Review by Kirsten Ferguson
Photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk and Stanley Johnson
By the time the headliner hits the stage on Sunday evening of the annual Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival, many people have already decamped and headed for home after two days of sun, music and festivities. In recent years, R&B icons George Benson (in ’09) and Gladys Knight (in ’10) rewarded the remaining Sunday night faithful with hit-filled headlining sets that had fans up and dancing on the lawn and in amphitheater aisles.
This year, the stalwarts were rewarded yet again with a festival-closing dance party. But instead of time-worn classics delivered by musical stars revisiting their career highlights from decades past, this year’s booty-shaking came via Trombone Shorty, a 26-year-old trombonist, trumpeter and vocalist from New Orleans — and most definitely in his prime.
A brass bandleader in New Orleans’ Tremé neighborhood from an absurdly young age, Shorty led his five-piece group Orleans Avenue through a joyous, high-energy performance as the midsummer sun finally started to set. A skinny guy with a lean, athletic build, Shorty’s elastic cheeks ballooned out to near-comical proportion as he blew a blazing solo on “Saint James Infirmary,” drawing a standing ovation.
During upbeat jazz standard “On the Sunny Side of the Street,” Shorty showed off some super-human lung-power as well, his eyes bugging and cheeks bulging as he held a continuous note on trumpet for three-plus minutes before exaggerating a collapse backwards onto the stage.
He finished the set with “The Craziest Thing,” a funkified ode to irrational love from his guest-star-packed sophomore album “For True,” followed by “I Got a Woman,” the early Ray Charles classic now hard to disassociate from the Kanye West hip-hop song “Gold Digger” that sampled it. A rousing encore of the Dixieland standby “When the Saints Go Marching In” kept even the first-to-the-parking-lot types glued to their seats.
Earlier in the day, mastery of physical musical feats belonged to Japanese pianist Hiromi. Dressed in a flowing, olive-green tunic and backed by her “transcontinental” trio-mates of New York bassist Anthony Jackson and London drummer Simon Phillips, Hiromi drew frequent, spontaneous cheers from the amphitheater crowd for her brash and dynamic style — all fast-moving fingers and athletic, almost gymnastic upper body movements.
“I love all kinds of sound. But there is one sound in this world that I do not like: the sound of an alarm clock. So I asked myself, how can I make myself like that sound?” said the exceedingly creative Hiromi before playing an alarm-clock-inspired composition that mingled her insistent tapping on the keys with persistent bass and drum notes. It would have made for a great avant-garde cell phone ringtone.
Among the day’s many highlights, the Trio of OZ — featuring pianist Rachel Z and drummer Omar Hakim — turned in an inventive, if barely recognizable, cover of New Order’s “Bizarre Love Triangle” during their main stage set. Known for their inspired arrangements of modern rock tunes, the trio then tackled another ground-breaking British ‘80s band — Depeche Mode on “It’s No Good” — during their gazebo set later in the day.
The buzz about the Yellowjackets before their main stage set centered on the group’s somewhat recent acquisition of bassist Felix Pastorius, the son of the legendary, late bassist Jaco Pastorius who had worked with Yellowjackets’ saxophonist Bob Mintzer some 30 years ago. The jazz-fusion four-piece drew upon a diversity of musical styles — from South American rhythm to American R&B — and even played homage to the uniquely Washington, D.C., go-go beat on a song called “Go-Go.”
Sachal Vasandani, a handsome young vocalist in a white blazer, sang lightweight if pleasant love tunes to a gazebo crowd practically melting in the midday sun. Arturo O’Farrill’s massive big band Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra confronted Latin stereotypes on “40 Acres and a Burro.” Keyboard and accordion player Brian Mitchell — a popular attraction on the gazebo stage — dedicated his set and his cover of the Band’s “Up on Cripple Creek” to his late musical collaborator Levon Helm.
And as the sun still beat down hard on patrons to the left side of the SPAC ampitheatre, singer-pianist Diana Krall — wearing sunglasses — and her trio offered a sultry and sedate take on late-night, romantically-themed tunes like “How Deep Is the Ocean (How High Is the Sky),” “I Was Doing Alright” and “East of the Sun (West of the Moon).”
Jeff Nania’s review at Metroland
Greg Haymes’ review at The Times Union
Excerpt from Michael Hochanadel’s review at The Daily Gazette: “Wonderful weather ensured a large crowd, ready to listen and get happy. The music did the rest. Rachel Z drove her Trio of OZ forcefully through jazz originals and pop songs by Stone Temple Pilots (‘Sour World’ as a second line strut) and Sting (they’re entitled: Oz drummer Omar Hakim played with Sting’s Blue Turtles band). Hakim and bassist Solomon Dorsey, reaping extra applause for his bowtie, gave her all the groove any soloist could want and she took full advantage with cascading arpeggios.”
Stanley Johnson’s review and photographs with Andrzej Pilarczyk’s photographs from Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival, 6/30/12 (Day One) at Nippertown
Andrzej Pilarczyk’s review and photographs from Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival, 6/30/12 (Day One, Take Two) at Nippertown.