ALBANY RIVERFRONT JAZZ FESTIVAL
September 11, 2010
by J Hunter
Notes from (for the first time in anyone’s memory) an entirely rain-free Albany Riverfront Jazz Festival:
GIVE THE LOCALS SOME (RECYCLED) LOVE – “Maybe we should change our name every three years,” Troika keyboardist Robert Lindquist joked backstage. In 2007, Lindquist’s quintet New Regime made a lot of friends at Riverfront with their set of CTI-era soul jazz. This time around, Lindquist’s “new band” gave standards like Eddie Harris’ “Cold Duck Time” and Herbie Hancock’s “Watermelon Man” the Medeski Martin & Wood treatment, and it had early arrivers shaking and shimmying. Scaling back to a trio meant Lindquist and saxman Eric Walentowicz had more to do, but they were more than up to the task: Lindquist’s left hand played booming bass lines while his right hand was (literally and figuratively), and Walentowicz’s ripping solo on Steely Dan’s “Pretzel Logic” told us he was out to do major damage that afternoon. Lindquist believes there are still numerous ways Troika can grow and be even hotter, which would be a hell of a sight to hear. So keep your ears peeled, and always check the name on the label!
MAKE YOURSELF AT HOME – Somi’s parents are from Rwanda and Uganda, respectively (her sister, who was in the crowd, still lives in Rwanda), but the entrancing vocalist describes herself as “an Illinois girl” who had come to Riverfront to “share some stories.” She did more than that: She scatted, she popped, she amazed and inspired, and she killed it on every single number. “Wallflower Blues” was more an enticing bossa than a blues tune, and although the lyrics to “Ingele” were in Swahili, the spirit of this “song about heartbreak” spoke directly to anyone who’d ever been loved or hurt. Somi’s voice multiple octaves that all see action, and her resonant lows on “Hot Blue” were as devastating as her resounding highs on the Fela Kuti-inspired closer “African Women.” Liberty Ellman’s fluid guitar helped the music move from continent to continent, and Toru Dodo’s turbulent piano solos demonstrated that beauty and chaos have more than a little in common.
IT’S THE REAL THING – “There’s an invisible tuba player up here,” Ravi Coltrane said off-mic after his blistering opening number “Nothing Like You.” Actually it was a malfunctioning monitor, but incorporating an actual invisible tuba player would have been the only way the second-generation saxman’s set could have been more off the hook. Literally every tune he played after “Nothing” – from his own “Prelude” to a byzantine deconstruction of “What a Wonderful World” – incorporated at least three degrees of freedom. If anyone had come to Riverfront looking for dumbed-down, vanilla-flavored jazz, they were so very out of luck, because Coltrane and his band of killers (drummer E.J. Strickland, bassist Drew Gress, and pianist Luis Perdomo) were dealing in the pure, unadulterated, undiluted real thing. Not everybody got it, but everybody cheered like mad after the closer “Epistrophy.” Forget Ravi Coltrane filling his father’s shoes; he fills his own shoes just fine, thank you.
NOW THAT… WAS A PARTY – Riverfront has seen bigger bands than Dumpstaphunk; it’s even seen louder bands than Dumpstaphunk. However, I defy anyone to come up with a group that was as powerful as this five-headed monster of NOLA’s current generation. Led by singer/multi-instrumentalist Ivan Neville and featuring Ian Neville’s awesome guitar skills, this unit – and I do mean “unit’, because they are nothing if not a well-oiled machine – is what would have happened if P-Funk and Lenny Kravitz had made a baby! They sent the crowd’s spirits into orbit with “In This World”, and kept them there with groovealicious joints like “Gasman” and “I Just Want My Freedom”, not to mention a tasty cover of Sly & the Family Stone’s “You Can Make It if You Try.” The crowd was already down with the program when Ivan upped the ante and brought headliner John Scofield out to jam on Dumpstaphunk’s closing number, and Old School jazzers and young jam Banders howled like banshees as Scofield and bassist Tony Hall tore Corning Preserve in two. This band has re-set the bar, pure and simple, and every subsequent Riverfront artist is really going to have to work to top this.
AND WE WEREN’T EVEN DONE YET – Most audiences would have said “I quit” and limped on home after being bounced around by a hellacious group like Dumpstaphunk. Despite the musical overload and the impending darkness, the crowd was still stacked all the way up to the footbridge when WVCR’s ‘El Jefe’ Darrin Scott brought out Scofield and a trio of gunslingers that included bomb-tastic drummer Matt Wilson; this was the second straight year Wilson played with the Riverfront headliner, and the rolling thunder he creates makes one hope this is becoming a tradition. John Scofield is an 800-pound gorilla, in that he can do anything he wants: He plays funked-up originals like “Ten Taken” and “Groove Elation” and trips out all concerned with his in-the-clear journey into “the Loopiverse”, but he also teaches history lessons like Dizzy Gillespie’s “Wouldn't You” and Billy Eckstine’s “I Wanna Talk About You” (“A song I was taught by John Coltrane,” he told us.) Whatever he played, he sounded like nobody but himself, and his band worked like demons to match his quality and energy. The usual end-of-show fireworks were great, but they were nothing compared to the capper John Scofield put on the best Riverfront yet.
J HUNTER is a former announcer/producer for radio stations in the Capital Region and the Bay Area, including KSJS/San Jose (where he was Assistant Music Director/Jazz Programming) and Q104 WQBK/Albany. He is a frequent contributor to the web site All About Jazz and to the monthly music magazine State of Mind. He currently resides in Clifton Park.