Posts Tagged ‘J Hunter’

LIVE: Empire Jazz Orchestra with Claire Daly, Sharel Cassity & Ada Rovatti @ Colonial Theatre, 10/18/14

Monday, October 27th, 2014
The Empire Jazz Orchestra with leader Bill Meckley

The Empire Jazz Orchestra with leader Bill Meckley

Review by J Hunter
Photographs by Rudy Lu

When I heard that the Pittsfield CityJazz Festival was celebrating its 10th anniversary, I suddenly remembered that I had covered the anchor concert for the inaugural Pittsfield CityJazz Festival in 2005. Dr. Billy Taylor was the headliner, and it will be a deathbed memory that I got to shake the iconic pianist/educator’s hand backstage and tell him, “Thank you for… well, for everything!” Fast-forward to today, where PCJazz has developed a very nice niche for itself: Bringing headlining acts to the area, while showcasing the musical and educational spirit of the community.

Let’s talk about that last bit first. A Wall Street Journal Online article recently discussed statistical evidence that music education can have a direct impact on scholastic achievement. If that’s the case, the Berkshires are going to turn out some smart, smart kids. The opening act(s) at the Colonial Theatre were billed under the umbrella name “Berkshires Jazz Youth Ensemble,” but in fact, they were two distinct groups: The Herberg Middle School Band (which is a feeder group for the Pittsfield H.S. band), and the Rock On Workshop Jazz Ensemble. Both groups performed admirably: Highlights included Herberg’s straight-down-Broadway take on Booker T. & the MGs’ “Green Onions,” and Rock On’s righteous work-up of Freddie Hubbard’s “Red Clay.” Guitarist Ethan Wesley’s amp failed him during Herberg’s two-song set, but his technical issues were resolved so he could tear it up during Rock On’s appearance, capping Ella Sears’ bluesy treatment of George Gershwin’s “Summertime” with the opening lick to “Stairway to Heaven.”

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A Few More Minutes With… Roger Noyes of the Arch Stanton Quartet

Tuesday, October 21st, 2014
Roger Noyes

Roger Noyes

CD Review and interview by J Hunter
Photograph by Rudy Lu

THE ARCH STANTON QUARTET
Blues for Soli
(WEPA Records)

In hindsight, I may have done the Arch Stanton Quartet a disservice by referring to their stripped-out underground sound as “garage-band jazz.” All us grey-haired rockers can wax poetic about garage bands like the Music Explosion, the Count Five and – my favorite – the Standells serving up two minutes-and-change of nasty, uncultured excellence… but the Electric Prunes and the Count Five never had a chance to experience sophomore slump because they dropped out after the first semester! Well, the Arch Stanton Quartet is back with Blues For Soli, and there are two bits of good news: First, no sophomore slump here; and second, Greater Nippertown’s musical ambassadors are STILL as nasty as they want to be!

It was their short-but-intense tour of Egypt in 2013 that helped birth the disc’s first four tracks (also known as the “Lady Egypt Suite”), and there’s a definite intensity to the opening track “Kofta.” The introduction has this swirling, almost drunken quality to it that makes you wonder, “How bad will this trip be?” Then drummer Steven Partyka hits this sweet groove straight out of Freddie Hubbard’s “Red Clay,” and the ASQ is serving up the funk their way; that involves mixing whip-tight guitar from Roger Noyes with open, almost snarling trumpet from Terry Gordon (who is SO on his game throughout this date), while bassist Chris Macchia bows a counter that evokes Frankenstein skanking down the street while sipping from a bottle of schnapps.

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LIVE: TriBeCaStan @ The Linda, 10/11/14

Monday, October 20th, 2014

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Review by J Hunter
Photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk

If you want to set off one of my more epic rants, come at me with that old saw about “Smallbany” (“Oh, there’s NOTHING happening here…”), and then step back a few feet so you can watch me turn into the Tasmanian Devil without getting caught in the shock wave. It doesn’t take a lot of looking around to see the wealth of cultural goodness that’s coming to this area on a regular basis; I just wish more people had looked long enough to see TriBeCaStan was playing The Linda, because this eye-crossing music needs to be experienced.

“It’s great to be in Albania!” TriBeCaStan leader/multi-instrumentalist John Kruth enthused in a Borat-quality accent. Then he added drily, “We thought there might be more people in Albania…” The crowd may have been small, but their fervor for what this mammoth group dished out started big and grew exponentially. And I do mean mammoth, both in size and sound: A septet can put a pretty decent strain on The Linda’s limited stage space, and there were so many instruments and amplifiers stuffed onto that space, emcee Michael Eck had to play his opening solo-acoustic set on the floor in front of the stage. Mind you, most of those instruments were only played by two people – Kruth and his partner-in-madness Jeff Greene – but trust me, they all played a part in what I believe is a completely new genre: BIZARRO World Music!

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A Few Minutes With… Ben Perowsky

Thursday, October 2nd, 2014
Ben Perowsky

Ben Perowsky, drummer of RedCred and Woodstock Jazz Festival curator

Interview and story by J Hunter

“Woodstock Jazz Festival.” I look at those words and I think, “That seems right.” But they do bring one question to mind: Why have we not seen those words together before? I mean, think about it: We’re talking about an area where musicians off all stripes and genres have used as a haven for almost five decades. All the musicians that will be appearing at the festival’s maiden date – Saturday (October 4) at the Bearsville Theater – have been involved with that scene in one way or another, and Bearsville is just one of multiple possibilities for venues where next-level music can happen. So with all these resources to hand, the question beckons again: Why hasn’t this happened until now?

In cases like this, it usually takes one person to have an idea, decide it wasn’t crazy, and follow it to its logical conclusion. In this case, that one person was drummer Ben Perowsky, who’s been part of the Woodstock scene for more than 30 years. Perowsky’s got a résumé plenty of musicians would kill for: His past employers include James Moody, John Zorn, Lou Reed, Walter Becker and one member of the headliners at Saturday night’s show – the inimitable guitarist John Scofield, who’ll be teaming up with current and future legends Jack DeJohnette, John Medeski and Larry Grenadier to put a capper on what might be the first of many nights in the history of the newest jazz festival on the market. Perowsky and Medeski will also team up with reedman Chris Speed to show off the “new” jazz trio RedCred; and genre-busting pianist Uri Caine will open the show with a solo-piano set where anything just might happen… and probably will.

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LIVE: Eric Harland’s Voyager @ Skidmore College’s Zankel Center, 9/26/14

Wednesday, October 1st, 2014
Walter Smith III and Eric Harland

Walter Smith III and Eric Harland

Review and photographs by J Hunter

I shouldn’t have been surprised at the half-house that greeted uber-drummer Eric Harland as he led his band Voyager out onto the vast stage at Skidmore College’s Zankel Music Center. Just in terms of jazz alone, it was a busy Friday night; George Garzone was headlining the second show in the at A Place For Jazz series, while the Chronicles were throwing a fifth anniversary party at the Albany Barn. But I was surprised, if not a little outraged – but then I decided to take the selfish viewpoint: “More mind-bending music for me!”

When I say “mind-bending,” I’m not just plumbing my thesaurus for something sensational-sounding. Whether it’s with SFJAZZ Collective or James Farm, Harland’s compositions have always had an element of the spiritual to them, but Voyager bumps that zeitgeist up a few levels. “We like to start with our mantra,” Harland intoned, grinning, playing his kit with one drumstick as the band eased into “Relax,” the opening number from the band’s second release Vipassana (pronounced “Vih-PAH-sin-nuh”). Other bands may claim their music can take you to another place, but as Harland told us before introducing his partners, once Voyager kicks into gear, “we actually voyage!” And when the group transitioned from “Relax” into the big waltzing pulse of “Raghavan,” that’s when our voyage really began.

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LIVE: Jazz at the Lake @ Shepard Park, 9/14/14 (Day Two)

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014
Jane Bunnett (photo by Rudy Lu)

Jane Bunnett (photo by Rudy Lu)

Review by J Hunter
Photographs by Rudy Lu, Andrzej Pilarczyk, M. Cheri Bordelon, J Hunter

Ahhh, there’s no place like home – even if it is windy, chilly, and you’ve got to get there over an hour before showtime if you want to get a good view. The Shepard Park amphitheater was more crowded than usual at that time, and the “blame” goes to Mayor Bob Blais, who told the Lake George meter readers to stay home that day. With no need to park some distance from park, most of the good spots were taken by the time I rolled up. Some of those who weren’t able to lay their picnics out on the lawn the day before were already setting up lunch, and while I didn’t get my usual perch, the spot I did claim gave me a prime view of one of the most interesting afternoons I’ve ever spent at Jazz at the Lake.

Let’s start with Billy Martin’s Wicked Knee, whose 2013 release Heels Over Head went over my head completely. Maybe I’d been listening to too much Rebirth Brass Band at the time, so I just didn’t feel Martin’s unique variant on NOLA street music. But when I saw the group on stage, in full cry, it all came together for me. Watching Sexmob do its own wild thing the day before might have helped the process; having Sexmob leader Steven Bernstein playing alongside trombone legend Curtis Fowlkes and tuba player Marcus Rojas definitely helped matters. Either way, when that mammoth front line launched its first salvo, you could taste that spicy gumbo, and developing a taste for it was not hard.

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LIVE: Jazz at the Lake @ Lake George High School Auditorium, 9/13/14 (Day One)

Monday, September 22nd, 2014
Anat Cohen (photo by Rudy Lu)

Anat Cohen (photo by Rudy Lu)

Review by J Hunter
Photographs by Rudy Lu, Andrzej Pilarczyk, M. Cheri Bordelon

Weather has always been a factor at Jazz at the Lake, but it’s usually just dropping temperatures reminding us that fall is only a couple of weeks away. This year, the rain came down hard enough to move the first day of the festival to the rain site at Lake George High School. As I walked up to the complex of buildings on Canada Street, I had visions of a cavernous gym with a small, old stage under one of the basketball hoops. Fortunately, when the high school got a makeover back in the ’90s, it included a 500-seat theater with good acoustics and great sightlines; unfortunately, school staff couldn’t get the ventilation system working, which made things a bit close as the afternoon went on and the house filled almost to capacity.

Mind you, the crowd could easily have believed the temperatures were just a way of creating a sultry atmosphere for Manuel Valera & New Cuban Express, who went off like a rocket from the first notes of “New Cuban Express,” the title track from Valera’s 2012 release. You can’t help but smile when a good Afro-Cuban band is on its game, and this group had all the ingredients: Manuel Valera is a demon keyboard player and a monster composer; drummer Ludwig Afonso and conguero Mauricio Herrera were a relentless percussion machine, and utility bassman Hans Glawishchnig is as fat on electric 5-string as he is on a stand-up acoustic. But Valera took the extra step of bringing sax fiend/percussionist Yosvany Terry to Lake George, and Terry’s searing alto lines go far beyond simple “Let’s Salsa” flag-waving. Valera’s own solos had the same level of virtuosity, taking the standard A/C formula and shooting it to a dizzying height. Festival-goers were hugging the walls by the time NCE knocked its last shot out of the park, earning them the first standing ovation of the day.

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LIVE: Albany Riverfront Jazz Festival @ Corning Preserve Boat Launch, 9/6/14

Thursday, September 11th, 2014
Catherine Rusell, Mark McLean and Matt Munisteri (photo: Rudy Lu)

Catherine Rusell, Mark McLean and Matt Munisteri (photo: Rudy Lu)

Review by J Hunter
Photographs by Rudy Lu, Andrzej Pilarczyk

After the rainout of 2012, the people behind the Albany Riverfront Jazz Festival weren’t going to roll the dice again when a big green blob of weather was set to head Greater Nippertown’s way come festival day. And since Joshua Bell and the Albany Symphony Orchestra were playing at the Palace Theatre that night, the jazz fest moved to Alive at Five’s rain site – the parking lot of the Corning Preserve Boat Launch under the I-787 overpass. No way could you argue with the practicality of the move, but would people be willing to hang out under a highway for eight hours, even if the music was free?

The answer was a resounding “HELL, YES!” The Riverfront Jazz Fest is an established tradition now, and a little bit of rain (or, in this case, a little rain and a LOT of wind) wasn’t
going to keep people away. While the overall crowd was a little less than if the show had been at Jennings Landing, we saw the same flow-through of festival-goers that the Riverfront fest has seen in the past, and the usual group of hardcore supporters were sitting in their folding chairs when flamenco guitarist Maria Zemantauski took the stage and ran into the day’s only major issue: Acoustics. There’s no way to minimize the massive echo you get in that kind of space with normal sounds. Put those sounds through two stacks of amplifiers? Fuhgeddaboudit!

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