LIVE: Albany Riverfront Jazz Fest @ Corning Preserve Boat Launch, 9/12/15

October 5th, 2015, 4:00 pm by Greg
Booker T. Jones

Booker T. Jones

Review by Greg Haymes
Photographs by Ed Conway, Stanley Johnson, Andrzej Pilarczyk

Last year the Albany Riverfront Jazz Festival hosted five acts – two local and three national. Last month at the 14th annual fest at the Corning Preserve Boat Launch Parking Lot, the numbers were flipped the other way around. And Those Jazz Purists amongst us complained that neither of the out-of-town acts really played jazz. But headliner Booker T. Jones – whose ’60s band Booker T. & the MGs actually invented the simmering southern soul sound of Stax Records – proved them wrong.

Backed by a solid quartet that included his son Ted Jones on second guitar, Jones and his Hammond B3 organ melded soul and jazz into a sizzling, savory stew, roaring into a 75-minute show with the MGs’ “Pigmy.” More than half of his set was culled from the instrumental hits of that classic band, including the soul-strutting “Hip Hug-Her” (updated with a serious mid-song rap by drummer Darian Gray), the sweeping spaghetti western theme “Hang ‘Em High” (with an all-aces solo by Jones the younger) and “Soul Limbo” (fueled by a cowbell-driven drum solo from Gray). Jones lost a bit of momentum mid-show when he switched to guitar for tributes to Jimi Hendrix, Muddy Waters and Otis Redding, but he recovered with the MGs’ biggest hit, the timeless “Green Onions.” And they saved the best for last – a towering rendition of “Time Is Tight.”

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Saxman Keith Pray’s Soul Jazz Revival served up a similar, smokin’ hybrid with stellar covers of “People Make the World Go Round” and an inventive, almost unrecognizable arrangement of “Stand by Me,” as well as such sensuous originals as guitarist Jim Wilson’s “Second Chance” and Pray’s own fire-breathing “The Calling.”

The solidly swinging 16-piece Joey Thomas Big Band delivered big, bold nuggets from the likes of Stan Kenton, Henry Mancini, Tommy Dorsey, in addition to a swaggering rendition of the Blood, Sweat & Tears arrangement of Billie Holiday’s gem, “God Bless the Child,” sung by Bob Father.

From a bit further down the Hudson Valley, trumpeter/flugelhornist Larry Moses’ Latin Jazz Express fired up the fest with plenty of spicy, percolating percussion courtesy of drummer Roland Vazquez and conguero Pito Castillo (especially on their closing rendition of Charles Lloyd’s “Sweet Georgia Bright”), but they hit their high-watermark with the warm Caribbean breeze of Tom Harrell’s “Sail Away.”

The lone disappointment of the day was bassist-vocalist Kate Davis. The alt-pop singer-songwriter who was named by MTV as one of 2014’s “15 Fresh Females Who Will Rule Pop,” seemed to have precious little connection to the jazz aesthetic. Backed by electric guitarist Mike Bono and drummer Conor Rayne, Davis’ originals (especially the opening “Keep an Open Heart” and the haunting “Smoke”) were certainly intriguing, but she seemed better suited to an Alive at Five show rather than a jazz fest, which was underscored when they closed with a straight-up cover of the Violent Femmes’ “Blister in the Sun.”

BOOKER T. JONES SET LIST
Pigmy (Booker T. & the MGs)
Hang ‘Em High (Booker T. & the MGs)
Hey Joe (Jimi Hendrix)
Mannish Boy (Muddy Waters)
Respect (Otis Redding)
Green Onions (Booker T. & the MGs)
Hip Hug-Her (Booker T. & the MGs)
Soul Limbo (Booker T. & the MGs)
Everything Is Everything (the Fugees)
Time Is Tight (Booker T. & the Mgs)
Don’t Let Me Down (the Beatles)

Booker T. Jones

Booker T. Jones

Booker T. Jones

Booker T. Jones and Ted Jones

Darian Gray

Darian Gray

Kate Davis

Kate Davis

Kate Davis

Kate Davis

Kate Davis

Kate Davis

The Joey Thomas Big Band

The Joey Thomas Big Band

The Joey Thomas Big Band

The Joey Thomas Big Band

Keith Pray

Keith Pray

Larry Moses

Larry Moses

Keith Pray

Keith Pray