BEST OF 2015: J Hunter’s 10 Best Concerts… And More
By J Hunter
Photographs by Rudy Lu and Andrzej Pilarczyk
I need to get out more. No, really, I need to get out more. I only went to around 35 shows this year. Mind you, a few of those were festivals, so tack on four or five or six acts a day… Well, you do the math. My calculator died on me. My point is this: Your experience may definitely vary from mine. All I know is, this gig does not get old, and will not get old as long as artists like these come within driving distance of Greater Nippertown.
A couple of bowling trophies before we start:
THE LOCAL HERO AWARD (Venue Division):
THE MADISON THEATER
You have to love the audacity of this black-box screening room in the basement of a multiplex: They brought in guitar wizard & Miles Davis alum Mike Stern in the summer, helped an already-huge local outfit stretch even further with the Arch Stanton Quartet’s Double Drum Project, combined music and film with a tasty performance by the Gary McFarland Legacy Ensemble, and has provided plenty of room to create for other local knockouts like the Chronicles and Joe Barna’s Sketches of Influence. Funky vibe, great sound, and the vittles next door are killer! Who could ask for anything more? Well, me, for one. MORE SHOWS HERE, PLEASE!
THE GOLDEN BOOMERANG AWARD:
Usually we don’t get to see this guitar icon all that much, but it’s been an embarrassment of riches this year for Greater Nippertown fans of Hunter’s unique playing style and soul-rattling sound. Hunter brought version 8.0 of the Charlie Hunter Trio – this time featuring drummer Bobby Previte and trombonist Curtis Fowlkes – to the Parish Public House (twice) and Club Helsinki, all in support of Hunter’s sneaky-good new self-released disc Let the Bells Ring On. Seeing this trio of well-acquainted titans in intimate spaces, keeping it both real and new? That’s heaven on a Kaiser roll!
Okay, that means it’s time to get down with your bad self. IT’S ‘FOR THE WIN!’
“REELIN’ IN THE YEARS: A NIGHT OF STEELY DAN MUSIC” @ BEARSVILLE THEATER, WOODSTOCK, 6/5/15
I’ve never been a huge fan of tribute bands, but then most of them don’t have the plethora of talent that literally packed the Bearsville stage to pay joyous homage to the music of Walter Becker and Donald Fagen. Led by bassist/producer Scott Petito and drummer extraordinaire Jerry Marotta, this 13-strong legion of singers and players (including Jules Shear, Gail Ann Dorsey, Chris Pasin and Jerry’s brother Steely alum Rick Marotta) had the packed house singing its lungs out through two sets of music that crept into our heads during childhood and has made our days a little brighter ever since. It was a trip back to “my old school,” and it was sublime!
BRIDGE JAZZ FESTIVAL (NIGHT TWO) @ MASSRY CENTER FOR THE ARTS, ALBANY, 2/28/15
A two-night, two-venue event inspired by the NYC Winter Jazz Festival, the Bridge may be the best thing to come to these parts since Peter Hooley and The Flying Chicken. Even though Troy Savings Bank Music Hall had set the bar really high on the previous evening, this intimate-yet-expansive three-act show showed how artistically inclusive jazz can be. Gretchen Parlato & Alan Hampton added a new, working definition to the word “chemistry”; Fred Hersch proved piano-trio jazz doesn’t have to be passive and banal; and Cecile McLorin Salvant’s massive voice and whip-smart interpretive skills left us all suitably gob-smacked.
WILL BERNARD TRIO @ PARISH PUBLIC HOUSE, ALBANY, 6/12/15
File this one under “The Show You Never Saw.” You wouldn’t be alone, either, because drenching rain and tree-downing winds kept the crowd down to me, the bar staff, the sound guy and the members & friends of the ironically named opening act, Jeff Nania & the Elements. Nevertheless, Bay Area-based guitar slinger Will Bernard and his “band from Brooklyn” (aka keyboardist Brian Charette and drummer Eric Kalb) played like the place was packed to the rafters, cranking out 90 minutes of snarling, searching 21st-century jazz that literally cleared the skies. Climate change has no chance when Bernard turns it up to 11!
KAT EDMONSON @ MASS MoCA’S CLUB B-10, NORTH ADAMS, 3/16/15
This Texas singer-songwriter made her knockout Greater Nippertown debut in 2009 when she slayed the Tent Stage crowd (and a few of my friends) at the late, great Tanglewood Jazz Festival. Six years is a long time in politics or anything else, and Edmonson’s creative growth curve has taken a decided alt-country/pop turn. What hasn’t changed is the slightly mischievous, pixie-like Edmonson’s ability to pull you into whatever lyrical world she draws for you. While I know Edmonson wowed everyone at her Swyer Theatre gig in October, the up-close atmosphere of Club B-10 was a dead solid perfect match for Edmonson’s riveting vocal stylings.
CHRIS POTTER TRIO @ THE WHISPERDOME, SCHENECTADY, 11/6/15
While I’ve had plenty of chances to watch one of my favorite tenor players ply his craft with the Pat Metheny Unity Band, with Eric Harland Voyager, and with the Dave Holland Quintet, I’d never seen Chris Potter perform as a leader, and nobody had seen him play a sax-trio gig, which is about as easy as juggling penguins on stage while on fire. But backed by the monster rhythm section of Drew Gress and Adam Cruz, Potter’s two burning sets (interrupted by some long-winded guy with an award) put a brilliant capper on a season of A Place For Jazz that saw terrific shows by Rene Marie, Manuel Valera & New Cuban Express and Albany native Theo Hill.
BEACON JAZZ FESTIVAL @ SEEGER RIVERFRONT PARK, BEACON, 7/25/15
When it comes to brand-new festivals, I usually wait until all the bugs are worked out. However, thanks to the warm breeze off the Hudson, there literally weren’t any bugs as the summer schedule’s latest addition served up one of the most daring bills my mind has ever had the pleasure of being bent by. In the spirit of the area, all the music was “locally sourced” – from Mike Depazo’s monster HV All-Stars pick-up band, to Ted Daniel’s eye-crossing take on jazz icon King Oliver to Karl Berger & Ingrid Sersto’s shout-out to the halcyon days of the Creative Music Studio. Beacon Jazz may be the answer to summer’s usual array of over-commercial mega-festivals.
“WORKS” featuring JOE LOVANO @ SHEPARD PARK, LAKE GEORGE, 9/20/15
When it comes to adventurous music, Jazz at the Lake has been leading the league for years, and this year’s Lake George Jazz Weekend did it again, with a bill featuring Julian Lage, the Jazz Passengers and the Jason Marsalis Vibes Quartet. But it was the union of Joe Lovano’s towering tenor sax with the adamantine chemistry of drummer Rob Garcia, pianist Daniel Kelly and flautist Michele Gentile (the hive mind behind the NYC musical non-profit Connection Works) that left the biggest mark. Bassist John Hebert kept the floor slick and steady as this high-flying, improv-heavy unit proved that a little listening goes a long, long way.
PEREZ PATITUCCI BLADE @ THE EGG’S SWYER THEATRE, ALBANY, 11/21/15
Although pianist Danilo Perez, bassist John Patitucci and drummer Brian Blade have been cutting their own respective swaths in jazz for years now, their primary fame has come from being the backbone of the phenomenal Wayne Shorter Quartet. That time together has given this infinitely talented trio a chemistry and a telepathy that had the Swyer Theatre audience absolutely rapt as Perez Patitucci Blade (sometimes referred to as Children of the Light) held a mesmerizing three-way musical conversation that shook us to our souls. It was one of those times where everyone on stage was in his prime, and we got to witness it and remember it.
TANI TABBAL TRIO @ SANCTUARY FOR INDEPENDENT MEDIA, TROY, 11/7/15
Drummer Tani Tabbal was one of Berger & Sersto’s co-conspirators at Beacon Jazz, and that same questing, WAY-outside-the-box creative spirit fueled the dynamic trio that packed Sanctuary’s digital chapel from front to back. The spirit of the late Ornette Coleman was out in force as Tabbal led altoist Adam Siegel and bassist Mike Bisio through a torrid set of originals, culminating with a stripped-out reading of Coleman’s “Lonely Woman” that was so explosive, it may have damaged Troy’s power grid. Both this show and Sakato Fujii’s visit the following week cements Sanctuary as Greater Nippertown’s top alternative performance space.
…and THE NUMBER ONE CONCERT IN GREATER NIPPERTOWN FOR 2015 IS…
THE BAD PLUS JOSHUA REDMAN @ ZANKEL MUSIC CENTER, SARATOGA SPRINGS, 10/23/15
It was back in June at Alive at Five when Greater Nippertown first saw second-generation sax fiend Joshua Redman and jazz anarchists The Bad Plus take their once-implausible collaboration into the arena, but Zankel’s renowned acoustics allowed The Bad Plus Joshua Redman to show the depth and nuance this creative relationship has birthed. Redman’s improvisatory skills are stretched beyond their already-sizable limits when pushed by pianist Ethan Iverson, bassist Reid Anderson and drummer Dave King; conversely, TBP’s work with Redman amply displays a strength and maturity they’re never credited for. Let’s hear it for second chances!
And that’s it. Thanks for supporting live music in Greater Nippertown, and let’s do it again in 2016.
READ MORE OF NIPPERTOWN’s BEST OF 2015 LISTS
Stanley Johnson’s Favorite Things
J Hunter’s Top 25 Jazz Recordings, Part I
Tim Livingston’s Coolest Rock Event/Album That You Probably Never Heard About
Albert Brooks’ Top 5 Vocal Albums
J Hunter’s Top 25 Jazz Recordings, Part II
Rudy Lu’s Top 10 Favorite Concerts
Tim Livingston’s Coolest Rock Event That You Probably Never Heard About, No. 2