My sister Hilda gives us tickets to the Rochester Jazz Festival every year. What a great gift - it provides me such great pleasure for 9 days every year. This year’s Festival, its Seventeenth, promised to be another great Festival and is not disappointing! I will be covering visual highlights, along with a tad of commentary, to provide you a feel for the event.
The photo above is of Mwenso and the Shakes. The group has members from all over the world; Sierra Leone, England, South Africa, Madagascar, France, Jamaica and Hawaii. Michael Dwenso, in the middle of the first pic, is the leader of the band and he controlled the band’s actions with his hands as he sang and danced. The young lady, Michela Marino Lerman, played amazing percussion with her tap dancing. I expected an Afro-Cuban sound to the music and was surprised when the band played intricate jazz pieces instead. I loved the kinetic energy of the band as they played their tunes.
Jack Broadbent, pictured below, is considered by many the current world’s best slide guitarist. He is a 30 year old Brit, with a wry sense of humour; notice that he uses a whiskey flask as his guitar slide.
Watching Joe Locke play the vibraphones is a religious experience. I've seen him at least a dozen times (he grew up and began his career in Rochester). When he plays, he throws his whole body into it. At times, his four-mallets accelerate to the point where the white ends appear to be a dozen balls bouncing over the bars. When he introduces each song, he speaks emotionally. Every tune Joe Locke plays has great meaning to him, and if he looks like he’s becoming one with his music, it’s because he is.
Christian Sands is a 29 year old pianist, with the chops of a teenager and the sophistication of a 50 year old veteran. The photo below illustrates his intensity during the first song of his set. He started out turning on the sound on his phone and placing it in the piano where it resonated nicely. Birds were singing and Christian Sands began to sing back with his fingers on the keys. After the song, he explained that he had woken up to birds, so he recorded them on his phone and they inspired him to come up with a song. It was that kind of spontaneity that prevailed in his set.
London singer Zara McFarlane's music is decidedly postmodern and impressionistic, with an ethereal timbre that was half-R&B croon and half-Ella Fitzgerald jazzy serenade. At times her voice was bright and bold, like her outfit below, and in subtler moments, her voice turned lush and mellow. The net effect was a romantically evocative performance that I could have listened to all night.
At first, Jazzmeia Horn appears old-fashioned. She appears on stage in African clothing and she covers standards like “East of the Sun (And West of the Moon)” and “Night And Day”. She scat-sings like Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong. But then midway through a song she adds her own present-day lyrics and subverts the meaning of those standards. As the song progresses, she also stretches the human voice beyond its usual limits at times sounding like a chirping bird and at times yelping like a cat. The effect is mesmerizing and awe-inspiring. The audience I listened with, loved her and wanted her to play more.
No one played more exuberantly at the Festival than the organist from Japan, Akiko Tsuruga. She received two standing ovations during her hour long set. Given the set up of the stage, I could not zap a photo while she played the organ but the photo of Akiko below acknowledging the crowd's pleasure conveys that joy.
Finally, what Festival blog would be complete without a crowd shot? So, here is one of the very large crowd listening to Community Soul Project.