LIVE: Albany Riverfront Jazz Festival @ Jennings Landing, 09/10/2022
It all started, as usual, with local heroes, building fame and buzz to feature bigger and bigger stars on tour.
Albany’s Riverfront Jazz Festival on Saturday – restored, post-(a bit)-pandemic to its former glory, like SPAC’s Freihofer’s Jazz Festival at the end of June – felt like the first musical event that fully evoked the critical mass of unanimous joy that we we had all disappeared.
It was a rush; or perhaps more accurately a slow burn, on a hot day.
First, local elected officials honored the memory of Medal of Honor recipient Henry Johnson by presenting his namesake award to community leader/entrepreneur Angelo “Justice” Maddox. Then Teresa Broadwell took the stage with other regional stars in an affectionate and driving look at the airy, agile jazz that filled dance floors from the 1930s through the age of bop.
Singing and playing the fleet, melodic fiddle, she brought out the best swing in her veteran crew. Tanned, bearded alto saxophonist Leo Russo has the most miles on the clock and showed off the tastiest chops, soloing in “Joy Spring” with tender eloquence and Paul Desmond-esque soft tone. The beat team of drummer Michael Benedict and bassist Pete Toigo defined the groove, flexible and phat, while guitarist Mike Novakowski was everywhere, whether soloing imaginatively or cutting chords into the groove. Broadwell arguably had the most fun, however, singing “My Little Red Top” and “Rhode Island” with humorous aplomb or digging into Stuff Smith’s violin fireworks number “Stuff It” with its rhythm of delicate hesitation. After a spirited “Pick Yourself Up”, they picked up and left to cheering applause.
Then California’s charged particles became much more modern, often to thrilling effect. The longtime (30-year-old) trio of pianist Greg Sankovich, bassist Aaron Germain and drummer Jon Krosnick have added tenor saxophone ace Todd Dickow in what they originally thought would be a live-only acknowledgment of how the now-defunct giant Michael Brecker inspired each reed. man since he emerged in the 1960s. (I looked around for our own Brian Patneaude, a GIANT Brecker fan, but he had to play somewhere else.)
Charged Particles (which might have dubbed themselves the Ions, but I digress), first charged with Brecker’s aggressive (though little-known) numbers “The Mean Time” and “By George” in a strong post-bop style before Dickow starred in Paul’s “African Skies” by Simon. Brecker had played it on tour with Simon, but Dickow took it further than I’ve ever seen Brecker play it. In “Strahangin'” by the Brecker Brothers, they brought the funk, Krosnick digging deep while Germain pushed the double.
Taking their time in Don Grolnick’s “Talking to Myself,” they made it pretty at any tempo, pulling the beat off in all sorts of ways. They closed very strong with “El Nino” by Joey Calderazzo (a pianist, like Grolnick). This happy riff on a delicate vamp loosened and tightened to end in repeated and rapid licks.
For pure power-jazz playing, this was the peak of the day.
New York’s Black Tie Brass jukeboxes classic pop through a Mardi Gras parade lens that had the crowd playing a very fun game of Name that Tune. Michael Jackson’s ‘Rock with You’, a Shaggy reggae set, a Stevie Wonder mashup, the ‘Batman’ theme from ‘This Is How We Do It’, a handful of Bill Withers soul hits – it was a ride playful.
Noting that they had performed at the festival in 2019, trombonist-leader Ryan McNulty charmed, saying “You haven’t aged a day!” causing laughter or sad looks in the crowd. They swayed with veteran confidence, giving off familiar tunes with both righteous awe and elastic elation. They had fun, and they gave it: Randolph Smith, trumpet; Jaedon Alvira, saxophone; Matt Godfrey, keyboards; Liev Golowasch, drums and – perhaps the band’s most valuable player – sousaphonist Nat Ranson.
Since graduating from SUNY Purchase last year, 21-year-old singer Samara Joy has shone like a comet in the jazz sky. While she crowdfunded her debut album, classic jazz label Verve will release its sequel linger a while. Both respect her elders – Sarah Vaughan, Carmen McRae, Nancy Wilson, Betty Carter, Thelonious Monk, Fats Navarro – as she did on stage on Saturday. But she brought a dazzling freshness both through the powerful beauty and range of her voice and through an early balance and presence. She knows what her voice can do and how to use it.
“Sweet Pumpkin” proposed marriage in timid hope, then she echoed Nancy Wilson in the melancholy, quiet “Guess Who I Saw Today.” An eloquent lyricist, she launched a cappella “San Francisco Holiday” by Thelonious Monk – for which she wrote the lyrics – before her trio joined: pianist John Thomas, drummer Evan Sherman and bassist Felix Moseholm. Before singing her own lyrics to the late trumpeter Fats Navarro’s “Nostalgia,” she asked the couples in the crowd to shout out how long they had been together. Then, as the song and its lyrics honored the engagement, she pointed to every couple she recognized, plugging in “40 years!” “20 years” in the lyrics.
In Betty Carter’s impatient statement I got it Abbey Lincoln’s “Tight” and philosophical “Straight Ahead”, she rode the feel as well as the words, belt halfway through “Straight Ahead” before concluding with a quiet croon. And she revisited the melancholy vibe of previous love songs in “If You Stayed As I Dream Of You,” setting up a lightning love jolt on the subway in a flare and so spicy at the same time a vocal rush. high and smooth and a low glide at the end.
She ended with a blues, engaging the crowd in a chant that worked; then she stuck around, dancing to the Soul Rebels headliner and obligingly taking selfies with fans who clustered next to the photo pit where she jumped with her band.
Everyone passed quick sound checks, but all seven Soul Rebels took their time. When they were ready, they threw out a chest thump you could feel in your feet and lifted your spirits over brass explosions and rap vocals.
At times, the music seemed to be at a low ebb, drummers Derrick Moss and Lumar LeBlanc taking the pulse with sousaphonist Manuel Perkins, Jr. But lightning-fast honks or lingering chords up front hit strong with trumpeter Julian Gosin, saxophonist Erion Williams and trombonists Corey Peyton and Paul Robertson.
It was just irresistible rhythms and exhortations to have a good time; and it hit like a long song. They urged us to turn it up and burn it, reminded us that we had friends we could count on and they were coming to party, encouraged everyone to march to the sky and keep the 504 (their home’s area code, New Orleans) lively vibe. Even the potentially jarring cover of Phil Collins’ “In The Air Tonight” somehow worked out – in part because the band asked everyone to turn on their phones, creating a luminous tapestry in the deepening twilight.
I felt bad/embarrassed for the nostalgic fan who summoned me to the photo pit barricade and demanded that the band “play something Brazilian”. Unlikely, as the Soul Rebels may be more out of place than any crew on the road these days.
Fresh from touring with Trombone Shorty’s Voodoo Threauxdown and George Clinton’s Parliament Funkadelic machine, they hit the stage ready to party.
So was the crowd.
The music managed to take a respectful look back and make its way forward.
Teresa Broadwell delivered vintage tunes in a fun spirit completely devoid of museum stiffness; they dumped him.
Two cool bands played mostly covers: Charged Particles recreated the Michael Brecker tribute style from their “Live art the Baked Potato” – an album they never imagined releasing until they heard the live tapes – while that Black Tie Brass celebrated the 1970s to – now strikes with a horn-powered (horn-y?) zip. Really rock.
Joy updated venerable instrumentals with tasty, timeless lyrics and sang the songs of her idols with both touching reverence and current mastery.
Neither marching band was chained to tradition: Neither played “When the Saints Go Marching In” or “St. James’s Infirmary.” Black Tie Brass uploaded pop radio favorites in a clever mix; old-made-older, and the Soul Rebels launched their street-parade power-blasts with hip-hop in Sousa-phunk with heavy bass and warm vocals – the vibe of Mardi Gras or Jazz Fest, in big.
Jazz DJs Darrin Scott (WVCR-FM of Siena) and Bill McCann (WCDB of UAlbany) enthusiastically presented the numbers; Scott in a special New Orleans shirt you could see from Buffalo, McCann giving me a graceful, unexpected shoutout.
As the Soul Rebels’ final explosions echoed off downtown buildings, Scott engaged the audience in a countdown to the fireworks launched from the Rensselaer bank across the Hudson – a loud, brilliant coda , bright and booming.
Samara Joy performs at Lake George Jazz Weekend at 3 p.m. on Saturday, September 17 in Shepherd Park. Free. 518-668-2616 www.LakeGeorgeArts.org. ET at Universal Preservation Hall (25 Washington St Saratoga Springs) Friday, December 23 at 8:00 p.m. $30.50-$50.50. 518-346-6204 www.proctors.org