Under sun-soaked skies and dry, cool weather, the 27th annual Lake George Jazz Weekend launched its festivities without a hitch. Up to bat first was the solid piano-led sound of Daniel Kelly’s Emerge Trio. With a jazz-rocking cadence, the threesome started the ball rolling as Kelly, bassist Chris Tarry and drummer Jordan Perlson set the upbeat tone for much more to come.
After Kelly and company hit one out of the park with their tight and flowing set, next up to bat was jazz-classical-folk legend David Amram. After playing a marathon three-hour set the night before on the Jazz Cruse aboard The Adirondac steamer, it was interesting to see if nearly 80-year-old Amram had the energy to do it all over again. He certainly did, bringing the audience into line with rhythmic clapping to accompany the band’s beats. Sporting a huge smile, Amram had the crowd dancing in their seats and bobbing their heads to the ensemble’s tunes and the maestro’s showmanship.
With bases loaded, the final batter of the afternoon’s show was an unexpected star attraction. The Randy Newnan Project took the popular songwriter’s material to new heights. Who knew that Newman’s “Short People” could sound so jazzily cool when sung by the incomparable Roseanna Vitro accompanied by Sonny Rollins’ former pianist Mark Soskin, bassist Dean Johnson and drummer Tim Horner. The surprise of the hour was the beautiful jazz stylings of violinist Zach Brock, whose notes nestled perfectly in the pocket.
The Lake George Arts Project’s dynamic duo of presenters duo – executive director John Strong and artistic director Paul Pines – had more in store for the several hundred jazz fans in attendance on Saturday – the young and vibrant New Orleans-bred trumpet master Christian Scott had a dynamic evening set to perform.
With a Dizzy Gillespie-type trumpet in his hand and a four-piece ensemble backing him, Scott exploded on the amphitheater stage taking charge of every note. Not yet 30 years old, this guy can not only swing, but he can blow, too. And blow he did. Tenor man Louis Fouche wailed alongside Scott, as did guitarist Matther Stevens. So did drummer Jamore Williams and bassist Chris Funn, a man of many intense faces and smiles. When it was finally all over on Saturday night, there was only the sound of thundering applause drowning out the crickets – even long after the encore.
Sunday came rolling with a little more humidity and a little less sun, but the music was just as intense and fun. The lake was just as alive as the day before with nearly as many people taking up lawn space on the hill facing the stage. A few umbrellas were handy in case of rain, but the weather wasn’t a problem as phenomenal saxophonist Sharel Cassity and her veteran jazz band took the stage.
The audience not only took note, but also sat up in their chairs thumbing through their programs. Who was this magnificent saxophonist wearing a mini-skirt and blowing out ferocious riffs like there was no tomorrow?
Sharing the front-line with Cassity were trumpeter Greg Gisbert and trombonist Michael Dease, while the rhythm section was propelled by Andrew Swist’s solid drumming, elder bass statesman John Lee and uber-pianist George Cables, returning for his second appearance at the L.G Jazz Weekend.
Next up, the heaviest of jazz hitters came to the plate. Cindy Blackman clutched her drumsticks while Mulgrew Miller ran his fingers across the keyboard. Mallet master and Albany native Stefon Harris laid down an intricate pattern on the vibes as legendary bassist and bandleader Buster Williams danced his fingers up and down the neck of his upright acoustic bass. This wasn’t just a jazz quartet. It was the four horseman of the jazz apocalypse. And their performance was a grand slam – knocking it not only out of the park, but also out into the ozone.
The locked-in rhythms of Blackman and Williams were timepiece accurate and explosive to boot. Miller and Harris held down the fort as far as harmonic instruments were concerned, exchanging lines one after another. The jazz tunes, both original and traditional, were the highlight of the festival. No wonder Carlos Santana recently proposed to Cindy Blackman on stage – the lady that can not only play among the best of the men out there, but she’s quite a looker, too. Williams just smiled as he dug into Thelonious Monk’s classic “Epistrophy,” taking no prisoners during the fierce workout.
Congero, composer and arranger Samuel Torres courageously took the stage after the musical typhoon of the Buster Williams Quartet. His band certainly could not attain the same level of intensity that Williams and Co. achieved, but it didn’t matter. No less a heavy hitter on the jazz scene, Torres led his band with a decidedly Latin twist. Saxophonist Joel Frahm, trumpeter Alex Norris and trombonist Noah Bless wailed, while Manuel Valera rode hard on the piano.
The percolating Latin-tinged jazz tunes faded into the last days of summer, wrapping up the Lake George Jazz Weekend and leaving the audience wanting more.
Review and photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk
J Hunter’s review of Day One at AlbanyJazz.com
J Hunter’s review of Day Two at AlbanyJazz.com
Rudy Lu’s photographs of Day One at AlbanyJazz.com
Rudy Lu’s photographs of Day Two at AlbanyJazz.com
Albert Brooks’ photographs of Day Two at AlbanyJazz.com