ALBANY RIVERFRONT JAZZ FESTIVAL
Corning Preserve, Albany, NY
September 8, 2007
by J Hunter
GIVE THE LOCALS MORE LOVE: As in the past, the opening set lasted only 45 minutes, and New Regime was stopped just as they were going to (presumably) introduce their last number. While it's great Albany Riverfront traditionally saves a space for local artists, it would be even better if those artists got at least an hour, like the national acts they precede. It's sort of a gyp to bring in rich, insightful bands to kick things off, and then pull the plug just as they're clearing their throats.
GOTTA HAVE THAT FUNK: Check out New Regime's list of musical influences. Basically, it includes every genre except Klezmer, and it left me wondering what I was going to hear. Imagine my glee when the quartet - augmented by Walter White, a colleague of Eric Walentowicz' from Eric's Detroit days - delivered a searing set of soul-funk jazz straight out of the Creed Taylor playbook. Walentowicz' tenor mixed with White's trumpet to easily evoke Stanley Turrentine's CTI collaborations with Freddie Hubbard. New Regime's cover of Turrentine's Sugar was dead-on, but originals by Walentowicz and keyboardist Rob Lindquist went for your mojo as well as your head. These guys were making friends and influencing people, and they deserved a longer set.
THE FRUIT DOES NOT FALL FAR: Alexa Raye Joel is many things - a talented singer, a decent songwriter, an alumnus of NYU's heralded drama program, and (above all, at this embryonic stage of her career) the daughter of Billy Joel and Christie Brinkley. One thing she is not is a jazz singer! She may have Country influences like Norah Jones, but Joel's material leans more towards Country Rock, which doesn't blur the lines the way Jones' music does. That said, the diminutive brunette held the majority of the audience with good humor and an undeniable charisma, and the queue at her post-set signing session showed she made some converts. I don't know where Ms. Joel's career will go, but she definitely has the tools to be a success
even at jazz festivals.
THAT'S LIFE ON THE ROAD: The ReBirth Brass Band left New Orleans at 6am that morning, and two members missed their connecting flight. That left ReBirth with six players, but that was more than enough to get the party started. With no excuses for playing short-handed, ReBirth blasted off with a roaring version of I'm Walkin', exhorting the crowd to get up and DANCE! If that wasn't jazz enough for anyone, ReBirth morphed the Fats Domino classic into a raucous take on Herbie Hancock's Chameleon. ReBirth is still a marching band at heart - witness Keith Frazier and Derrick Big Sexy Tabb's fervent mid-set drumline - but the bottom laid down by tuba player/founder Phillip Frazier makes ReBirth one of the best dance bands ever. If you can't have fun at a ReBirth show, you died two weeks before. Me? I had BIG fun!
JUST DO IT, NNEENA: Forget the floor-length halter-top gown, the immaculate Whitney-in-better-days 'do, and the HUGE voice that wraps itself around a lyric and makes it a personal expression. Nneena Freelon is more than a great singer or a brilliant interpreter; to watch her is to watch an athlete at the top of her game. You could literally see the groove move through her muscles as she amped up Willow Weep For Me, turned I Feel Pretty into an extension of Miles' So What, and made us all mourn because You've Changed. Freelon and her band are meshing parts in a well-oiled machine that demonstrates how jazz vocalese should be presented. On a list of Albany Riverfront vocalists that includes Kurt Elling and DeeDee Bridgewater, Freelon moves to the top.
MET, AND SURPASSED: If Alexa Raye Joel thinks she's got it bad, she should research how big a footprint Dewey Redman left on the jazz world. Joshua Redman is not his father; moreover, he doesn't try to be, and that's a beautiful thing. One thing he does share with Dewey is an undeniable fearlessness, because you have to be fearless to make a saxophone trio work. The passion and precision Josh displayed as he blew out on tunes from his new disc Back East (Nonesuch, 2007) had the crowd howling with delight; Redman and his phenomenal rhythm section - drummer Eric Harland and bassist Reuben Rogers - displayed a wonderful communication as they drove each other to higher levels of excellence. The oncoming rain may have dampened the post-fest fireworks, but anyone who had been at Albany Riverfront all day had already seen a steady stream of fireworks, and the Redman Trio delivered a brilliant finale.
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.