Review by J Hunter
Photographs by Rudy Lu, Stanley Johnson, J Hunter
Video by Cheri Bordelon
Okay, the weather wasn’t perfect (cloudy on Saturday, breezy-going-on-chilly both days), and fleece-related clothing went from an option to a requirement as the afternoon went on. But the view was still splendiferous, the trees were still full and leafy, and the crowd was decidedly robust as the Brian Patneaude Quartet kicked off the 30th-anniversary running of Jazz at the Lake, the last chance to show off your festival-wear before we all put on long pants and go back inside.
With Dave Payette returning to the piano chair, the Patneaude Quartet was one George Muscatello away from having the lineup from their third disc All Around Us. Other than the sparkling encore version of “Jolo,” though, the set stayed relatively recent – no new material, sad to say, but Patneaude’s music has become as comfortable as your favorite sweater, so a trip through the current catalog was quite, quite fine. The opener “Lake Timeless” may have been written with Schroon Lake in mind, but it fit the present setting like a glove. The warmth in “Riverview” was clear in both the tune and in Patneaude’s introduction, while uptempo numbers like “Drop” and “Blucocele” leapt about the park.
The fun was watching for the changes and stretches Patneaude puts in his established material, never letting them stay exactly the same as he filled them with his thick, rich tone. Another freshener was Payette, who was the X Factor on early Patneaude Quartet dates, and whose acoustic chops have grown exponentially in his time away from the band. Patneaude dovetailed with Payette like it had been the Clifton Park native at the piano all along, and Payette displayed a brilliant left hand that added exclamation points to every solo. Mike DelPrete kept the bass line fat and steady, while drummer Danny Whelchel continues to write his own “lyrics” on every piece he touches. As JATL curator Paul Pines said at the conclusion of the set, this was a great way to start the afternoon.
Joel Harrison’s music has literally been growing in front of our eyes: The guitarist’s most recent release Infinite Possibility was fueled by a 19-piece big band, and that was after his previous disc Search gifted us with a version of the Allman Brothers’ “Whipping Post” that includes (GASP!) strings – AND IT WORKS! However, Harrison’s current collaboration with Indian sarode master Anupam Shobhakar seems destined to shift the paradigm without using the clutch. Their righteous West-Meets-East synergy knocked us all back in our chairs as this electric quintet roared through music that has yet to see the worldwide light of day. (Their recordings won’t be released on Shobhakar’s new label until next year, but Harrison did have burned CD-Rs to sell, and they went like the proverbial hotcakes.)
Technically a “fretless lute,” a sarode looks like the lovechild of a sitar and a banjo. The sound was utterly mesmerizing as Shobhakar burned it up from his chair at the left side of the stage. He and Harrison had moments in unison that seemed to move at light-speed; they displayed a palpable telepathy as they strapped Willie Dixon’s “Spoonful” onto a rocket to India and masterfully mashed up a Bengali folk song with the gospel classic “Deep River.” Both Harrison’s attack and tone has elements of John McLaughlin, so this music rings many bells for those of us who remember the Mahavishnu Orchestra. An added twist came from the volcanic piano of Jacob Saks, who seemed most in control when he was dancing on the edge. Bassist Hans Glawaschnig and drummer Jordan Perlson morphed the foundation to meet the needs of its leaders, each flexing his own muscles as events warranted. Pines’ theme for this year’s JATL lineup was “Pushing the envelope,” and the Harrison-Shobhakar Quintet more than met that goal.
“This is kind of beyond words for me,” a beaming Michele Rosewoman told us. After three decades of blood, sweat and tears, the pianist’s musical vision New Yor-Uba has finally been recorded, and JATL was hosting one of the two “drop parties” for 30 Years: A Musical Celebration of Cuba in America. Now, we’re currently blessed with a run of great Afro-Cuban music from artists like Arturo O’Farrill, Paul Carlon, and Manuel Valera. But New Yor-Uba goes far deeper than those efforts, putting the spiritualism and cultural history behind the genre on equal footing with the beats we love to dance to. Throw in the exploratory tendencies Rosewoman developed with Billy Bang (and through her own group Quintessence), and JATL found out soon enough that New Yor-Uba was not your grandfather’s Afro-Cuban band.
I mean, how COULD it be? The horn section may have had substitutes on tenor and alto sax for this show, but those substitutes were Billy Harper and Antonio Hart! That’s the kind of quality required to scale the towering charts some of New Yor-Uba’s longer pieces sport. And even with Harper and Hart’s respective brilliance, Rosewoman had to take time (twice) during one of the later numbers to clap out the slightly halting tempo the piece required. Rosewoman wasn’t dumbing it down for this coming-out party: Either you got with the complexity, or you went off to the concession stand. But as monstrous as the horns were, the music was at its most riveting when it was only drums and vocals; put simply, they took you someplace else. Although New Yor-Uba missed conguero Pedrito Martinez’s searing voice, Rosewoman and folklorist Abraham Rodriguez’s efforts brought a tenacious realism to a spectacular performance that brought people to their feet.
On its face, the New Gary Burton Quartet is a bit of a conundrum: How does a group this small play so BIG? Julian Lage is a guitarist that was brilliant at 15 and downright mind-boggling at 25, but he’s never been a flag-waver when it comes to solos, and while the 70-year old Gary Burton can never be called a shrinking violet, vibes aren’t considered the tool you need to implode eardrums. And yet, when the full band came in on “Afro Blue” after Burton opened the Mongo Santamaria classic in the clear, the piece simply exploded. That’ll happen when you combine muscle and aggression with an unbreakable chemistry and a unit-wide sense of control. Harrison & Shobhakar may have been louder, but NGBQ (not to be confused with NRBQ) was unquestionably stronger.
Burton’s face literally glowed as he worked over the golden vibes with four mallets, showing that his creativity and dynamism has not waned one bit. Lage’s sense of melody and intricacy worked perfectly with Burton on every group piece, but he held us in the palm of his hand during an in-the-clear feature piece that eventually led to Burton joining him for a gorgeous take on “My Funny Valentine.” Drummer Antonio Sanchez brings the same kind of range and care he’s provided to the Pat Metheny Trio and to New Life (Sanchez’s first recording as a leader), while Scott Colley’s galvanizing bass work showed his talents were completely squandered when he backed up David Sanborn & Bob James at SPAC last June. After the New Gary Burton Quartet finished with us, the fireworks over the lake were actually redundant.
NOTE: The New Gary Burton Quartet returns to Nippertown for a concert at the College of St. Rose’s Massry Center in Albany at 7:30pm on Tuesday (September 24). Bopitude featuring Gary Smulyan (and also saxman Brian Patneaude) open the concert. Tickets are $30; $15 for students.