Taking flight with harmonious mastery

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Laura Dubin (Photo by Sy Weissman/lauradubin.com)

In spite of the absence of headliner Omara Portuondo, a top must-see on my list, Sunday brought some incredible acts to the stage. (Portuondo’s performance was canceled because of visa delays.)

I first saw pianist, composer and Rochester native Laura Dubin celebrate piano jazz legend Marian McPartland with a tribute set at Innovation Square. Her trio, with Dubin on piano, her husband Antonio H. Guerrero on drums, and Nick Parker on bass, gave the audience a tour through McPartland’s career, playing her songs and educating the audience about her musicianship and influence. 

Dubin may as well be a McPartland historian. It is clear how much McPartland means to Dubin from the way she speaks about McPartland’s music. Dubin’s commitment to keeping McPartland’s memory and spirit alive in her presentation of these songs is evident.

My favorite part of the show was actually the one song that wasn’t from McPartland, it was a Dubin original called “Dear Marian.”  The song serves as a love letter to the pianist, which Dubin wrote after reading McPartland’s biography. This composition showcased the effort in the tribute project, with its touching, heartwarming melodies and nostalgic waltz-like flow. 

Another cool moment came with the trio’s rendition of McPartland’s “Time and Time Again,” which they cleverly converted into an odd 5/4 time signature, giving the composition a quirky, imbalanced feel. The trio added their own touch to these songs, keeping things interesting as photos and video clips of McPartland  projected onto the stage. 

Up next on my schedule was Camille Thurman with the Darrell Green Quartet. The show started off with a pleasant introspective solo from bassist Tom DiCarlo, which really set the mood before the full quartet launched into a chaotic and danceable version of “My Heart Belongs to Daddy,” which was so fast paced I didn’t recognize it at first. 

Thurman entered the stage part way through the song with her saxophone, and right from the start she played it with an immense amount of vocal intent. To me, the saxophone has always been the most similar instrument to the human voice, and Thurman proved that with rich textures and fluid melodies that sounded like singing. Trumpet player Wallace Roney Jr. joined Thurman with perfect harmonies and intertwining melodies. The two musicians blended the thick and breathy sound of the saxophone with the thin and nasally sound of the trumpet to create a contrasting duet. Seeing them play together was exhilarating.

As the show continued, Thurman revealed her vocal skills, which made her vocally-driven saxophone playing make so much sense. Her voice mimics her saxophone and her saxophone  mimics her voice. Her vocal control and scatting abilities were astounding. There was a moment in the set where she went into a long improvisational vocal passage that lifted me up.

The group passed off solos so fluently, picking up where the previous player left off, and taking phrases from each other and expanding upon them. Each member had a distinct personality that shone through in the way they played, and in the way they responded to each other. 

Pianist Jordan Williams had a particularly unique attitude while playing, a very focused, professional and driven one. His solos were full of power and spontaneity. Thurman enthusiastically nodded and smiled at her bandmates during their solos; appreciating the directions they took in their phrases, and the patterns they built upon. It was an amazing display of music as a form of communication.

“I have an affinity for great songs,” Thurman said to the audience as she introduced the next piece: a rendition of “Goin’ Out of My Head” by Little Anthony & The Imperials, which was a crowd pleaser with its energetic melody and expressive vocals. 

Thurman and Green’s song choices showed off the band’s talents. I was so engrossed with the set that by the time an hour passed and Thurman started singing her goodbyes and thank yous, it felt like they had just gotten started.

After getting tossed around by the dynamic and spectacular Thurman and the quartet, I retreated to the Little Theater to see Corner House, a pleasant bluegrass and folk quartet that won me over with their collective charisma and charming songwriting.

Corner House (Photo: cornerhouseband.com)

With guitarist Ethan Hawkins, fiddle player Louise Bichan, mandolinist Ethan Setiawan and cellist Casey Murray, Corner House brings together four Berklee music students with a shared goal to pool their musical abilities and experiences to create a unique sound. They classify themselves as a mixture of “old time, Scottish, progressive bluegrass and folk,” which is a genre mix that presents itself nicely, especially in a group that has so much chemistry. 

Whether it was the slightly unsettling “They Stole My Wife Last Night,” their entertaining cover of “Plastic Jesus,” or the even more entertaining and way more vulgar “Kids Today,” Corner House captured the audience with their quaint songs. Between each song, the members engaged in some entertaining banter as instruments got tuned and prepared. The four of them clearly work so well as a group and have a lot of respect for each other. It’s the type of band that you just really wish you could be in.

The weekend has ended, but the Jazz Fest will carry on until Saturday. Today is the first free headliner show of the festival, with the Eastman Jazz Ensemble celebrating the music of Chick Corea.

Check out the Beacon’s Jazz Fest coverage here

Jess Williams is a Rochester Beacon contributing writer and a student at Ithaca College. The Beacon welcomes comments and letters from readers who adhere to our comment policy including use of their full, real name. Submissions to the Letters page should be sent to [email protected]

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