Review: Closing day splendor at Kilbourn
05:00 AM, Jun 29, 2013
Leaning on the piano, listening to his band, glancing up into the full house at Kilbourn Hall, Kurt Elling was the picture of ease. Day 9, final day of the Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival, and that’s the picture you want to hang onto.
“And it’s all happening in air-conditioned splendor!” Elling marveled.
“Come Fly With Me,” he sang, tackling Sinatra with his first song. A daring choice, even for a singer as highly regarded as Elling. Sinatra owns that song. But Elling was turning a few heads here. Unlike the smooth Sinatra delivery, Elling fills each line with unexpected phrasing.
He knows how to win over the audience, praising it for its high fashion sense, intelligence and hipness “Just the sexiest people in town.” He’s a hipster himself in slicked-back hair with a pocket handkerchief, and uses cool words like “ensemble” when the rest of us say “band.”
Sinatra’s not Elling’s influence, anyway. Mark Murphy is. Perhaps you remember Murphy at this fest two years ago, 79 years old and the coolest guy in the Harro East Ballroom. Like Murphy, Elling sings Dionne Warwick’s “A House is Not a Home” but he also speak-sings, kind of a lyric poetry. It’s language architecture. And Sinatra never boomboxed, getting in a scat duel with his drummer. (Elling won with a move that had him brushing his microphone back and forth along the sleeve of his jacket, producing a scratchy fabric sound that no other vocalist came up with at this singer-heavy fest.)
He spoke of “the serendipic acquisition of the right song when you need it.” This was praise for your radio deejay, although perhaps more for deejays from an era when they had more control over their playlists. But it was also a knock on the 21st century music practice of listening to songs on an iPod. “You put it in there yourself,” he said. “So there is very little surprise.”
So Elling’s a throwback, and he described one such moment of serendipic acquisition that he experienced as a 19-year-old kid driving down a rural Wisconsin road in a battered pick-up truck, uncertain of what his next move should be with the 18-year-old girl sitting next to him. He fiddled with the radio, and found a song written in 1934, recorded in 1959. “Talk about the right song at the right time,” Elling said. And then he sang it: The Flamingos’ “I Only Have Eyes For You.”
Today’s jazz haiku
Jazz folks inventing
cryptic second languages
Fresh jazz ears
Gwilym Simcock. Now there’s a name that’ll send spellcheck into a spasm. A young Englishman playing Christ Church, a building made for the piano.
He started out as a classical player, but jazz wooed him in his late teens, Simcock said at his first of two sets. And when his interest in classical was reawakened, it was with fresh ears. Hence a version of Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A Minor, suitably expanding on Grieg’s themes in a jazzy way. And a short discussion on jazz bassist Jaco Pastorious, “my favorite non-piano player,” Simcock said.
Pastorious, a tragic figure who died young, redefined the electric bass. For a while he was a member of Weather Report, a jazz band that could play stadiums. Imagine the influence on a young musician like Simcock: A jazz band that actually made money and had groupies! Weather Report’s gone now, and even Kenny G can’t fill stadiums now. So Simcock saluted that jazz age with the fast and tumbling “Jaco and Joe,” a tribute to Pastorius and Joe Zawinul, another Weather Report alumnus who has since died.
Grieg, Weather Report, Gwilym Simcock. If you take the leash off and let the dog run, it’s all jazz.
Inside not out
Not everyone was at Trombone Shorty at the Alexander Street stage. The Little Theatre was packed for Amy Lynn & the Gunshow’s second set. “Drink my wine, sleep in my bed, funny how I want you dead,” sang the jazz vamp Amy Lynn Zanetto, backed by a six-piece horn band, including Canandaigua native Alex Hamlin.
A few of my favorite things
Youn Sun Nah, for wringing emotion from the merest of sighs. Stretch Orchestra, for the humor and rock-like intensity of the playing. Michael Wollny Trio, for keyboard exuberance. Anat Cohen Quartet, for the most wide-ranging version of “La Vie En Rose” ever. Christian Wallumrod Ensemble, for a brilliant concept: an inexplicable avant-garde first half of a show that was a deconstruction of its instruments, and a second half of re-constructing all of those sounds into beautiful melodies.
Some other opinions
Rick Simpson, Thursday-evening deejay on WRUR-FM (88.5): Stretch Orchestra Canadian guitarist Kevin Breit wows Rochester again, this time with the help of Matt Brubeck and Jesse Stewart. Youn Sun Nah With every breath and every note, she commanded the attention of two full house shows at the Lutheran Church. Trondheim Jazz Orchestra Madcap jazz to remind us to not take it all so seriously.
Greg Bell, publisher of jazzrochester.com: Pianist Alfredo Rodriguez “I came out of this one buzzing due to the intensity of the playing.” Trondheim Jazz Orchestra. Eric Alexander with Harold Mabern “There were few of the old guys at the festival this year (most of them are gone), but Mabern was a hoot and man could he play.” Clarinetist Anat Cohen and her quartet. And: “Although not jazz per se, I was floored by Youn Sun Nah. What was weird was that her voice on stage seemed so shy and diminished, but there was real power in her singing almost scary at times.”