On Day 4, no loss of momentum

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Dan Wilson Band (Photo by Tim Fuss/All photos courtesy of Rochester International Jazz Festival)

If you want cool AC, just pop into Max of Eastman Place. If you want a cool scene, just pop into Max of Eastman Place like I did first thing on Day 4 of the Jazz Fest, where I dug jazz guitarist Dan Wilson.

Wilson played it cream and smooth with his green guitar. He also credited coming up in the church as an explanation for his drive and endurance. He knocked off early in his set with a chordal-y dense version of “Eleanor Rigby.” It was lovely and hinted at the day when he’d work out of the Beatles box some more. But on this night it was Herbie Hancock for the covers fans. Except when he brought up tomorrow’s headliner, Nabaté Isles, to blow some horn on some Freddie Hubbard. Where it’s obvious he drinks from Wes Momtgomery waters, he seemed to be out to explore–way out there in the cool scene. Don’t try to stop him.

Spyro Gyra couldn’t hold my attention like Bill Tiberio could. It was like the SG bassist learned to play the bass from a tap-dancing elephant. So, I split the jungle cruise and landed right in the arms of Ms. Lisa Fischer and her pianist, Taylor Eigsti. It was a mass seduction of the crowd at the Temple Theatre, where Fischer started with a sway as if trying to hypnotize herself as well.

As a vocalist, she has backed up everyone–everyone from Luther Vandross to the Stones to Sting–but it was this evening’s set up and soar where she really shines. She would take a number, bones and all, and wrench them up from nothing to infinity. A mere 20 feet from stardom. A potent whisper to a scream. She was the loudest singer I’ve heard in a spell; also the quietest.

–Frank De Blase

Lisa Fischer (Photo by Ethan Branch)

Machine dreams and a packed Parcel 5

The buzz surrounding the 19th Rochester International Jazz Festival has not worn off, and more and more people seem to be catching on. I expected Monday to be more of a slow day, but the streets were as full as ever.

Kaisa’s Machine (Photo by Jim Dolan)

The first show I caught was Kaisa’s Machine, led by bassist Kaisa Mäensivu, a Finnish jazz musician and composer who excels at crafting narratives with her music. Backed by guitar, piano and drums, Kaisa’s Machine nails some clean New York City style bebop. Like the name implies, Kaisa’s Machine operates fluidly. The level of communication seen in this group is impressive; everyone is listening to each other, building off each other, supporting each other. It’s clearly a group effort and it makes the band more than the sum of its parts (even though individually these musicians are top-notch).

Although they are a “Machine,” they aren’t predictable or rigid. This group is full of surprises, like the pianist’s frantic improv solo style, or the guitarist’s manipulation of guitar tones, or the drummer’s attention to accents, or Kaisa’s ear for a great chord change. Kaisa’s Machine was a joy to watch.

Monday night held one of the biggest concert turnouts of the festival so far this year. Parcel 5 was packed full of audience members waiting to see Spyro Gyra, a widely loved jazz fusion band formed in the late ’70s.

“Rochester is so nostalgic for us. This goes back to when we first started. When everything was exciting,” founder and saxophonist Jay Beckenstein told the audience. The band has evolved greatly over the past few decades, cycling through members, and changing up its sound. The current lineup has only one original member, Beckenstein, and also includes Tom Schuman on keys, Scott Ambush on bass, Julio Fernández on guitar, and Lionel Cordew on drums.

I have appreciated Spyro Gyra’s music in the past, but the band is a different beast when live. With how laid back their music usually is, I didn’t expect the amount of energy they brought to the mainstage. Playing live is what keeps the band motivated.

“It is our lifeblood and you are the only ones giving it to us,” Beckenstein yelled out to the fans. People of all ages danced in their seats as the band presented its classic late-’70s jazz fusion. The luscious sounds of Spyro Gyra rang clear across the field, accentuating the textured synths and juicy slap bass. Parcel 5 stayed packed for the entire set.

Spyro Gyra (Photo by Aaron Winters)

After Spyro Gyra, I headed over to Max of Eastman Place to hear jazz guitarist Dan Wilson play. Leading a quartet of a bassist, drummer, and pianist, Wilson played some calming combo jazz that ended my night on a pleasant note. I loved how much fun this quartet had on stage. They frequently smiled at each other, which was a sweet sign of respect between the group. There was a lot of focus in this quartet, and it was clear that each member was tuned in.

Wilson played an incredible set, including a great jazz arrangement of “Eleanor Rigby” and a touching solo guitar piece that was full of tasty chord progressions and comfy melody lines.

Tuesday is the first day of summer, and 85-degree weather will be here to prove it. Celebrate by checking out some of the great Jazz Fest performances happening on the 21st!

–Jess Williams

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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