Festival Fever: Jazz at the Lake @ Shepard Park, Lake George
Story by J Hunter
Photograph by Rudy Lu
JAZZ 2K Extra: Jazz at the Lake Celebrates its 30th Anniversary!
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:
SATURDAY (SEPTEMBER 14)
You know him, you love him, and the proof of that is the raft of Best Local Jazz Group awards sitting on his mantelpiece. Five discs of his own and two with Michael Benedict’s Bopitude gives Brian Patneaude one of the best résumés in Greater Nippertown’s current jazz scene. He’s never stopped changing, never stopped refining, never stopped improving. The BPQ is a great way to start a weekend.
Lauded for both his playing and composing skills, guitarist Joel Harrison has given jazzers some of the most interesting discs of the last five years, including his latest Sunnyside release Infinite Possibility. But his partnership with Indian sarode master Anupam Shobhakar has the potential to create the same West-Meets-East dynamism Rudresh Mahanthappa & Bunky Green brought to this stage a couple of years ago.
The pride and joy of pianist/San Francisco native Michele Rosewoman, this awesome big unit not only celebrates the brightness and vibrance Cuban émigrés have brought to the Big Apple, but also showcases the African influences at the heart of Afro-Cuban music. New Yor-Uba’s current lineup includes legends like Oliver Lake and Howard Johnson, as well as burgeoning conguero superstar Pedrito Martinez.
7:30pm: THE NEW GARY BURTON QUARTET
JATL’s evening set usually serves up one of the best concerts of the year, with knockout performances by Christian Scott and Don Byron’s New Gospel Quintet setting the tone. This weekend offers another possibility that not all the fireworks will happen out on the lake, as vibes icon Gary Burton brings in a trio of natural-born killers, including guitar prodigy-made-extremely-good Julian Lage.
SUNDAY (SEPTEMBER 15)
The Jazz Journalist Association thought so much of Christian Howes, they named him Best Violinist in their most recent poll. If that’s not enough for you, try this: One of his band members – accordionist Richard Galliano – has been called “the next Astor Piazzola,” which is a hell of a high-water mark to live up to. I know my interest is piqued, and I’ll be there early, so I can get a good seat.
2:30pm: BEN WILLIAMS & SOUND EFFECT
Primarily known as a killer sideman, bassist Ben Williams released State of Art, his first disc as a leader, in 2011. This heady mix of jazz and funk tore the roof off the Gazebo Stage at this year’s Freihofer’s Jazz Festival. He’s no relation to Buster Williams, whose 2010 JATL set is spoken of in hushed tones. But Ben’s tone is just as fat as Buster’s, and Ben’s music is one reason why the future of jazz is so very bright.
4:15pm: THE DAVE LIEBMAN BIG BAND
Dave Liebman’s playing is as brutally honest as his interviews, and his standard of excellence is second to none. The soprano sax icon (who got his big break with another icon, Miles Davis) may look slight, but Liebman is the 800-pound gorilla: He says what he wants and plays what he wants, including a take on big-band music that is all his. This big unit will put a big exclamation point on JATL’s 30th birthday.
ADDITIONAL UPCOMING FESTIVALS FOR 2013:
Art in the Park @ Congress Park, Saratoga Springs, 9/14/13 (FREE)
Hispanic Heritage Celebration @ the Empire State Plaza, 9/14/13 (FREE)
FreshGrass Festival @ MASS MoCA, North Adams, 9/20-22/13
Farm Aid @ Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Saratoga Springs, 9/21/13 (SOLD OUT)
LarkFest @ Lark Street, Albany, 9/21/13 (FREE)
PearlPalooza @ North Pearl Street, Albany, 9/28/13 (FREE)