LIVE: Saratoga Jazz Fest (Day 1) @ SPAC, 06/26/2021

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Steamy Sultry Jazz Fest Returns

After a year hiatus due to COVID 19, the beloved Friehofer Jazz Fest returned to SPAC on Saturday, June 26th and 27th. Required to keep the numbers low, SPAC limited tickets, and the event was an odd sight for many who had attended the previously crowded venues in years before. But for all the change in numbers of attendees, the music was on point with bringing sultry roots energy to the summer venue.

The event kicked off with a local favorite: The Hot Club of Saratoga. This local popular band is known for their rendition of the Gypsy Jazz music from post WWII Paris. Both cheerful and familiar, The Hot Club’s Jonathan Greene’s effortless clarinet was a siren for the audience to wake up and pay attention.

Photo by Jim Gilbert

Hot Club’s Chuck Kish offers a strong foothold for this band with rhythm guitar. While he spoke sparingly, what he shared wetted appetites for more information about the style and time period of gypsy jazz.  Joined by Tucker Calender on violin, the band had playful call and response between them. Julia Posin turned up the heat when she added vocals with her sultry and rich voice.

Joey Alexander’s talent was showcased in the second performance of the day. Alexander was returning to the stage after previous performances at age 13 and 15 at SPAC. The performer was celebrating his 18th birthday on the Jazz Fest stage, and was clearly a crowd favorite.

Photo by Rudy Lu

Alexander’s original compositions paired with his rare ability to manage challenging rhythms on the keys brought the crowd to their feet. “Promise of Spring” turned up the adrenaline as the humidity was climbing around us. Joined by Kendrick Scott on percussion, Alexander’s music was unexpected and joyful.

At the close of his set, Alexander appeared delighted and surprised by SPAC’s offering of a birthday cake and song to celebrate the young musician. A rising star in the jazz world, Alexander is a unique prodigy of talent that should not be missed.

Photo by Jim Gilbert

Dianne Reeves’ set was opened with a young female percussionist, Negah Santos, whose sexy rhythms brought all ears focused back on stage. Reeves’ vocals were, as always, amazing. After joking that she had practiced walking in heels the past two weeks to prepare for the stage, she sang her heart out. She explained that after the past year, people went in “one way, and came out somebody else, for the good” which brought folks cheering in the crowd.

Reeves’ vocals are unmatched. Her effortless scats across octaves, intuitive sounding rhythms, and strong emotional connection with the crowd stole the show. She commanded the crowd to clap and sing along and they happily obliged.

Guitarist Romero Lombambo and  bassist Itaiguara Brandao were top notch performers as well. Santos’ raw and sensual drumming, though, joined by her smiles to Reeves reflected a sunny joyfulness in expression that outshone the rest of the night.

Photo by Rudy Lu

Christian McBrides’ New Jawn opened with McBride noting it was hard to follow Reeves but he sure gave it the old college try. With a screaming trumpet player, McBrides’ dizzying funk sound was everything you would predict jazz should be. He satisfied the crowd shifting energy with pace, volume and mind blowing improv.

Photo Gallery by Jim Gilbert

Photo Gallery by Rudy Lu

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