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Freihofer's Saratoga Jazz Festival, Saratoga Springs, NY, June 29-30, 2013

R.J. DeLuke By

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The baritone sax stalwart Gary Smulyan played his typical set—typically outstanding—searing through the jazz mainstream with Mike LeDonne on the Hammond organ, Paul Bollenback on guitar and Joe Farnsworth on drums. He never fails to please. Another guy who's also showing he never fails when he gets a chance to get his own group on the stage, is bassist Ben Williams. He's one of the great young bassists on the entire scene, and as such keeps quite busy. But his Sound Affects group does everything from swing to groove. The rhythm pocket is so solid, it must be a great ride for all the soloists, which included Matt Stevens, the guitarist who's known for his work with Christian Scott. Stevens may not be as well known as some of his colleagues, but don't go to sleep on him. He's a guitar slinger and played his butt off.



Pianist Fabian Almazan is a fiendish pianist who's been plying his trade with the Terrence Blanchard band, interacting with cats like the great drummer Kendrick Scott. He played a set with some equally fine representatives of the younger age group in jazz, the wonderful Rudy Royston on drums and the strong and flexible Linda May Han Oh on the bass. They played great together, interpreting some very cool music from the pen of Almazan.

A bit disappointing was the Chris Bergson band led by a guitarist who had spent time with Levon Helm, and whose band played some good blues, but somehow seemed underwhelming. Good voice, nice guitar, not much pizzazz from the bandstand. For example, Chris O'Leary a singer and harmonica player who cut his teeth with Helm, was a blessing to the roofing industry in Saratoga a few weeks prior when he played three sets of high-voltage, fun stuff that tore the lid off and left the town shaking. Same lineage, different effect. Singer Brianna Thomas had a strong voice and a good band, but she relied too much on power and detracted from sections of her songs. Good and, good choices. Perhaps more seasoning will do the trick.

The 2013 edition of the Saratoga Jazz Festival will be hard to top, but the anticipation will have people looking forward to The Hang.

Photo Credit: Richard Conde

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