Posts Tagged ‘A Place For Jazz’

LIVE: Bria Skonberg Quintet @ A Place For Jazz, 11/7/14

Monday, November 17th, 2014
Bria Skonberg (photo by Rudy Lu)

Bria Skonberg (photo by Rudy Lu)

Review by J Hunter
Photographs by Rudy Lu, Andrzej Pilarczyk

Trumpeter Bria Skonberg lives “Hot Jazz,” a euphemism for jazz created and inspired by the late, great Louis Armstrong. Along with having an annual “Hot Jazz” festival right in her childhood backyard and appearing on Wycliffe Gordon’s Armstrong tribute Hello, Pops, the native of Chilliwack, British Columbia (“The jazz metropolis of Canada,” she informed us) is a volunteer at the Louis Armstrong Museum in Corona, Queens. I didn’t see her when I visited the museum last year, but if I had, I’m pretty sure I’d have gotten chapter and verse on Satch’s most colorful life. For Skonberg, making that music live and breathe his her mission. Louis invented it, and then he perfected it, so that settles it, right?

Now, for most of the near-full house at A Place For Jazz, a player like Skonberg is a breath of fresh air – as is her skin-tight backup band, all of whom are down with the “WWLD” (What Would Louis Do) program, right down to reedman Evan Arntzen’s slicked-up hairdo and skinny bowtie. What this group did over two bright, lively sets is right in this concert series’ wheelhouse, and choosing Skonberg to close the 2014 season was a stroke of genius on the part of APFJ’s brain trust. Mind you, for those of us who prefers this music’s future over its past, this was a glimpse of what it might be like if Jazz At Lincoln Center had a summer camp in the Catskills where teenagers re-created the genre’s “good old days.” Not good, right? Well… yes and no.

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LIVE: The John Menegon Quartet @ A Place for Jazz, 10/24/14

Monday, November 3rd, 2014
John Menegon

John Menegon

Review by J Hunter
Photographs by Rudy Lu

It must be my month for revisiting musical trips to the Berkshires. While introducing his quartet to the swelling crowd at A Place For Jazz, bassist John Menegon told us that he and two of his bandmates – pianist Frank Kimbrough and drummer Matt Wilson – had all worked for the legendary sax player Dewey Redman; it had been my extreme pleasure to watch those same three musicians back a blazing-hot Joe Lovano tribute to Redman at the 2008 Williamstown Jazz Festival. And Redman was a part of this night of divine music, too, if only because he was one of a number of icons who inspired the compositions on Menegon’s 2013 release I Remember You.

Family was inspiring this night, as well. Menegon led off the evening with a hushed, in-the-clear opening to “Devonian Light,” a piece dedicated to Menegon’s son Devon. The sound coming from Menegon’s double bass was so rich, even when played as softly as Menegon was doing. As the rest of the group slid in behind their leader, we found ourselves spinning through dreamy acoustic rubato that was perfect for the Whisperdome’s legendary acoustics. Tineke Postma’s soprano sax was right on the money, playing with the melody as Menegon laid down a deep counter while Kimbrough and Wilson swirled around the perimeter. Wilson was only on brushes, but he was still the bespectacled beast we’ve come to know and revere, while Kimbrough’s Bill Evans-level sense of touch added brilliant colors to Menegon’s towering tapestry.

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LIVE: The Alexis Cole Quintet @ A Place for Jazz, 10/10/14

Thursday, October 23rd, 2014
Alexis Cole

Alexis Cole

Photographs by Rudy Lu

Award-winning jazz vocalist Alexis Cole has made an impressive impact on audiences ever since she first took the stage as a teenager. She won the 2007 Jazzmobile competition and received an award in the Montreux Jazz Vocal Competition. And she handily won over another batch of new fans earlier this month when she made her debut at the Unitarian Universalist Society of Schenectady’s Great Hall as the third installment of A Place for Jazz’s fall concert series.

She had plenty of support from her ace band featuring smooth-as-silk saxman Eric Alexander and 78-year-old veteran pianist Harold Mabern, as they wove their way through a well-chosen selection of Great American Songbook standards (from “All the Things You Are” to “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To”), blues (“Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out”) and originals (highlighted by Mabern’s “Such Is Life”), as well as a show-closing romp through Fats Waller’s “Jitterbug Waltz,” featuring a call-and-response between Cole and bassist David Finck).

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LIVE: The Clifton Anderson Quintet @ A Place for Jazz, 9/12/14

Thursday, September 25th, 2014
Clifton Anderson

Clifton Anderson

Photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk

A Place for Jazz kicked off its 2014 fall concert season at the Unitarian Universalist Society of Schenectady’s Whisperdome earlier this month with a stellar performance by the veteran jazz trombonist Clifton Anderson. The former member of Sonny Rollins’ band set the pace with the opening “And So We Carry On” and kept things solidly swinging throughout the evening’s performance.

Bolstered by an ace band – featuring bassist Paul Beaudry, drummer Steve Williams, saxman Eric Wyatt and pianist Victor Gould – the 56-year-old Anderson served up a tasty sampling of standards (Duke Ellington’s “In a Mellow Tone”), originals (the show-closing “Been Down This Road Before”), show tunes (“Tomorrow” from “Annie”) and a curve ball or two, as well (a wild interpretation of the ’60s Japanese pop hit “Sukiyaki,” aka “You Took Your Love Away from Me”).

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LIVE: Lou Donaldson @ A Place for Jazz, 5/16/14

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014
Lou Donaldson

Lou Donaldson

Photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk

Jazz master Lou Donaldson was originally scheduled to kick off the 2010 season of A Place for Jazz, but he fell ill the day before and had to cancel his performance. Many Nippertown jazz fans feared that they may have missed their last chance to see the veteran alto saxophonist in concert. After all, he was 83 years old.

But that wasn’t the case. And last month, Donaldson made good on his cancellation when he finally made it to the Whisperdome at the Unitarian Universalist Society of Schenectady for A Place for Jazz’s spring concert. Now 87 years old, Sweet Poppa Lou blew up a storm, from blistering bebop to strutting funk to the smoldering, greasy soul-blues jams that populated his classic Blue Note albums of the ’50s and ’60s.

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LIVE: Michael-Louis Smith Quintet @ A Place for Jazz, 11/15/13

Tuesday, November 26th, 2013
Michael Louis Smith and Stacy Dillard

Michael Louis Smith and Stacy Dillard

Review by J Hunter
Photographs by Rudy Lu

Although Michael-Louis Smith has officially graduated from the Greater Nippertown jazz scene, the talented guitarist’s enduring links to the Capital Region – and to his birthplace of Schenectady, in particular – are strong enough to grandfather him into A Place for Jazz’s annual local-artist show. Besides, between his springtime drop party at The Linda and the trio he brought to the Albany Riverfront Jazz Festival’s Downtown BID Competition, Smith has definitely been around enough this year to re-acquaint him with the Local 518 scene. For this show, though, we got to experience the full MLS band, and that experience definitely left a mark.

And a mark would have to be made, as the closing show on APFJ’s always-too-short calendar is really the last time until April when area jazz fans will consider attending a show without asking, “How far is it? How cold is it? Is it going to snow?” The slight chill in the air was another reminder that climate change isn’t keeping winter away. But when Smith started his in-the-clear opening riff to “Up in the Air” and his cohorts literally slid into the tasty groove that pushes the tune, the approaching season went right down the memory hole – and a lid was put firmly on that hole when the tune turned on a dime and hit us with a big dose of sharp, blistering bop.

This group’s sound (both individually and collectively) is rooted in jazz tradition: Smith plays hollow-body guitar with minimal effects, Victor Gould’s crisp piano lines evoke early acoustic Herbie Hancock, and it’s not hard to hear Sonny Rollins in saxman Stacey Dillard’s massive attack. But their overall sound comes at you like a tailing curveball, bending your mental knees as the ball blows right by you and smacks into the catcher’s glove. Smith’s lines are high and taut, with none of the soft resonance associated with the hollow-body, and Dillard’s sensational forays outside the box take Rollins’ warm sound and add a level of complexity that is thoroughly modern and undeniably brilliant.

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LIVE: Catherine Russell @ A Place For Jazz, 11/1/13

Tuesday, November 12th, 2013
Catherine Russell

Catherine Russell

Review by J Hunter
Photographs by Rudy Lu

“I like old songs… the older, the better,” Catherine Russell informed the full-to-the-back First Unitarian Society Whisperdome in Schenectady, her voice deep and firm. Then she asked us, “What was 60 years ago?” When someone in the crowd came up with 1953, she immediately said, “That’s too soon!” Later in the evening, she told us as an aside, “Vinyl! That’s even better!”

None of this should have been a surprise to us, considering Russell started her first set with Ethel Waters’ “Shake That Thing” and followed her chronological statement with Hoagy Carmichael’s “Ev’ntide.” Russell’s stage attire was as Old School as it gets: Hair done up tight and to a fare-thee-well, black spangly top, black skirt, black hose, black high heels – a far cry from the cornrows and shoulder ‘tats displayed on the CD booklet for her last disc Strictly Romancin’, or the Occupy Wall Street headband she wore for her 2010 release Inside This Heart of Mine. If the trend continues, she’ll be in all-urban cammo for her upcoming disc Bringin’ It Back. The title comes from a Wynonie Harris tune she did in the second set, which was every bit as fun as the first. The song did come from the ’50s, but Russell wasn’t holding that against it.

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LIVE: The Jeff Hamilton Trio @ A Place for Jazz, 10/4/13

Wednesday, October 16th, 2013
Jeff Hamilton

Jeff Hamilton

Review by J Hunter
Photographs by Rudy Lu

When it comes to jazz, I fully admit that I am an extremist: I mean, one of my current fave-rave groups is an avant-soul-Dixieland quartet called Mostly Other People Do the Killing. And yet, unlike the tea-sipping lunatics currently chained to the gates of our government, I believe this genre has ample room for every kind of derivation. This is why A Place For Jazz’s first concert could be electrifying while its second offering – featuring the Jeff Hamilton Trio – never went beyond pleasant (at least for me)… and BOTH shows delighted a nearly-full house at the Whisperdome, with each group taking a standing ovation home with them.

Like the aforementioned Joe Magnarelli/Jerry Weldon blowout, the Hamilton Trio gig could also have been called “a gathering of friends,” except the meeting place for these friends was quite different. “I see some familiar faces from the Jazz Cruise,” Hamilton told the crowd after the former sideman for Ray Brown and Oscar Peterson finished his first number. Hamilton added wryly, “But I almost didn’t recognize you because we’re not weaving!” One hopes that comment was related to the ship’s stability instead of any visits to the punch bowl the audience members might have taken.

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