Fringe fest brings energy downtown

11:04 PM, Sep 20, 2013


Written By Jeff Spevak | Staff music critic

Seth Faergolia marveled at the scene before him Friday night: No empty seats at Bernunzio Uptown Music. “We played it last year,” he said of the First Niagara Rochester Fringe Festival, “and there were 10 people here. Look at this!”

His delightful band, 23 Psaegz (that’s pronounced “sages”), had something to do with the crowd. A 14-piece progressive hippie collective, with rock instrumentation, tuba, strings, water jug, washboard, cello and plenty o’ percussion, created a joyous cacophony of harmony. Faergolia is an energetic, wild-eyed, bearded frontman. A quirky, compelling vocal chameleon with show-tune folk originals like the inexplicably celebratory “Murder at the Bug Jar.” The Psaegz, your high school marching band, if the band director was Jerry Garcia.

Photos: Bandaloop and more

Fine Rochester musicians, on a balmy, beautiful night in downtown Rochester. The acts have proven wildly uneven — that’s a fringe fest for you — but the streets look lifelike.

Incidentally, every show that I went to on this night was free.

More cello

Java’s Café was packed. It’s no secret that cellists are the most popular of all the orchestral instruments — tuba players come in dead last — and there were six of them onstage for Cello Show. Plus a drummer. Logistics were an issue, properly arranging the cellists in a tight semicircle around their music stands to ensure that some innocent front-row audience member didn’t catch a bow in the side of the head.

This was a showcase for Audrey Q. Snyder, like everyone onstage an Eastman School of Music student or graduate gone bad. Do their classical and jazz professors know that Snyder is throwing away tens of thousands of dollars of higher-ed music in favor of indie pop stardom?

Snyder mixed cover songs with originals. Her “585” was a tribute to spending a summer in Rochester. It was a lilting, heat-shimmering number, and tequila was involved. The cello’s limitations are that it is capable of only emitting beautiful, mournful, wistful notes, nothing angry. “Sometimes the world is really kind of harsh,” she said, introducing her song ” Night Music.” And the cello fixes all that.

Sometimes it’s sassy (Snyder likes that word). I’d always assumed that the piano tucked away in a corner of the coffee shop was non-functional, as most days it’s reduced to a plant stand topped by a howling taxidermy coyote. But it did indeed work for Snyder’s “Cool Friends,” a song she wrote about leaving Oklahoma and her friends to go to school. But Eastman had cool friends, too, she discovered, and she dedicated the song to them.

Something’s fishy

Shows at Java’s are accompanied by a stream of sidewalk passersby stopping to peer in the window, all googly-eyed. It’s uncertain as to which side of the glass is in an aquarium.

Frankenjazz

Al Biles and his duet partner, both trumpeters of sorts, have kind of a weird relationship. Biles would step back and listen to a solo and kinda of chuckle and say something under his breath, like the two were exchanging a private joke. And you wanted to shout out: “Al, that’s a MIDI converter with an algorithm software program that you designed back in your Frankenstein lab at Castle RIT! Remember? It’s not human!”

As a player, GemJam is, um, kind of mechanical. A couple of small electronic boxes and a laptop sitting on a table at Biles’ side in The Little Theatre. It’s impossible for his creation to play a wrong note, Biles said after the show. GemJam is simply not programmed to do so. But, Biles concedes, jazz is kind of about wrong notes. Miles Davis said so.

Biles also admitted that traditional jazz musicians tend to get cranky about his creation. Like GenJam is taking a real musican’s job. Biles has even had angry jazzman shouting at him, trying to sabotage his shows.

Biles and GenJam played Wayne Shorter and Thelonius Monk and resurrected a forgotten, too-typical tragic jazzman named Tina Brooks. And Paul Williams, whose theme for the TV show Love Boat is the right brand of cheese for the canned rhythm tracks backing the two trumpeters.

Al Biles and GenJam have three more shows at the Fringe, including 4:30 p.m. Sunday at The Little.

A great idea for that next beach vacation

The sign in front of Katie Jo Suddaby read “Please do not touch (or sneeze).” She estimates it will take 50 hours to finish her Tibetan sand painting of a peacock she has begun on a round glass table in the Geva Theatre café.

I saw a monk doing this at an interfaith conference about four years ago and was absolutely mesmerized,” she said. Suddaby is not Buddhist, but a senior pastor of the Baptist Temple of Brighton, a collective of avant-garde thinkers and artists. But it was that monk — and instructional videos on YouTube — that got her started, using a funnel to patiently direct the colored sand. With the end of the fest, Suddaby’s sand painting will be swept into the dustbin of creative moments. “Nothing to sell, nothing to market,” she said. “I’m just a roaming impermanence counselor.”