Review: Jazz fest off to a 'beautifully impossible' start
05:00 AM, Jun 21, 2013
This was no Grateful Dead concert. That was cigar smoke and cologne drifting over the packed intersection at Chestnut Street and East Avenue. Dr. John and the Night Trippers were playing on a stunningly beautiful Friday evening, the opening night of the Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival.
This had to have been the biggest opening night in the 12-year history of the event. Not a square foot of pavement was visible for 100 yards or more in any direction from where Dr. John was sitting at his grand piano in front of a sea of humanity. Logistically, the night’s impressive lineup of acts 12 club venues, Pink Martini at Kodak Hall at the Eastman Theatre and free music everywhere else created a beautifully impossible evening.
Dr. John, wearing sunglasses at night, was too hip for the street, pounding the piano and growling his tunes of anarchy set to a swampy, funky, brothel beat. Just a six-piece band for such a big outdoor scene, and playing with a surprisingly sedate groove. But very effective, not a note was wasted in this generally tough sound setting.
Meanwhile, the crowd at East and Chestnut ignored the traffic signal overhead changing impotently from green to yellow to red as Dr. John sang “Rebellious, revolution, is this the final solution?”
McBride worth the wait
Not a hair follicle was exposed to dangerous stage lights by the outstanding shaven-headed quintet Inside Straight, headed by bassist Christian McBride, for the band’s first show at Kilbourn Hall, where there wasn’t an empty seat in the house.
McBride, who sports a peace sign pendant (which never goes out of style, in my opinion), took a break midway through the show to deliver a very funny apology for having missed last year’s festival after a misplaced wallet and bad weather left him stranded at two airports as he tried to get here.
He was worth the wait, graciously sharing the stage with his dynamic band: saxophonist Steve Wilson, pianist Peter Martin, drummer Ulysses Owens Jr., and particularly vibraphonist Warren Wolf, for whom McBride said he put the band together. They shared the writing credits on this melody-driven, total jazz experience, opening with McBride’s “Listen to the Heroes Cry,” Wolf’s “Gang Gang” and Wilson’s “Ms. Angelou,” a tribute to writer Maya Angelou.
Stretching out for the full hour, they had time for only two more numbers Duke Ellington’s “Sophisticated Lady” and yet another tribute: Freddie Hubbard’s “Theme For Kareem.” That was written for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the basketball Hall of Famer. Fast-paced like the game, graceful as Abdul-Jabbar played it. Surprisingly, the piece did not end with a rim shot.
Today’s jazz haiku
Five easy pieces
fall into place for McBride
better late than not
19 going on Ella Fitzgerald
Her crimson cocktail dress matching her lipstick, Nikki Yanofsky is a 21st century chanteuse, from her multi-everything hipster band (the bassist was shadowboxing backstage before the first show to psyche himself up) to the line in her opening number about “put down the cellphone.”
Playing for a packed, turn-away-the-crowd Harro East Ballroom, she and the band drifted from funky groove jazz to swing jazz.
Reality music shows have lowered our expectations of young performers, with a endless parade of not-ready teenage mall-shopping singers who know a few tunes. Tony Bennett who knows of such things says it takes 10 years for a singer to get stage legs. Yanofsky is only 19, but is already halfway there. “Do you guys know Quincy Jones?” she asked between songs in her 19-year-old voice. Jones’ company is managing her career.
That 19-year-old voice goes away when Yanofsky sings. She is polished and confident, winking and shimmying and delivering the goods with Daft Punk and Roberta Flack’s “Killing Me Softly With His Song” and promising to deliver jazz to young audiences with an imitation of Louis Armstrong on “Jeepers Creepers.”
And as a songwriter, she’s off to a good start. “When I feel down,” she said, “I don’t know about you guys, but I like to write about it.”