Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Freihofer's Saratoga Jazz Fest Always Features Some of the Best

At 35 years old, Festival retains its quality

The 35th annual Freihofer's Jazz Festival is always a gas. It's had nearly every major jazz player appear since 1978 and it has seen plenty of very young and then-unknown people gain some notoriety here in upstate New York and go on to great things.

The picnic/party is well know. That's not to say noisy and rocky. laid back. Relaxing as all hell. Family. Friends meet old friends. Meet new friends.

And high-quality music is always there. This year has the potential to stack very high.
On Saturday, the great bassist -- great musician -- Christian McBride is there. The great, great ensemble The Mingus Big band comes upstate. Must see stuff. Esperanza Spalding... her quick rise toward the top of the music world is well deserved not hype. She's a fine bassist, a singer whose talent is growing. And she has s great presence; surrounds herself with great musicians. Jeremy Pelt, one of the finer trumpet players brings his band in. Michel Camilo, a virtuoso pianist is there.

[Pictures: Top, Roberta Gambarini at the gazebo stage in 2001. Bottom: Hilary Kole at the same stage in 2011. © R.J. DeLuke]

This is all Saturday! And add young very fine players like Mario Abney on trumpet and Haily Niswanger on sax. Singer Catherine Russell is also an on-the-rise vocalist with a strong soulful voice. Shee-it. For fans of less-dense jazz (that was diplomatic) ... There's Chris Botti and Maceo Parker.

Sunday features more greats. The trio of Oz showcases the stunning drumming of Omar Hakeem and the piano fo Rachel Z. They mesh so well and they're exciting. Hiromi is another piano virtuoso of the highest order and she's a delight to watch. The Yellowjackets will please fusion fans and it will be worth checking out that the band now includes Felix Pastorious on bass--son of icon Jaco Pastorious. Their sax player, Bob Mintzer, says he's great and could even go beyond his dad in what he will one day accomplish. Yikes. And you've never seen the harp ... string harp like the angles play, not blues harp ... played like Edmar Castenada plays it. Sounds like three guitarists at the same time. hip vocalist Sachal Vasandani is always a pleasure and the big band duties fall to Arturo O'Farrill's Latin Jazz Orchestra. They can blow the roof off the place.

Toss in the bluesy rock of Brian Mitchell and you've got a fine, fine day.

Then out comes Diana Krall, who needs no hype. And Trombone Shorty who just might have everyone in Saratoga Springs dancing with his high-energy show that is entertainment, funk, fun, New Orleans all mixed. And fine musicianship as well.

People can walk into the festival and enjoy the great lawn party. So it's never to late to say "Let's Go."

Just get there.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Capital District Jazz Musicians Hitting Hard with 2012 Recordings

Trio of disks shines at the halfway mark of the year

The Capital District of New York state -- (Albany, Schenectady, Troy, Saratoga region) has always been rich in jazz talent and has a surprising amount of venues where jazz can be seen and heard. Many of them are small, but there are large venue too where all the heavy hitters come and perform. But weekend to weekend these folks who write, play and teach in this area provide many a memorable night of music.

This year is at about the halfway mark and three recordings jump to the top of the list.

The latest is Confluence (Artist Recording Collective), by alto saxophonist Keith pray, a mainstay of the jazz scene up here. It’s done with a cool band -- Chuck D'Aloia, guitar; Peter Tomlinson, piano; Lou Pappas, bass; and Jeff "Siege" Siegel on drums -- that swings effortlessly through a set largely written by Pray. Tossed in are songs by Jimmy Heath, Trane and a D’Aloia original.

Prays playing is always on the money. He floats and skates around the melodies with the right dash of verve and grit. His light tone is captivating and his ideas solid. A ballad tells a lot about a person’s playing and Song for Katie shows Pray’s ability to convey emotion and melt hearts. As a writer, the tunes are sweet. The arrangement of Heath’s Gingerbread Boy runs of the path a bit, but delightfully so. Trane’s Africa adds da funk to da disk. Engaging. Everyone is up to the task of the varied themes. Seigel is always a tasty, tasty muthafucka on the drums.

A special addition is that of D’Aloia, a scorching guitarist who’s resume includes the late Capital District jazz icon Nick Brignola, as well as Kenny Werner, Randy Brecker, Pat LaBarbara, Claudio Roditi, Jimmy Cobb and a bunch of others. He’s not usually found in clubs with Pray (I believe he has moved away from the area), but adds a great texture to the sounds with his tone and dexterity. Love his solo on Africa. These are fine musicians.

Out for a while now is a hot disk led by drummer Michal Benedict & Bopitude, Five and One (Planet Arts) . It’s a different animal, in that it has three horns out front, including the remarkable Gary Smulyan on baritone sax. Brian Patneaude, a local monster, plays the tenor and Chris Pasin handle the trumpet work. The delectable Bruce Barth plays the shit out of the piano and Mike Lawrence is on bass. It’s the second recording for this lineup, and as their name suggests, it’s heavy on bop.

The band kicks ass and takes names forging thru a variety of warhorse tunes by Sonny Stitt, Thad Jones, J.J. Johnson, Hank Mobley, Kenny Dorham and others. It’s pretty typical head-solos-head stuff you’d have heard in a club in the early 1950s. That’s OK. They knock the shit out of this stuff. The solos are sparkling. Barth is always creative and interesting with chops to spare. Smulyan comes in with the big reputation and doesn’t disappoint, charging through with the big tone and the fleet fingers. Patneaude’s is superb throughout, evoking elements of some of the great tenors along the lineage. On Stitt’s Eternal Triangle, he burns like the author himself would, something Brian keeps a bit hidden in some of his own stuff. don’t go to sleep on him tho.

No faking here. They go for it on these memorable tunes. The leader’s drums are a key, keeping up the rhythmic clouds for the soloists to walk on. Solid work. This band is doing some touring, so check em out. Not usually with Smulyan, but sometimes, including a date in Schenectady, NY, in the fall. This is a great disk for people who like their mainstream jazz served up with the joy and skill it was intended for.

Mentioned in a past blog (scroll down), is Patneaude’s All Around Us. I won’t repeat too much, except that he’s one of the gems of the region’s musicians. Never disappoints, and his disk are consistently outstanding. I raved about his writing in the last blog. His playing always a joy; thoughtful and purposeful as he negotiates his fine constructions. He’s also intense with a tone that is his own; strong and expressive.

The guys on this disk are solid as shit. They know each other, having been partners in crime for some time now. I notice bass player Mike Delprete’s strengths more and more every time I see him. Pianist David Caldwell-Mason is the newest Patneaude addition for me, and adds intrigue. The Brooklynite’s lines aren’t just grabbed from the jazz bag. He has his way and comes up with ideas that are different. Worth hearing more of.

These albums stand up to stuff on any level and they’re getting deserved notoriety. Good for those folks and here’s hoping there’s a lot more from them.