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That steely resolve was tested severely when, midway through singer Teri Roigerís performance, the ominous sky erupted in a downpour. Amazingly, the crowd remained, albeit huddled under the highway overpass.
For those willing to don galoshes and carry an umbrella, the 2nd annual Kingston Jazz Festival had a great deal to offer fans young and old. The sleepy river town, situated at the foot of the Catskills, played host to an all-star jazz lineup over the course of a soggy June weekend and drew a respectable crowd of diehard jazz buffs who, even when huddled under a nearby highway overpass, kept spirits high with raucous applause and vigorous foot tapping. Rufus Reid's powerhouse quintet, augmented with four orchestral voices, got the festivities underway Friday night in the assembly room of Kingston's historic city hall. The boomy room, complete with portraits of founding fathers and heavy, scalloped crown molding, resonated with the pulsing energy of Reid's four-movement composition "Linear Surroundings . The hour-long suite consisted of long sections that showcased the bassist's knack for orchestrating dense harmonies and featured the characteristically strong soloing of trumpeter Freddie Hendrix and tenor master Rich Perry, along with impressive soloistic shows by cellist Akua Dixon and French Horn player Mark Taylor. In a similar vein, The String Trio of New York closed out the night with a stirring performance of guitarist James Emery's composition "The River of Orion . Following the lead of Emery's virtuosic guitar, bassist John Lindberg and violinist Rob Thomas dove headlong into the piece's five movements and deftly navigated its jagged, halting lines. At times a down home blues and at others a post-modern classical anthem, the piece held the crowd in hushed anticipation till the very end. Saturday found the events moved about a mile down the road to Kingston's colorful waterfront, where fans munched on brown bag lunches and sipped beer from local pubs. There, in the shadow of the 9W overpass, upstate local John Menegon propelled his quintet through a series of quicksilver originals, before making way for Ben Allison's Cowboy Justice. The quartet, featuring trumpeter Ron Horton, guitarist Steve Cardenas and Gerald Cleaver on drums, played songs from their latest release, as well an impromptu version of John Lennon's "Jealous Guy . Propelled by Allison's lilting bass and Cleaver's wry punctuations, Horton's trumpet soared and blended seamlessly with the electric throb of Cardenas' Gibson. The modest crowd was up in arms by hour's end, in response to the group's masterful performance and an unexpected break in the weather, demanding an encore.
Following a dinner break, this reviewer caught the last half of Joe Locke's performance with his dynamic trio. The vibes master, looking like he had spent the last week on a beach, dazzled the crowd with virtuosity and showmanship and had everyone on their feet following a mesmerizing duet with fellow vibraphonist and special guest Christos Rafalides.
Closing out the night was master pianist Barry Harris' quintet. Known as much for his teaching as his wonderful playing, Harris quickly had the crowd singing and composing a tune on the spot simply by yelling out numbers which Harris harmonized into a piece. The septuagenarian showed off his formidable chops on a burning "Cherokee and inspired his bandmates in turn. Longtime Harris drummer Leroy Williams beat infectious patterns on his dry ride cymbal, while bassist Ari Roland alternated between lively arco solos and plucked bass lines behind tenor saxophonist Chris Byars and trombonist John Mosca.
Sunday's events began at noon at the waterfront and increasingly familiar faces greeted this reviewer. Upstate jazz fans are a hardy bunch and your correspondent was beginning to feel something of a kinship with them. Their love of jazz and willingness to endure the elements to get a chance to hear their heroes gave hope for the music's future. That steely resolve was tested severely when, midway through singer Teri Roiger's performance, the ominous sky erupted in a downpour. Amazingly, the crowd remained, albeit huddled under the highway overpass. Roiger turned to face her soaked audience and as a thank you, offered up a haunting version of her song "Still Life , in which pianist Frank Kimbrough soloed with sublime virtuosity.
The marathon day was packed with great performances by tenor saxophonist Brian Patneaude, Chicago violinist Diane Delin and guitarist Russell Malone. The rain persisted, but failed to dampen the spirits of Kingston's jazz faithful or the performers who showed their appreciation throughout the soggy day. Dressed to the nines, the Count Basie Orchestra put a swingin' cap on the day as only they could do.