BEST OF 2012: J HUNTER’S BEST LIVE SHOWS COUNTDOWN (and more)
Story by J Hunter
Photographs by Albert Brooks and Andrzej Pilarczyk
Okay, before we rip off Letterman (again), let’s get the “and more” out of the way with a few miscellaneous doorstops:
THE GOLDEN BOOMERANG AWARD goes to… PEDRITO MARTINEZ
As if two straight appearances at Freihofer’s Jazz Festival wasn’t enough, the monster conguero took the NY Thruway four times this year: Besides Freihofer’s, the groovetastic Pedrito Martinez Group also played Mountain Jam and the sadly-shortened Albany Riverfront Jazz Festival), while the more traditional Pedrito Martinez Quartet put a great capper on another season at A Place For Jazz. Both bands featured the amazing pianist Ariacne Trujillo, who will be a star some day!
THE “SURPRISE, SURPRISE” AWARD goes to… BRANDON SEABROOK
When I found out the Ben Allison Band had two guitarists, no keyboards, and no horns, I knew to expect a rowdy show at CSR’s Massry Center for the Arts. What I didn’t expect was this skinny, tall-haired whirling dervish whose life goal is to make incredible (and unnerving) sounds on both guitar and banjo. The people who came to see the Lee Shaw Trio’s opening set may not have dug it, but I ate it up with two spoons!
THE “CHIP OFF THE OLD BLOCK” AWARD goes to… JUSTIN TOWNES EARLE
Steve Earle tells great stories like a country singer, but he was rocking his ass off long before hot country was cool. Justin Townes Earle has his father’s magnetism and his ability to spin stories that come from the heart. Justin may be doing it on acoustic guitar, but that doesn’t make him a wallflower, as he showed the packed house at MASS MoCA’s Hunter Center. It would be really cool to see JTE at MASS MoCA next year, where his alt-country sound would fit right in at Solid Sound.
NIPPERTOWN’S LOCAL HERO (Venue Division) – THE EGG
Even with money growing tighter and tighter, Peter Lesser keeps bringing in top-notch acts like the David Bromberg Big Band, the SFJAZZ Collective (who’ll be back this March) and the James Carter Organ Trio; that’s in addition to supporting the burgeoning arts festival MoHu. 2013 already looks great at the Egg: Kurt Elling, Al Di Meola & Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Joe Lovano & Us 5, and a homecoming show for Grace Potter & the Nocturnals that’s already sold out. Keep on keepin’ on, Peter!
Having done that… LET’S DO THIS!
MICHAEL BENEDICT & BOPITUDE
Greenville High School Auditorium, Greenfield – 04/16/2012
It’s rare to see a national act do a drop party at a high school auditorium. (Grammy-winning label? A four-star review in Down Beat? One of the best bari-sax players in the world sitting on the front line? Let’s face it: Bopitude is a national act!) But not only did we see this ripping sextet blow up their new disc Five and One real good, but we also got to see the kind of quality young musicians Benedict has been shaping at Greenville all these years. That’s a win-win!
DEE DEE BRIDGEWATER QUINTET
Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, Troy – 01/14/2012
The first show of 2012 was also one of the funniest, as Bridgewater combined her massive vocal talents with a terrific sense of humor that spared nobody, including herself. Decked out in a green sequined gown with matching eyelashes, the self-admitted diva also brought a band as righteous as she is: Multi-instrumentalist Craig Handy, drummer Lewis Nash, bassist Kenny Davis and pianist Edsel Gomez added even more spring to the standards Bridgewater nailed at will.
JASON MARSALIS VIBES QUARTET
Van Dyck Lounge, Schenectady – 03/16/2012
We were knee-deep in Marsalis brothers in 2012: Branford played Proctors in February, while Wynton’s Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra played Troy Savings Bank three days after Jason’s show. (Delfeayo’s Albany Riverfront set got rained out, so no Marsalis Slam for us.) Of all three shows, this one was my favorite. The intimacy was perfect, Jason was an accessible (and hilarious) host, and he displayed an ever-rising learning curve on an instrument he only took up a few years ago.
STEVEN BERNSTEIN’S MILLENIAL TERRITORY ORCHESTRA
Shepard Park, Lake George – 09/16/2012
I was totally stoked when I heard MTO was going to play Jazz at the Lake. But just before the big unit took the stage for the Sunday show’s anchor slot, I worried if Bernstein’s homage to Sly Stone might be too “out there” for the more traditional members of the crowd. No worries needed: Sly & the Family Stone was a big part of a lot of childhoods, and with massive players like Ben Allison, Peter Apfelbaum, Allison Miller and Matt Munisteri, MTO absolutely slayed ‘em in the aisles.
BEN ALLISON’S “JIM HALL PROJECT”
Athens Community Center, Athens – 09/29/2012
The closing show of PlanetArts’ “Jazz one2one” series put us the ground floor of Ben Allison’s latest project. Allison usually sticks to his own capacious songbook, but his respect for the legendary guitarist was eminently visible, both during the pre-show Q&A and during a marvelously intimate 75-minute set. Guitarist Steve Cardenas and saxman Ted Nash share Allison’s love for his iconic subject, and the trio’s takes on “Pony Express” and “The Train and the River” were simply sublime.
TERENCE BLANCHARD QUINTET
Zankel Music Center, Saratoga Springs – 06/26/2012
Blanchard and Skidmore have a really good thing going on. He’s not only gotten some of his best players from the Skidmore Jazz Institute, but one of his managers came from that program, as well! Blanchard’s also made amazing music at Skidmore, and his maiden show at Zankel was no exception. Saxman Brice Winston’s return to Blanchard’s band made everything even better, and keyboardist Fabian Almazan showed why he’s yet another rising star Blanchard can take credit for.
The Linda, Albany – 06/18/2012
It’s highly unusual to find the headliner of a show shaking hands with people as they come in the door, but then I’d never seen a former candidate for governor in concert. Friedman’s “Bi-Polar Express Tour” really was a tour, complete with its own opening act to follow the Tequila Mockingbirds’ acoustic goodness. At the end of the day, though, it was all about the Kinkster – his songs, his stories, and his total unwillingness to be politically correct. And boy, did we love him for it!
DEAD CAT BOUNCE
GE Theatre @ Proctors, Schenectady – 03/24/2012
Matt Steckler gets big love from me, and not just because the Schenectady native’s incredible band makes jazz dangerous again. Steckler was the de facto curator of the “Party Horns NYC” mini-series that also brought Burnt Sugar and Brooklyn Qawwali Party to Proctors’ GE Theatre this spring. Dead Cat Bounce made better (and more challenging) music with six players than Wynton Marsalis had made with a musical army at Troy Savings Bank Music Hall a few days before. Come back home anytime, Matt!
ANAT COHEN QUARTET
Swyer Theatre @ the Egg, Albany – 02/11/2012
When one person’s name is on a band’s masthead, that usually means everything that happens is centered on that person. If Anat Cohen ran it that way, I’d be cool with it; she owns all things reeds, and is one of the best interpreters in the genre. But the Cohen Quartet has two outstanding composers in pianist Jason Lindner and drummer Daniel Freedman, and Omer Avitel’s bass is Chris Christie phat. Add the fact that they love playing with each other, and this show was a joy from the jump.
And my #1 LIVE SHOW OF 2012 is…
Massry Center for the Arts, Albany – 04/04/2012
One man, one piano and one of the best acoustic packages in Greater Nippertown – and when the man is Chick Corea, the forecast calls for splendor and inspiration. We got all that during this two-set masterpiece, but we also got glimpses of a devilish sense of humor that belies Corea’s “serious” reputation. While his duet shows with Gary Burton at Tanglewood and the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall was nothing to sneeze at, the adrenaline-soaked call-and-answer encore of “Spain” put Corea’s Massry show at the top of the heap.
I’ve no doubt you saw something better that I totally missed. As long as it was local, I’m good with that. Thanks for supporting live music in the Capital Region, and we’ll see you next year!