Surprising sounds on Day 8

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Friday at the Jazz Fest was full of surprises. I took a more relaxed approach to the festival, stopping by random shows and not worrying about a schedule. I only got to three shows, but this more laid-back perspective allowed me to really take in the community fostered by the festival. I met a couple of really friendly people and pet a few dogs. It was a great day. 

Jonathan Scales (Photo by Kelley Yost)

Montage Music Hall was absolutely packed with people watching the Jonathan Scales Fourchestra (actually more of a “threechestra” for this performance). Headed by Jonathan Scales, a steel drum player, the band includes drummer Maison Guidry and bassist E’Lon JD. If you aren’t familiar with the steel drum (also called the steelpan or pan), you are definitely familiar with its sound. Typically used to make a song sound “tropical,” the steel drum came from Trinidad and has been kind of ruined by its frequent use in popular music and soundtracks as a gimmick.

The Scales Fourchestra is a forward-thinking ensemble and wraps some really memorable moments into their live set, including an explanation of steel drum history, and a breakdown of one of their more complex time signatures. The band had the crowd counting a 7/4 meter with a 6/8 measure thrown in after seven bars. It really isn’t as complex as it sounds, and the audience participation stunt in Scales’ set proves it. 

Jonathan Scales will break your preconceived expectations about the steel drum, and will leave you fiending for more. Scales plays with a fluency and fervor that will make you fall in love with the instrument. 

Julia Nunes is an artist who I just recently discovered, and in a stroke of coincidence she was scheduled to perform Friday at the Jazz Fest, opening for the Bacon Brothers. Nunes, a Rochester native, started her career as a musician on YouTube in 2007. YouTube would become one of the biggest internet platforms, but before Google grew YouTube to the monstrosity it is today, Nunes experienced some internet virality with her ukulele covers, becoming a trendsetter for many rising musicians’ path to success.

Julia Nunes (Photo by Jamie Mohr)

Since then, Nunes has continued releasing music, becoming one of the first successful singer/songwriters born out of the internet age. Nunes played a fantastic set of stripped-back songs with just her voice and her ukulele, including an unreleased song called “Life Is Long,” which really hit the audience hard with its easy-to-grasp message but nuanced perspective.

For the last few songs, Nunes put away her uke and invited her father, Paul Nunes, to accompany her on piano. This father-daughter dynamic was really special to see on stage, and their natural chemistry made the whole concert feel like a performance at a family gathering, something that Julia Nunes mentioned happens a lot when she’s with her family. After a heartwarming performance of one of my favorite Disney tunes, “Go The Distance,” I could pick out a few audience members wiping tears from their eyes. 

Big Lazy closed out Day 8 for me with their noir soundtrack-inspired moody jams. This group has a unique sound that could soundtrack either a lonesome evening walk or a murder investigation. Drummer Yuval Lion and bassist Andrew Hall set the scene while founder Stephen Ulrich cut through the smoke with a guitar sound that completes the cinematic picture. It was a joy to see this trio perform and interact with each other. If you are more curious about their sound, check out what Frank De Blase said about the band on his recap of Day 7. 

Unfortunately, we have only one day of Jazz Fest left. Hopefully we won’t have to wait another two years for the next one. Be sure to make the most of this final day!

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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