Day 3 brings on the cool

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The Brighton Hill School Jazz Band featured solos from graduating seniors. (Photo by Tim Fuss/All photos courtesy of Rochester International Jazz Festival)

The third day of the Jazz Fest had a relaxed atmosphere, as things seemed to be cooling down after the more chaotic first two days. 

I started the day revisiting old memories by watching the Brighton High School Jazz Band. Even though I was never in the High School Jazz Band, it wasn’t too long ago that I played with the Brighton Middle School Jazz Band at the Jazz Fest in 2016. 

Now, I might be biased (I am), but I think the BHS Jazz Band is one of the best high school jazz bands in Monroe County. The highlight of their set was the closing song, “Hip Hop Bop Shop,” which was a fun jam that featured solos from many of the graduating seniors, including a lot of people I know, so it was great to see them play.

Sunday was full of solo acoustic guitar shows; I came across three while roaming around. The one that I turned my focus to was the virtuosic Andy McKee. A solo guitar player who always sounds like he’s playing three instruments at once, McKee’s guitar-playing abilities surpass what a normal human should be able to do. The frequent percussive sounds he makes by hitting the body of the guitar make his hands look like industrial machinery. He is able to extort so much power from a single guitar, it is unsettling. It was fun to marvel at McKee’s abilities, but I do wish we got to hear more of his original work–half of his set were covers. Despite this, he did nail covers of both “Everybody Wants To Rule The World” by Tears for Fears and “Africa” by Toto.

Andy McKee (Photo by Jamie Mohr)

Champian Fulton was next on my list, a singer/songwriter pianist whose classic sound ushered in the sounds of jazz and blues legends like Cole Porter and Billie Holiday. I missed the set she did the previous day with her trio, but I got to catch her solo show at Hatch Recital Hall. 

Champian Fulton (Photo by Peter Parts)

Fulton is a gifted vocalist and pianist, capturing the personality-filled timbres of the eras she borrows from throughout the set, all while dexterously accompanying herself. From the way she talks about the musicians who inspire her, it is very clear that Fulton has a deep and serious dedication to music. My favorite quirk about Fulton as a performer is the way she reacts to her own improvisations, often chuckling to herself as if she is surprised at what she’s playing. It really elevates the sense of joy and discovery you feel when hearing someone experiment on their instrument. 

Next up was Under The Surface, an intriguing Dutch folk group that had everyone in the Glory House glued to their seats in awe. Under The Surface has built their live sets around improvisation. Every set is completely improvised, so no performance from them will be the same. The group has a unique sound that is mainly based on Dutch folk music, but also borrows from jazz, ambient, rock, and more. They expertly craft an aesthetic, and guide the audience through their poetic presentations. The surprising new sounds, inventive vocal techniques, and impeccable use of space make for a meditative, otherworldly journey. 

Under The Surface (Photo by Garry Geer)

The group is drummer Joost Lijbaart, guitarist Bram Stadhouders, and vocalist Sanne Rambags, but they aren’t simply a drummer, guitarist, and vocalist, all of them are multi-instrumentalists in their own way. Lijbaart sits at a drum set, and next to him is a table stacked with countless auxiliary percussion instruments, many of which I don’t recognize. He plays around with these tools throughout the show, often finding creative ways to combine them, or use them in unexpected ways. 

Stadhouders sits with his guitar, in front of him is a pedal board that bends the sound of his guitar to his will, and next to him is a laptop with an open session of a DAW, where he creates delay and reverb effects. Rambags is an expressive vocalist, constantly implementing physical movement into her performance. At some points during the show she used a curious instrument that I had to ask her about afterward. It’s called a “waterphone” and it creates one of the most beautifully unnerving sounds I have ever heard from an instrument. A screeching crystal-like noise that has caused me to consider impulsively purchasing a waterphone for myself. 

Three down, six more days to go! Already there have been so many unforgettable performances, and we are just getting started!

-Jess Williams

Guitar masters and some Coltrane

Ravi Coltrane Freedom Trio (Photo by Mark Druziak)

Ravi Coltrane played around with silk-ensconced bricks that landed with intention at the floor of the audience’s feet. It made you feel smart if you settled on this joy. I dug what I was diggin’. Being in the presence of the bloodline felt mighty hip, too. Coltrane, get it?

Next, I needed to walk around and get some random stimulation and stumbled into the RTs, who struck a pop chord with a fresh bang a la various sounds in bands like Squeeze, but this time bent with a dandy version of Lou Rawls’ “You’re Gonna Miss My Lovin.’” Man, it was five-piece fun from the band that calls itself “the pizza of bands.” I was gonna have to keep my ears on from now on. I mean, have you ever seen me eat pizza?

Tommy Emmanuel (Photo by Thom Bell)

Headlining this night at Parcel 5 was Aussie guitarist Tommy Emmanuel. Now, there are guitar masters out there. And no shortage of geniuses and kings alike. But this cat leaves ’em all in the dust choking for air. He’s a guitar witch doctor who beats on his guitar with what appeared to be wooden spoons and bare knuckles between spanks of the plank. He played totally off the cuff, changing his mind between jazzy attacks to Lightnin’ Hopkins, new age jazz, and Hank WIlliams I. Loops, too. And despite my worries with the sound, though immense and intense, it was beautiful. I think Emmanuel has 12 fingers … on each hand.

And, speaking of a stream-of-conscious connection to their instrument, there was Bill Frisell and his trio playing me into a perfect goodnight at the Temple Theater with a delicately spooky, rendered piece that resembled the disjointed music box in a horror movie, the kind that features little kids who drag you to hell. Though I think this guitar master had intentions that were infinitely more devine, heading in the opposite direction.  Amen.

-Frank De Blase

Jess Williams is a Rochester Beacon intern and a student at Ithaca College. Frank De Blase is Rochester Beacon music writer.  All Rochester Beacon Jazz Fest articles are collected here.

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