita O'Day, Maxine Sullivan, June Christy. Like those singers, she has a natural swing in her phrasing and knows how to deliver a lyric. Her voice is warm, rich and full-bodied. Her program consisted of both the familiar ("The Simple Life , "It Might As Well Be Spring , "Hey There ) and the resoundingly obscure (Irving Berlin's "He Ain't Got Rhythm , and "How'd Ya Like To Love Me from a Bob Hope/Martha Raye movie.) She was more than ably accompanied by a band that also doubles as the Bob Sneider Trio. Being an outdoor concert in the center of a city, there were the usual intrusive urban sounds. During a bass solo a motorcyclist decided to idle behind the stage, prompting Flanagan to turn his solo into an impromptu rendition of Slim Galliard's "Put-Put-Put Goes The Motorcycle." It was all handled by the quartet with aplomb. Richardson has a charm and a wit about her that most contemporary jazz singers lack, and she demonstrated it with this set. She should be put in a club next time.

Paradigm Shift
Festival Tent
June 12, 2007
Mel Henderson: guitar; Gerry Youngman: organ; Jared Schoenig: drums; Gray Mayfield: alto sax, flute; Wycliff Gordon: trombone;

I've harped before on this, but the Festival Tent is one of the least attractive venues at the festival. Cavernous, filled with talking people, I've heard sets by the Claudia Quintet and Trio East sabotaged by less than optimum sound and indifferent audiences. One of the few bands I've seen overcome both of these obstacles is Paradigm Shift, a group with roots in Rochester. Basically it's the trio of Henderson, Youngman and Schoenig with guests added. Saxophonist Mayfield also has roots in Rochester, but he recently moved to Atlanta. And Gordon has no roots in Rochester but seems to enjoy playing with these guys. He was the special guest when the trio played the Jazz Festival in 2005.

The band came storming out of the gate with the title track from their new album Street Expressionism, a track featuring some effective flute playing by Mayfield. . Paradigm Shift's music originates from organ trios of the late 60s/early 70s. The music is funk-based but with a solid jazz grounding. Schoenig carries this off easily, bringing up the muscle and power during the funk part and easing back nicely when a more solid jazz groove is needed. Henderson is a tasty guitarist. He never overwhelms the music, preferring to emphasize a Wes Montgomery-based groove, and he always seems to be in the pocket with Schoenig. (It's no mystery as to why Dr. Lonnie Smith chose these two as his backing band last year.) Youngman's organ comes from the Jack McDuff/Lonnie Smith school of playing, but one occasionally hears him slipping in some Larry Young-style textures.

The band continued with "Falling In The Crack," a tune that seemed to particularly inspire Gordon to a strong gutbucket solo. As with all the other concerts I attended, the tent was filled to capacity (at least 1,000), and everyone was grooving along. There was even a group that seemed to be refugees from a Phish concert oscillating wildly to the band's all-powerful groove. The band concluded strongly with Charlie Parker's "Now's The Time," with Mayfield on alto mixing an Adderley-like verve with a Bird-like intellect, reaffirming this music's jazz roots.

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