Hitting new highs on Day 5

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Jeremy Pelt Quartet (Photo by Thom Bell/All photos courtesy of Rochester International Jazz Festival)

Tuesday was Jazz Fest at its peak. Shows sold out left and right, and to top it all off, the biggest headliner of the week, Robin Thicke, was set to perform at the end of the day. The almost 90 degree weather didn’t deter enough people to prevent it from being the most crowded day at the festival so far. 

I luckily came across a lone seat in a crowded Kilbourn Hall to see the Jeremy Pelt Quartet, where I was greeted by–finally–a group with a vibraphone player. I have been sorely missing the vibraphone over the past four days, and just seeing one on the stage before the players walked out got me excited. 

Jeremy Pelt stands out as a fantastic combo leader. He’s experienced, charismatic, focused, and deeply understands and respects jazz as a tradition. Pelt is a strong trumpeter, his sense of flow and dynamic contour make his statements powerful. I found a lot of personality in his playing. 

Having a piano and a vibraphone in the same jazz combo is always an interesting situation. The instruments are very similar in how they function in a small ensemble, and they are also both very flexible and versatile. Vibraphonist Chien Chien Lu and pianist Victor Gould occupied the same space with their sound but never got in each other’s way (except for the fact that the piano was mixed too low on the loudspeakers).

Finally hearing some vibraphone at the Jazz Fest made my day, and to see such a talented vibraphonist made it even better. Lu was incredibly skilled, utilizing an arsenal of different mallets she danced between styles and populated her solos with ecstatic bursts.

Pelt and this quartet recently released an album, from which he played many songs during the show. The album is called “Soundtrack” and if you are curious about his sound, I recommend checking it out. 

The Dave Brubeck Quartet stands as one of the most influential and powerful jazz ensembles of all time, and the Brubeck Brothers Quartet is here to properly honor Dave Brubeck’s prolific career. Two of his children, bassist and trombonist Chris Brubeck and drummer Dan Brubeck, team up with guitarist Mike DeMicco and pianist Cuck Lamb to create a perfect Dave Brubeck tribute band. 

These four musicians were clearly taught well from the book of Dave Brubeck and their groovy cool jazz pieces, often set with odd time signatures, and brought his sound back to life. I was expecting the quartet to stick to the classics, but to my delight they highlighted many deep cuts from Dave Brubeck’s massive catalog, which pointed out some very overlooked gems. Of course, they finished the set with the legendary “Take Five,” which invigorated the audience. 

Headliner Robin Thicke suffocated the Parcel 5 venue once 9 p.m. rolled around. Getting from one side to the other required lots of pushing forward and strategizing. Since Thicke had the most recognizable name on the bill, and the performance was free, I wasn’t surprised about the high turnout. Thicke decided to start off his show with a cluster of covers of classic R&B and funk songs, which was a good choice because I don’t think his originals are strong enough to support him through an entire show. 

Robin Thicke (Photo by Dick Bennett)

I have held a distaste for Thicke ever since his inescapable reductive “Blurred Lines” rose to prominence and gained controversy. I’ve never enjoyed his music, either finding it boring and bland, or annoying and callous. I was pleasantly surprised that he could run a competent concert performance, with enough energy to fill the stage and captivate a massive audience. I didn’t stay for too long, but the Robin Thicke show turned out to be a fun time.

Adam Melchor wasn’t an artist that I had on my radar until a couple people reached out and recommended I see his show the day before. Going in blind, I was taken aback by this indie singer/songwriter’s beautiful voice and touching songwriting.

I came in halfway through his set and immediately he won me over with the ballad “Jewel,” a love song that involves memorable lyrics, a catchy hook, and a loose analogy to something that is seemingly unrelated to the topic at hand–a la Ben Folds’ “The Luckiest.” Melchor’s voice soars over his songs, clean, precise, and flexible. It didn’t take long for me to become enamored with his vocal runs and well-placed falsetto flips.

Adam Melchor (Photo by Mark Druziak)

Melchor is a storyteller at heart, and he reveled in describing the origins of his songs before playing them. Whether it was a story about an old car getting stolen, or moving away from a girlfriend, or a rooster that won’t shut up, the audience held onto every word. His natural storytelling abilities showed throughout his music, and his preambles.

Day 5 unfortunately means we’ve passed the halfway mark, but there are still four days to go, and many more great shows to attend. Don’t miss your chance to participate in the Jazz Fest this year!

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

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