Joe Lovano Us Five
Riverfront Festival crowd
Photos by Andrzej Pilarczyk,
Rudy Lu and Albert Brooks
THE TOP 5 JAZZ CONCERTS OF 2009 (plus a few random statuettes)
by J Hunter
Okay, people, if you’ll all get out your official “albanyjazz.com Awards” handicapping sheets, we can get underway (If you do not have an “albanyjazz.com Awards” handicapping sheet, please check last Sunday’s newspaper. It’s bound to be in there somewhere…):
THE LOCAL HERO AWARD (Venue Division)… to MASSRY CENTER FOR THE ARTS – Put simply, College of Saint Rose “gets it!” While some venues focused on acts with more “potential drawing power”, CSR staged a stream of powerful – and sold-out – jazz shows throughout the year, including a tremendous homecoming by Stefon Harris, a great CD-release party for Brian Patneaude’s disc Riverview… and another show we’ll talk about later.
THE (ONGOING) LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD… to LEE SHAW – It’s been a big year for the Capital Region’s reigning jazz icon: It started with a marvelously scene-centric tribute at Cohoes Music Hall; continued at the Egg with a joint appearance by Shaw and keyboard svengali (and former pupil of Lee) John Medeski; and peaked with the release of the Shaw Trio’s latest release Blossom. You’re the best, Lee… and all the best people know it!
THE JAZZ BOOMERANG AWARD… to BEN WENDEL – This phenomenal L.A.-based reed player smoked area audiences four times in three weeks: With Ignacio Berroa at Lake George Jazz Weekend, with Otmaro Ruiz at A Place For Jazz, and with his own sextet at Justin’s and the Massry Center… on the same day! Now if we can only get Wendel to come back with that amazing trio he played with on ACT (Brooklyn Jazz Underground, 2009)…
THE “IF YOU REMODEL IT…” AWARD… to THE VAN DYCK – After a too-long dormancy, Schenectady’s venerable night spot is alive and well and under new management. Their performance space got a complete reboot, and the stage has already had memorable visits from vocalist Maria Muldaur, the wonderfully indefinable Julian Lage Group, and a great Nick Brignola tribute featuring Lee Shaw, Brian Patneaude, Dave Calarco and Chuck D’Aloia.
THE PINCH-HIT HOME RUN AWARD… to MOSE ALLISON – What becomes a legendary singer-songwriter most? How about a legendary venue like Saratoga’s Caffe Lena? Here’s the thing, though: Allison got the gig because a previously-booked act canceled at the last minute! But even with only two weeks of pre-show pub, Lena staff had to send numerous walk-ups packing while Allison and bassist Rich Syracuse burned the sold-out joint to the ground.
THE “BACK-TO-SCHOOL SPECIAL” AWARD… to the JONATHAN BAPTISTE TRIO – More and more, Skidmore Jazz Institute alumni are appearing on the bill at the Institute’s summer concert series (i.e. Christian Scott, Ryan Cohan). When the Baptiste Trio played the Bernhard Theatre this past July, it was a triple reunion: Not only is Baptiste a SJI alum, but so is bassist Phil Kuehn and drummer Joe Saylor! See? It really is all about networking!
THE “IT CAN HAPPEN HERE” AWARD… to the WILLIAMSTOWN JAZZ FESTIVAL – The Miguel Zenon Trio’s towering ’62 Center show was the ultimate show-closer, as budget cuts made this the last season for one of the best “little” fests around. While I’ll miss Williamstown (though not the drive to Williamstown), the big loss is the student-band competition, one of many ways this genre gets new blood. Moment of silence, please.
Now that we’ve taken the snapshots and disbursed the gift bags, please give it up one more time for… THE TOP 5 CAPITAL REGION JAZZ CONCERTS OF 2009!
CHRIS WASHBURNE & THE ‘SYOTOS’ BAND
First Unitarian Society, Schenectady
The Whisperdome isn’t just for fall concerts any more, thanks to Dr. Jose Cruz’ up-and-coming series Ahora, Latin Jazz! Washburne acted as host, educator, and stand-up comic for two searing sets, with material ranging from the hilarious 30’s-era censor-foiler “The Peanut Vendor” to the trombonist’s own “Pink” (inspired by “two pink lines on a pregnancy test.”) Tack on a fun-drenched take on War’s “Low Rider”, and this show was nothing but a good time!
TERENCE BLANCHARD QUINTET
Filene Recital Hall @ Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs
How’s this for a concept: Terence Blanchard, adjunct professor! NOLA’s #1 ambassador finished up his Visiting Artist-Scholar residency by tearing a hole in the roof of Skidmore’s ventilation-challenged performance space. Blanchard’s current band may not have the mega-wattage of his past groups, but the new material he previewed for the full-to-overflowing house stands with some of his best work.
Swyer Theatre @ the Egg, Albany
Getting just one member of this all-star septet to play the Egg’s small theater would have been a coup. (Hey, this is a group with Joe Lovano, Dave Douglas, Miguel Zenon, and Robin Eubanks on the front line!) Happily, Peter Lesser got the whole shooting match, and SFJAZZ nailed their outstanding tribute to jazz icon McCoy Tyner. (PS Performances from this tour appear on the Collective’s latest release Live 2009: 6th Annual Concert Tour.)
DAVE BRUBECK QUARTET
Massry Center for the Arts, Albany
No, there weren’t any major revelations at this show. Brubeck was brilliant, but we knew that already. Nonetheless, we’re talking about a living legend playing at a small college, just like he used to do back in the day. This gig was already a triumph when the SRO crowd turned show-closer “Show Me the Way to Go Home” into a sing-along… and then Brubeck began conducting them! That’s a gift that keeps on giving! I repeat: CSR “gets it!”
…and the NUMBER ONE Capital Region Jazz Concert for 2009 is… FIVE jazz concerts!
ALBANY RIVERFRONT’S “ALL-AMERICA CITY” JAZZ FESTIVAL
Corning Preserve, Albany
“Come ON, J! Man Up and pick ONE show!” Joe Lovano Us Five played the heaviest free-jazz Riverfront’s ever presented; Lizz Wright gave an interpretive Master Class worthy of Cassandra Wilson; the Dirty Dozen Brass Band played so hot, they blew the rain away; the Dan Loomis Quartet surprised everyone (but me) with their intense Downtown sound; and the Lee Shaw Trio showed why Blossom is their best release yet. So you tell me: Which four acts don’t I pick?
As always, your recollections may vary. See your iTunes-provider if you think these groups are right for you. Enjoy your holidays, and let’s do it again in a year! Peace!
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) and Q104 WQBK/Albany. He is a frequent contributor to the web site All About Jazz and to the monthly music magazine State of Mind. He currently resides in Clifton Park.