LAKE GEORGE JAZZ WEEKEND (Day 2)
Shepard Park, Lake George, NY
September 18, 2005
by J Hunter
I just love outdoor music festivals. The feel of the breeze
the warmth of the sun
the sound of the cannons
Yup, you read it right: The sound of the cannons. Revolutionary War re-enactors were re-fighting the French and Indian War over on the Battleground while the music played at the final day of the 22nd annual Lake George Jazz Weekend. (And I thought I had it bad watching Hamlet in Washington Park while a very loud version of The Wiz was going on at Park Playhouse.) Now, you'd think an artillery barrage would be somewhat distracting. Forget about it. If a disappearing (or, to be precise, non-appearing) headliner couldn't run this day off the rails, a little shell fire wasn't going to make any difference at all.
SYOTOS - and their leader, former Tito Puente trombonist Chris Washburne - became headliners when the Greg Osby Quartet was a no-show; Osby had been booked when original headliner David Sanchez backed out. Osby was one of the few good things about a forgettable Blue Note All-Stars show at Skidmore a few years back, and I was looking forward to seeing him stand on his own material. You would think the rest of the crowd would have shared my annoyance. At many shows I've been to, the loss of a headliner (with no actual physical substitute) would have caused a mutiny in the crowd. Once again, forget about it.
Lake George Jazz staffers - from emcee Paul Pine right down the volunteers at the t-shirt booth - get part of the credit because of the relaxed, pleasurable atmosphere they create for the crowd. The rest of the credit goes to the two remaining bands. They simply extended their sets without complaint or loss of quality. If anything, they didn't want to let this enthusiastic audience go.
In fact, the musicians seemed to be completely impervious to any kind of interference. When the Minnie-Ha-Ha blew its booming bass whistle as it chugged by Shepard Park, SYOTOS tenorman Ole Mathisen answered - in mid-solo, yet - with a long, blatting, discordant note that drowned out the stern-wheeler quite nicely, much to the delight of the hundreds of concertgoers arranged around the Craftsman-style bandstand.
References to legendary vocalese artist Eddie Jefferson abounded throughout Giacomo Gates & the Richie Cole Ensemble's opening set. Cole played with Jefferson in the final years before his death in 1979, and Gates is credited with singing in the tradition of Jefferson. While this may be true, to my mind Gates' riveting vocal style and humorous stage presence stands on its own. He ranged from Cole Porter and the Gershwins to Charlie Parker and Cannonball Adderley, was vibrant and uplifting throughout his time on stage, and his deep-register attack (which reminds me more of Johnny Hartman) was a perfect foil for Cole's dancing alto sax. Gates & Cole gave us great music and loud laughter, and that's a good start to any afternoon.
Washburne & SYOTOS had me interested before they played a note. The trombone is not your standard lead instrument in Latin music, so pairing it with Mathisen's tenor offered a guttural harmonic very different from the normal trumpet/sax configuration. Washburne's pen also added new twists to the old Latin formula; his ode to new parenthood, Pink Lines, ably re-created the dizzy, helpless feeling that things will never be the same, while the jazz-jam protest Guantanamo put violence and discord to a salsa beat. All this and more was created with the help of a stellar group of musicians, all of then veterans of the Latin jazz scene. I'm hoping we see them again next season, either at Freihofer's or at Albany Riverfront.
I'd never been to Lake George Jazz before this year. Now I understand why people keep coming back. I only have one thing to say to Greg Osby: Dude, wherever you are, you missed a really nice day.
J HUNTER is a former announcer/producer for radio stations in the Capital Region and the Bay Area, including KSJS/San Jose (where he was Assistant Music Director/Jazz programming), Q104 WQBK/Albany, and WSSV/Saratoga. He has also written music and theatre reviews for the Glens Falls Chronicle. He currently resides in Clifton Park.