ALBANY RIVERFRONT JAZZ FESTIVAL
Corning Preserve, Albany, NY
September 10, 2005
by J Hunter
Random notes from the 4th annual Albany Riverfront Jazz Festival - the primary reason why I look like a lobster in a Red Sox cap:
IT'S ABOUT TIME: So there I was, ready with my list of complaints about Albany Riverfront's location. Yes, the Corning Preserve is a great place to be when the breeze is blowing and the trees are in leaf, but the amphitheatre leaves a lot to be desired for anything other than Alive At Five. Then came Thursday's announcement that the new federal transportation bill includes $6.8 million for a new amphitheatre with twice the seating capacity. Pork Barrel is a beautiful thing. I would have loved it even more if Mayor Jennings hadn't held up Dee Dee Bridgewater's set while he tried to take all the credit. Yes, it's an election year, but still
GIVE THE LOCALS SOME LOVE: I was more than a little chagrined that the Brian Patneaude Quintet only got 45 minutes for their fest-opening set, with no encore. Forget that Dave Payette's smoking Fender Rhodes work adds a vibrant new color to Patnreaude's musical palate, or that Brian and George Muscatello keep taking each other to new levels of excellence. If you're familiar with Patneaude's music, you know 45 minutes barely gives him time to clear his throat. We got three cuts from Distance and a new piece called Will You Be, and then the plug got pulled to make way for
THE J STREET JUMPERS: Last I checked, New York is only three hours away, with a plethora of choices on its voluminous jazz menu. Latin? Fusion? Acoustic? Electric? Yeah, New York's got that, and a lot more. So who got the next slot at Albany Riverfront? A Chicago jump blues band that was basically Big Bad Voodoo Daddy without the sense of humor. How 90's, I mused. I think I'll go home and rent Swingers. The Jumpers know their genre, and vocalist Juanita Williams tried her best to get the crowd going, but the joint definitely did not jump.
COMING IN FROM THE BULLPEN: To make a long story short, David Fathead Newman broke his hip while attempting to escape some rambunctious bees. Bad for him, and we wish the 72-year old reedman a quick recovery. But the show must go on, and it went on in fine style, thanks to a heck of an understudy named Joe Lovano. Looking ever so Noo Yawk in his lime green shirt and short-brimmed hat, the Grammy award winning tenor player jammed out with baritone-saxman Howard Johnson and the rest of Newman's band. Wisely, Lovano did not try to take over, letting Johnson lead the set. If only the Mets had that kind of relief pitching
LIFT EVERY VOICE: Kurt Elling overcame a talkative audience to showcase the nuance and innovation that makes him so cool. Though his hejira into poetry reading fell flat, Elling's interpretations of Art Blakey (Moanin'), Grover Washington, Jr. (Winelight), and his mentor Jon Hendricks (the deliciously un-PC Home Cookin') left me breathless. Lawrence Hopgood's piano cascaded like a waterfall, and the ever-explosive Willie Jones III just tore it up, as usual.
Becoming a radio star hasn't dimmed Bridgewater's drive one jot. She came out to an addictive Latin beat that had her salsa-dancing across the stage. Touching on composers from Mongo Santamaria to Kurt Weill, the former UN ambassador worked it hard to the howls of the crowd. Like Elling, Bridgewater needed no horns to complete her sound; I've seen Bobby McFerrin scat like a saxophone, but this was the first time I've seen anyone scat like a muted trombone.
FINAL THOUGHTS: If this was the last year of the current amphitheatre configuration, then this was a great send-off. If the renovation gets held up - which is more than likely, given the hoops that remain to be jumped through - Albany Riverfront organizers should consider mounting a second stage at the Riverfront Bar & Grill. It would create more flow-through at the amphitheatre, and give more local bands a chance to participate.
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.