15 June 2009

Rochester International Jazz Fest - Night One

The RIJF is an interesting breed of music festival, certainly unlike any I have participated in. Not sure if it is modeled after a longer standing festival, or if it is of its own making. Essentially, if you want to experience it as a festival, and not a small smattering of one-off shows, you need to be armed with the club pass, which gives you the ability to saunter in and out of 8 different venues as you see fit for 9 straight days in downtown Rochester. I say "as you see fit," but in reality, it is very likely you'll be waiting in line to get into a venue for upwards of an hour or longer if you really have the patience and a burning desire to see a particular musician. There is a science to this, and it is a science I will continually need to perfect. First step is figuring out the best way from point a to point b for each venue permutation.

Friday night, opening night, looked to be one of, if not the best lineup for the festival, on paper at least. I arrived on scene a little later than I intended, and jumped right on the corner-turning line which was already filing in for the Bill Frisell Trio, the one act that I absolutely knew I could not miss. I was one of the last people to make it inside (phew!) and was told there were 3 seats left in the first level. I walked down the aisle to find a seat and spotted the three empties, front row, flush right. Full view of the stage though, this place is too small for obstructed view. The week was getting off to a great start. Bill Frisell and his trio, Tony Scher on bass and Kenny Wolleson on drums, came out about 15m late, c'mon, we're on a tight schedule here! The set got off to a spacy start, with birds chirping in the monitors, and a drifting lilting tune from the band. They continued along with some more meandering and mellow and heavily improvised music. My mind was set adrift, zoning out after a very long week. But the musicians' meandering gave way to some truly satisfying moments, particularly gelling in a set-closing Boubacar. Wolleson, with his short tie, ragged suit, and unkempt hair, was the star of the set, not so much for how he played, but how he played within the music. Pushing it, stretching, holding it together. After a standing O and a beautiful encore, it was back out onto the street on onto something else.

That something else ended up being the Jazz Mandolin Project at the Harro East. Plopped in a seat right up front again, and enjoyed a couple long jams featuring Peter Apflebaum on horns, keys, and percussion. Been a while since I have seen Jamie Masefield's band, good to see them again. But JMP did display one of the factors that made the RIJF a difficult place to navigate. I tried hard not to get an itchy trigger finger when checking out each band, it's nice to try and least get a range of what they're doing before handing down judgment on them. At a pop fest it's easy to get in 4 or 5 songs in under 20 minutes and get a good feeling for the music. But in jazz, sit with a band for 20 minutes and you won't even be through the second piece, maybe not even the first. So spending 30 minutes with JMP I saw one and a half songs. Hardly a good cross section, but I was ready to move on.

So I left the Harro East with its Star of David up above the doorway, and into the Lutheran Church next door... music is a religion don'cha know? The Lutheran Church is the Nordic Jazz Series venue all week. Tonight it was home to Kari Ikonen Karriko. It was SRO when I got in so I leaned up against the wall and took in a wonderfully boppy piano trio, edgy enough to keep me interested and excited. After that song ended, 3 more musicians entered stage right. Sax, trumpet, and viola. Oh yeah, and the piano player swiveled in his seat to play the Moog sitting next to him. Things changed quickly. The boppin trio turned into a swirling soundtrack-esque soundscape, with the viola taking some nice leads above it all. That was some interesting stuff.

Stopped in quickly into the Big Tent for a little Organissimo to see if they were indeed more than just another B3 trio like their program description promised. Nope, pretty standard. Then tried to stop in for some Peter King at the Christ Church, but it was at capacity, so I kept moving.

And on I moved to see violin sensation Billy Bang at the Xerox Auditorium. Billy Bang and his band are certainly an entertaining and talented bunch of guys, but in the first 30 minutes Billy banged out a lengthy violin solo (and I mean solo, w/o accompaniment) that was simply wankery with no musical bearing whatsoever, almost immediately following that was nearly the same thing out of the bass player. That got me out of my seat, and out the door. Taking a fantastic solo doesn't impress me nearly as much as taking a fantastic solo that actually speaks to the music being played around you, or better yet that completely blends into the music being played around you.

I wasn't planning on seeing Frisell again, but my out-of-town friend was headed there so I joined him to check out some more of the goods. And I am glad I did, the late set trumped the early, with a close-to-epic rocking improv that really stole the entire evening. That's how you do it, no soloing necessary.

For a good compilation of all the local coverage of RIJF check out the Jazz@Rochester blog.


Anonymous said...

re: organissimo, how quickly was quickly? They did some really neat numbers with shifting time signatures, odd meters, etc. They also did some standard bluesy shuffle stuff to mix it up. Definitely better than Joey D (I saw both).

Liffy said...

yeah, I will admit, I didn't give them much of a chance, was more on my way to something else and stopped in. I find it tough to keep attentive in the cavernous big tent.