Review: Young Rochester natives and musical contemplations

11:53 PM, Jun 24, 2013

Mike Cottone (Photo provided by XRIJF)/


Written By Jeff Spevak | Staff music critic

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In Rochester, and at the Eastman School of Music, we’re raising musicians and then kicking them out of the nest like baby birds. They fly off to big, exotic places, make music, eat well, then return home for the Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival.

Mike Cottone is in the early stages of that flight. A young trumpet player from Rush-Henrietta High School and the Eastman, “This is like therapy for me after being so far from home,” he told the crowd at the Rochester Club Monday night. His travels have passed through Juilliard and beyond, including a recent tour that took him through an Istanbul swarming with riot police. The trip resulted in a new composition, so he’s reflecting the world around him.

Cottone’s maturing quickly. A piece he wrote, “Slow Down,” might have been about his struggles with a girlfriend at one point, he said, but now it’s more likely about a traffic ticket. There was no confusion about “Bud Powell,” a Chick Corea tribute to the pianist. “It’s become one of my favorite pieces,” Cottone said, perhaps because he had a chance to step off the stage and just listen during a piano solo by Chris Ziemba. Ziemba was one of four former Eastman students in the quartet, alongside bassist Dan Loomis and drummer Jared Schonig.

Cottone’s history here caught up with him a few times on Monday. Before the show, a former music teacher gave him an old cassette tape of Cottone playing in the eighth grade. “I’m afraid to listen to it,” he confessed.

And Cottone’s roots here were also reflected in a brand-new piece called “Thank You,” in memory of his high-school music director. Dan McMurray passed away in 2002 at the age of 46. Cottone had a tough time getting through the intro to the song, breaking it off abruptly; he just started playing. “He’s the reason we’re all doing this,” Cottone said after the first set. “I made it all the way through in the sound check. I know why I wrote it. I just never had to announce it before.”

Nyberg’s tiny ecosystem

Lina Nyberg didn’t have to go far for the inspiration for her “Song of the Monster,” which she explained is about “the fears we have inside.” Throughout the show, this innovative, creative Swedish singer seemed to be channeling internal conversations with herself.

In the first show of the night at the sweltering Lutheran Church of the Reformation — this is a hot festival in a couple of respects — the drums, bass and guitar trio laid down a growling groove for “The Song of the Skin.” Nyberg was an instrument herself, vocalizing and scat-singing and muttering like excited rabbits whispering to each other in their warren. At times, she sounded more like an indie rocker than a jazz chanteuse.

Nyberg’s latest CD, Palaver, is songs about people who have affected the singer — her daughter, the composer Claude Debussy, the actor Ingrid Bergman. These were often odd songs, sometimes more like poetry or spoken-word stories. “Ditte” was written while pregnant with her daughter: “We’re a tiny ecosystem. … Do I have to die for you?”

Today’s jazz haiku

Urgent scat singing

Swedish songbird on a wire

voices in her head

Okinawan spoken here

The wide reach of jazz music was amply demonstrated by the guitar-percussion duo of Hiroya Tsukamoto and Satoshi Takeishi at Max of Eastman Place. Introducing an ancient Japanese folk song with a title he translated as “Home,” Tsukamoto called it “a Japanese version of John Denver’s ‘Country Roads.’” It was meditatively elegant. But with just a 50-minute set, we were spared a Japanese version of “Thank God I’m a County Boy.”

Tsukamoto’s guitar style includes gentle percussives and the deep resonating bass parts of “Mountain Zone.” Alongside him, Takeishi, working with a drum kit as minimalist as that of an organ grinder’s monkey, scrambled to work in an interesting array of bells and shaking things (pardon the technical jargon).

Tsukamoto sang in hushed tones, sometimes so quietly that it was impossible to determine the language. The duo did do one folk song from Okinawa, which Tsukamoto said was in the Okinawan dialect. “Which I don’t understand much,” he confessed. “I hope you don’t understand it.”