ALBANY RIVERFRONT JAZZ FESTIVAL
Corning Preserve, Albany, NY
September 9, 2006
by J Hunter
Semi-soaked notes from the M&T Bank Albany Riverfront Jazz Festival:
SAME AS IT EVER WAS: No new amphitheater - no ground broken for one, either. What happened to all that money Senator Clinton procured (and then-campaigning Mayor Jennings took credit for)? The mayor was at this year's festival, but was too busy putting things on Pause to address the issue.
Mayor Jennings came onstage in the middle of Alejandro Torrens & Grupo Sabor's set and sternly informed us, Okay, I'm the mayor, and I have to make a decision! He ordered everyone off the stage and suggested the audience seek cover from one of the four storms that rolled over and around the Preserve throughout the afternoon. To be fair, it was a good call: That storm was the worst of the lot, forcing festival staffers to hurriedly pull down backstage hospitality tents that might have invited lightning strikes. However, more than a few people looked at each other and said, He's the Decider!
GIVE THE LOCALS SOME LOVE (2006 VERSION): Saratoga Springs native Sarah Pedinotti helped Albany Riverfront continue the excellent tradition of leading off with local talent. Along with having smart lyrics and funny, engaging stage patter, Pedinotti's vocal style comes closer to blues than jazz; she's got the pipes to carry it off, too, lifting her above the quirky songstress role Nellie McKay so readily embraces. Pedinotti also plays a decent blues harp, setting her further apart from the current norm. Here's praying a major label doesn't try to smooth her out. (PS Pedinotti's got a truly lethal weapon in keyboardist Dave Payette. His work this day - on piano, Fender Rhodes, and organ - show just how much he's grown as a player.)
SOMEBODY GET ME A PEN: I described Mose Allison to someone backstage as a Checklist show, in that now you can say you saw this person in concert. (Examples: Miles, Clapton, Ray Charles, Tony Bennett) The piano solos tended to stumble a little, and his voice wasn't that strong to begin with, but you can't help but have a good time listening to Allison, an unfiltered snarkmeister of the first order. He served up gems like Your Mind Is On Vacation, Monsters Of The Id, and Certified Senior Citizen with equal helpings of jazz, blues, and ragtime, ably assisted by studio saxman Bob Malach and regional stalwarts Jeff Siegel and Rich Syracuse.
(SORT OF) SOFTLY IN AN AFTERNOON SUNSET: I was relieved to see Dianne Schuur show up with only a trio. Her big-band efforts make me run for cover, because she always tries to sing louder than the band. We still got Schuur standards like Deedles Theme and Louisiana Sunday Afternoon here, but playing with this smaller unit forced her to be more nuanced. Schuur's cover of Barry Manilow's When October Goes was downright intimate. The crowd got a flash of Deedles the Diva when she stopped an impromptu version of Come Rain Or Come Shine in mid-song because she didn't like the sound. On the other hand, we also saw a childlike side to her when someone told her the aroma she smelled was coming from the kettle corn stand. I LOVE KETTLE CORN! she yelled, laughing and waving her hands in the air. I gotta get some after the gig!
TAKE THAT, CARLITO: It's easy to tell the difference between someone trying to be cool, and someone who is cool. Branford Marsalis isn't trying. Forget about when he's playing white-hot tenor, as he did for the opener Mr. J.J., or when he's milking high sweet sounds out of a soprano sax, as he did on Hoagie Carmichael's Stardust. Just watching him sit on a stool at the back of the stage - one foot up on a strut, nodding his head to the beat as Joey Caldorazzo lets loose a bluesy solo on Monk's Bemsha Swing - is to know what cool looks like. His band, not surprisingly, was hot as a pistol. With heavy hitters like Calderazzo and longtime drummer Jeff Tain Watts, how could it not? (The Attack of the Marsalises doesn't stop here, either: Delfeayo Marsalis headlines Lake George next weekend!)
A WORD OF THANKS: Cheap, runny sunblock will get you every time. Mine sure did, right in my eye. Albany Riverfront's backstage staff could have pointed me in the general direction of the aid station and given me a swift kick. Instead, they took pity on a half-blind ex-deejay and gave me water, ice and shelter throughout the afternoon. Thanks, guys.
Albany Riverfront gets the good review on merit, with or without ice. There's a demonstrable learning curve with this festival, both in booking and presentation. If they follow the other festivals and start advertising earlier, the crowd would be massive. Then again, we'd need a new amphitheater for that, wouldn't we?
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.