Review by J Hunter
Photographs by Rudy Lu
Additional photographs by Richard Brody, Cheri Bordelon, Andrzej Pilarczyk, J Hunter
“We’d like to close our set…” altoist/alt-jazz music mogul Tim Berne began his intro to “Static,” earning a hearty laugh from the Gazebo Stage crowd. True, Berne and his whip-smart quartet Snakeoil – Dave Douglas Quintet pianist Matt Mitchell, reedman Oscar Noriega and (making his second appearance at the Gazebo that weekend) percussionist Ches Smith – had just turned our heads around several times with 15 minutes of free-form madness to kick off Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival’s Sunday bill at SPAC, but there was no way these guys were going to play one tune for 45 minutes… right?
Well… sort-of right: “Static” turned out to be a careening multi-chapter suite that had the ensemble alternating off-its-head rubato with wildly complex melodies and figures – some pounding, some silky soft – that only seemed to lift the soloists to dizzier and dizzier heights. Noriega’s bass clarinet repeatedly traveled the distance between sub-sonic and shrieking, sometimes taking over the foundation so Mitchell could have room to express himself. If Smith played a straight beat, then I missed it, because when the deranged-looking stick figure wasn’t soloing, he was on the fill whether he was on drums or vibes. (Surprisingly, Smith’s vibes work was extremely tender in places.) Jaimeo Brown’s Transcendence may have spun the Gazebo like a roulette wheel to close the Saturday bill, but Berne’s off-world excursions made Brown’s explorations seem simple in comparison.
Review by J Hunter
Photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk
Additional photographs by Richard Brody and J Hunter
You had to feel for Lew Tabackin. Second on the bill at Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival’s Gazebo stage, the veteran multi-instrumentalist arrived just in time to watch the Marc Cary Focus Trio laying waste to the place with “Taiwa,” drummer Sameer Gupta’s extraordinary East/West mash-up that recalls fusion giants Return To Forever – only with a wicked groove RTF never, ever achieved. Tabackin was expressionless as he watched, but his thoughts had to run along the lines of “I’ve gotta follow this? Really?” (Tabackin later met the fate of artists who substitute effort for ideas.)
“The music is radiating us,” Cary enthused after the piece. “It’s inspired us!” And it had to: Cary and his partners got to the Saratoga Performing Arts Center via an overnight train ride from Washington DC, only arriving in Greater Nippertown that morning. But Cary was celebrating 20 years as a leader, and his band was down with the program and each other. The first 10 minutes of the Focus Trio’s mind-blowing set was completely off the cuff, as Cary built beautifully byzantine structures with Gupta and bassist Rashaan Carter. They switched from bottomless rubato to the Jackie McLean’s hard-bopping “Appointment in Ghana” without taking a breath, and “CD Changer” tossed pieces from 10 of Cary’s early compositions and sent them right at our heads. Cary had the crowd so riveted, they applauded him whenever he switched from acoustic piano to Fender Rhodes – kind of like if the gallery at a golf tournament applauded Tiger Woods whenever he switched from a 5-iron to a sand wedge.
As the crowd in the amphitheater dwindled, the 36th annual Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center wrapped up with a typically electrifying set by blues guitarslinger Buddy Guy. Sure, some folks had a long, Sunday night drive home to NJ or Philly or wherever ahead or them. Others probably just came to hear Tony Bennett, who delivered a short, but impressive set just prior to Guy. And I’m sure that some jazz snobs, simply turned up their noses, thinking, “Buddy Guy? That’s not jazz.”
And of course it wasn’t jazz. It was the blues, reeled off with grace, ease and consummate showmanship by one of the all-time greats.
Even at the age of 76, Guy has still got it. “I’m gonna play something so funky, you can smell it,” he declared, and working the crowd with the finesse of an expert entertainer, the polka-dot clad Guy and his band fired up such signature tunes as “Damn Right, I’ve Got the Blues” and “Five Long Years,” as well as tributes to his mentors – Junior Wells, John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters and Albert King.
(left) Fabian Almazan; (right) Linda Oh (photos by J Hunter)
Review and photographs by J Hunter
Additional photographs by Kirsten Ferguson
I looked once, and then twice and three times, just to make sure I didn’t hallucinate it the first time. There was Fabian Almazan, Terence Blanchard’s keyboard player and the opening act on the Gazebo stage, conferring with his rhythm section… and that rhythm section was Linda Oh (bass player for trumpet monster Dave Douglas, and a leader/composer in her own right) and Rudy Royston (arguably the most interesting drummer to come along since Eric Harland). I was about to see three of the best jazzers the current generation has to offer, and I hadn’t even had lunch yet. I had to say it out loud, so I did: “Hot DAMN, this is going to be a good day!”
Review by J Hunter
Photographs by Rudy Lu
Additional photograph by Richard Brody
It had been raining on and off for most of Saturday, but right after Ben Williams & Sound Effect finished tearing up the Gazebo stage with 21st-century soul jazz, a decent-sized thunderstorm hove into view from the west, sending most concertgoers scurrying back to either the amphitheater or to their tents. Now, the critical word in that last sentence is not “thunderstorm” – it’s “most.” Because not only did the people under the trees around the Gazebo stay firmly where they were, but a cluster of progressively-soaked kamikazes had planted themselves firmly on the row of benches in front of the Gazebo, with no cover over their heads whatsoever. If they were going to leave this life, they were going to be listening to Rudresh Mahanthappa when it happened.
The annual Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival takes over the Saratoga Performing Arts Center on Saturday & Sunday, June 29 & 30 with 11 acts each day on two different stages. If you’re a jazz fan, you already know that. And you’ve probably already got your tickets. The roster of performers was announced back in March, so you already know who’s coming. (If not, GO HERE for more info.) If you’re a jazz fan, you already know that. And you’ve probably already got your tickets.
But what you probably don’t know is the schedule of performances – like who’s playing when. Well, we’ve got that for you, so you can look it over and strategically plan your fest for maximum musical enjoyment…
Here’s how the schedule shaped up, but remember, this is a jazz fest, so be prepared to improvise if the schedule gets shuffled around a bit:
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.
See below for info on how you can win a pair of free tix to Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival at SPAC this weekend…
They say genius skips a generation. They say a lot of things, though, and most of them are wrong. They’re sure wrong in the case of Arturo O’Farrill. His father was Chico O’Farrill, somebody who truly deserves the term “late, great” in front of his name: Founder of the Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra, composer of jazz that’s both Latin and otherwise (as well as some beautiful music outside the genre), and arranger for icons like Dizzy Gillespie, Art Farmer and Gato Barbieri.
That’s a pretty hearty resume to live up to, but Arturo O’Farrill has definitely made the grade. Aside from taking over leadership of his father’s orchestra (which has been in residence at Birdland since the 1990s), O’Farrill’s own Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra has been putting serious spice into Jazz @ Lincoln Center since 2002; their first disc “Una Noche Inolvidable” was nominated for a Grammy in 2006, and ALJO was back at the Grammys two years later, this time to pick up a statue for “Song for Chico.”
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