I’ve emceed a few concerts in my time, and it’s a pretty cush gig – tell a joke or two, give a shout-out to sponsors and/or dignitaries, and try not to mispronounce the name of the act you’re introducing. No heavy lifting is involved, there’s usually food & drink backstage, and occasionally you get a free t-shirt out of the deal. You gotta love that, right? Well, as I discovered when I first attended Jazz at the Lake in 2005, Paul Pines definitely takes the other road.
Sure, the Brooklyn native tells jokes, and he always gets the artists’ names right. But Pines takes the job three steps further – he educates the audience about what they’re about to see, and how it relates to what has come before in jazz. When I first saw Pines do his thing at the jazz fest in Lake George’s Shepard Park, he talked about how one of that day’s acts – vocalist Giacomo Gates – sang “in the spirit of Eddie Jefferson.” Forget that I didn’t know Jefferson was one of a cadre of jazz royalty who played the Tin Palace, a jazz club Pines ran in the ’70s just down the street from CBGB’s; I didn’t know who Eddie Jefferson WAS… but you can be damned sure that I found out, and I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the only one who did some digging into jazz history after the show was over.
It’s not just that Pines is one of the best minds I know when it comes to this genre; his stage patter isn’t about showing off how much he knows. As the longtime curator of the free Jazz at the Lake festival – which returns to Shepard Park in Lake George this Saturday and Sunday (September 19 & 20) – Pines has taken great pains to make his weekend as far from the “standard jazz festival” experience as possible, and part of that is avoiding the kind of lightweight, commercial fare that’s come to dominate your typical mega-festival. Unlike the bookers for those shows, Pines assumes his audience is of more than average intelligence, so he books bands that don’t insult that intelligence. That said, because of the death-defying – and, occasionally, ear-piercing – qualities of some of his acts, Pines’ introductions are sometimes less about education and more about preparing the crowd for the coming storm.
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.
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.
Vi Juris, Tony Marino and Dave Liebman (photo by Rudy Lu)
Review by J Hunter
Photographs by Rudy Lu and J Hunter
In our last episode, I mentioned that Joel Harrison recorded this knockout take on Gregg Allman’s “Whipping Post” where strings were featured prominently. Christian Howes’ violin was one of those strings, and he played a death-defying solo on that recording that helped Harrison take a southern rock anthem to a totally new place. Although the quintet Howes brought to Jazz at the Lake was called Southern Exposure, he wasn’t planning to reboot the Dixie Dregs, Steve Morse’s vastly under-appreciated country-jazz fusion outfit. Late last year, Howes teamed with world-class accordionist Richard Galliano to record a whip-smart take on “nueva tango,” Astor Piazzola’s answer to the happy marriage of jazz and samba. Although Galliano didn’t make this gig, Howes did bring Victor Prieto, a squeeze-box master in his own right who Howes feels a real kinship with, in that they are two guys who play classical instruments that want to be part of “‘La Real’ – the real jazz music scene!”
“Jazz is a verb,” Howes told us while his bandmates were literally taping their music down to battle the incessant winds off Lake George. “It’s an attitude. It’s a way of being… a way of interacting together in an honest way!” Howes and his partners certainly had the interaction part down as they warmed us up with a glowing mix of originals and new looks at Piazzola (the gorgeous ballad “Oblivion”) and Brazilian icon Ivan Lins (a modern-day version of “Aparecido”). “Tango Doblado” translates to “bent tango,” and Howes’ composition covered both ends of the equation: The opening segment showed clear respect for the Argentinian musical tradition… and then that tradition was shot right towards Jupiter with a soaring exploration led by Howes’ rampant violin and Micah Thomas’ explosive piano. Thomas is only 15 years old, and he already has a sense of lyric that players twice his age will never achieve. Thomas and Prieto helped power Howes’ driving “Cubano Chant,” bringing this opening set to a thunderous close.
It’s not a rare thing to live your dream. Depending on the dream and the person dreaming it, it happens every day. But how many people get to live that dream for three decades – and then get the chance to share that dream with the rest of the world?
Pianist Michele Rosewoman had a dream: To build a band big enough and talented enough to present Cuban music in a way that truly exposed its roots – both spiritual and international. That band was New Yor-Uba, and it’s been doing the job for 30 beautiful years. The group has toured the world, so it’s not just New Yorkers who’ve had the pleasure of seeing Rosewoman’s creation. But now, thanks to (one more) successful Kickstarter campaign New Yor-Uba gets to find the people who couldn’t make it to the shows with her new double-CD 30 Years: A Celebration of Cuba in America.
Alumni of New Yor-Uba include jazz stalwarts like Rufus Reid and John Stubblefield. And you might know some of the names in the current 12-piece unit; in the case of multi-instrumentalist Howard Johnson and conguero Pedrito Martinez, you might have seen them play somewhere in Greater Nippertown. But even if you knew none of the names and knew nothing about Cuban music, the light, the fire, the beauty and the spirituality that radiates from each piece on the two-disc set would still touch your heart and soul.
30 Years was released on Tuesday (September 10), and the big “drop party” to celebrate the double-disc just happens in the middle of Jazz at the Lake 2013’s Saturday afternoon show (September 14) at Lake George’s Shepard Park. Rosewoman took time out from preparing for that show to answer a few questions for Nippertown:
I’ve called the Lake George Art Project’s annual jazz weekend at Shepard Park “The Happiest Place on Earth,” and there isn’t a single drop of irony or sarcasm in that statement – which, if you know me at all, is quite unusual. In many ways, “Jazz at the Lake” is (for me, anyway) the perfect festival. Yeah, I know, I could paint cathedral ceilings with that reach, but hear me out before you call the guys in the white coats.
No other festival offers the same mix of intimacy and integrity – the latter ingredient being an outgrowth of the uncompromising, quality-over-quantity booking policy of JATL curator Paul Pines. There are no wannabes, no time-wasters, and (most importantly) no crossover acts whose only reason for existing is to bump up the gate. That doesn’t mean JATL displays the sort of musical and political “purity” required by hardcore jazz Old Schoolers. Every aspect of the global brilliance that fuels this genre has been displayed on Shepard Park’s arts-and-crafts-style stage in recent years: The straight-ahead goodness of Delfeayo Marsalis and Warren Wolf; the sultry Latin spice of Emilio Solla and David Sanchez; the party-hearty righteousness of Donald Harrison Jr. and Dave Valentin; and the genre-busting madness of John Ellis & Double-Wide and Steven Bernstein’s Millennial Territory Orchestra.
In an age where jazz festivals have become “all about ‘The Hang,’” Jazz At The Lake stands up pretty well. No, there’s no big back lawn where people graze on buffets inside massive tents and only think about the festival occasionally. However, there’s nothing to complain about sitting under tall, full trees and listening to weapons-grade music while looking out at the beauty that is Lake George on the cusp of Fall. Throw in the fact that it’s put on for free, and the case for perfection is pretty damn hard to refute. Jazz At The Lake has been doing it right for 30 years, and here’s how they’re doing it this weekend:
Please support this website by adding us to your whitelist in your ad blocker. Our advertising allows us to keep publishing Nippertown,
and keeps you informed about upcoming shows and events. Thank you!