The city of Albany, NY, started a one-day jazz festival a few years ago and while it had some highlights, generally it is a small-scale event and was inconsistent. Its fourth edition this year while still small was a sparkler, with outstanding music across the board.
The weather at Albany's Riverfront Park was also sparkling for a mid- September day, adding to the warmth of the event. But the music is what really shined.
Singer Kurt Elling
provided his usual outstanding set and Dee Dee Bridgewater
had the crowd going with her talented voice and stage charisma. Local saxophonist Brian Patneaude
showed why he has become the face of jazz for the state's Capital District region and the swing/jump blues band J Street Jumpers
was a pleasant surprise with a fun and kickin' show.
The biggest "surprise however, came in the form of a last-minute substitutionalbeit for a bad reason. The David Newman quintet was slated to perform, but two days before, the saxophonist fell and broke a hip. (He's doing OK, bandmates said). In his place stepped Joe Lovano. With no disrespect to others, Lovano is one of the finest players of his generation. Lovano came in with just his tenor sax and, typically, just about blew the bell off it.
Playing with Howard Johnson (he of tuba fame) on baritone sax and a rhythm section anchored by underrated bass man John Menegon, the group smoked through its set. Starting with Miles Davis' "Four the band wailed and didn't let up much. Lovano played his Coltrane- Rollins inspired way, with multi-note runs and changes, augmented by a great sound. His fertile ideas were nearly matched by Johnson, who was stellar on the large horn. Both men play the full gamut, highest highs to lowest lows, and were exploring the standards. The most calm was a nod to Newman on a rendition of his "Hard Times hit from 1960. More sweet and soulful like Newman's sax sound itself Johnson and Lovano managed to examine snake-like paths while keeping the guts of the tune.
Elling's polished group never mails one in, and Albany was no exception. Opening with its slick version of "April in Paris, Elling displayed his strong, rich voice that can carry a not seemingly forever (his intro to "More Than You Know was pure virtuoso) and can get soulful, swinging and sweet whenever required. "Easy Living showed his ability to be hip and heartfelt at the same time. His rendition/rant of Jon Hendrick's "Home Cooking showed his way with words and wry humor. "In the Winelight was tender at times and exploded into scat that few can do on Elling's level, exploring sound, rhythm and syllables.
Laurence Hobgood's piano sounded as good as ever. One of the most underrated of pianists, his chops are superb, as is his sense of song form and knowledge of when to be subtle and when to wail. He's perfect with Elling, no doubt aided by their years of working together. Bassist Rob Amster remains an anchor who can pluck gutsy solos. Added lately in drummer Willie Jones III, who is one of the best of the younger set and seems to fly under the radar. (He's the spark behind many Roy Hargrove's bands for years, among other fine credentials). His propulsion and feel and fire filled out the music greatly. Even Hobgood remarked after the show that Jones gives the music different life.
Grammy and Tony winner Bridgewater had a tight band of her own and she proved to have the "entertainer title down pat. Not a bad thing. her voice is strong and she improvises well. She establishes a great rapport with the audience. Her "Afro Blue was delectable and songs done at high speed came off with precision. At the same time, a soft Besa Me Mucho was a sweet treat, warm and sensual. She sang in Spanish and French, and explored the music of Brazil as well as standards like "Speak Low.
Patneaude's group performed his original songs, like "Resistance and the title cut from his album Distance
which is getting notice well beyond Albany. Patneaude has a good tone and a penchant for strong melodic and harmonic improvisation. He also writes good tunes and is still writing them beyond the realm of his latest recording. His exploration of the "Resistance melody was what jazz is supposed to be. Guitarist George Muscatello had some sweet swinging moments too, particularly on "Unending, on which the band seemed in best form. A solid set.
Singer Juanita Williams walked on stage after two tight and swinging numbers from the Washington, D.C.-based J Street Jumpers and took the music a bit higher. The band can really swing and play the jump blues, with some pretty good trumpet in Vince McCool's blaring big- band style and some slick solos from Charlie Hubel's tenor sax. Williams' strong and flexible voice was perfect for the repertoire that included the classic blues "Everyday and the romping "Mamma, He Treats Your Daughter Mean. She could be entertaining and bawdy, like when she crooned that she "liked her men like she liked her whiskey: slightly aged and mellow. She can also sing more in a jazz vein. The band was fun.
The Albany fest made good strides in 2005, with the best music since Jimmy Heath, Randy Brecker, Cedar Walton and Tootie Heath did a Brignola tribute a couple years ago. Another good tribute, and good stride, might be incorporating Nick's name somehow into the festival title.