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Lee Shaw

Rich Syracuse

Jeff Siegel

Cindy Blackman

J.D. Allen

Either Orchestra

Vincente Lebron

photos by Albert Brooks

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(feat. Either/Orchestra, Cindy Blackman Quartet, and Lee Shaw Trio)
Shepard Park
Lake George, NY
September 14, 2008

by J Hunter

Notes from "Jazz at The Lake '08":
RAIN, RAIN, STAY AWAY: This outdoor concert season, Mother Nature got Medieval on us; thundershowers completely drenched the lawn-dwellers at Freihofer's, while Hannah drove Albany Riverfront inside the Palace. This weekend, though, Jazz At The Lake's inimitable magic kept the storms away from the festival's 25th anniversary. Yes, the humidity sat on Shepard Park like a tired elephant, making me wonder if the piano would need to be tuned after every third song. But Jazz Weekend regulars are a hardy lot, so the amphitheatre was packed for the entire weekend.
ROCK STEADY: "It isn't going to rain," Lee Shaw assured us, smiling out at the slowly-filling amphitheatre. "I got a promise to that." With that bit of business out of the way, the Lee Shaw Trio kicked off the afternoon with Lee's sweet blues "For Now." Lee and her partners Rich Syracuse and "Jeff "Siege" Siegel had recently returned from a successful European tour, and they were truly in the pocket as they served up Shaw's own material next to great takes on Herbie Hancock's "Dolphin Dance" and "Ahmad Jamal's "Night Mist."
"Passion with precision" sounds like an oxymoron, but it's a good summary of the music of Dave Brubeck and Errol Garner, and Lee's elegant playing style more than lives up to that standard. I didn't think it was possible, but Syracuse's caterpillar-fuzzy bass seemed even fatter than usual, while Siege's drumming showed the range and power he's consistently brought to both this trio and his own quartet. Tie these three talented musicians together with a chemistry developed over 10 years as a unit, and you have an outstanding start to a Sunday afternoon.
NO GIMMICKS: People need to forget some things about Cindy Blackman. They need to forget the afro wigs and hippie styles she wore while building rock-solid foundations for Lenny Kravitz; they especially need to forget the fuzzy orange pimp hat Blackman wore on the cover of her wonderfully funked-up solo disc Music for the New Millenium (Sacred Sound Records, 2004). The fact is Cindy Blackman doesn't need costumes or gimmicks to be outrageous, because she's one of the most outrageous drummers on the scene today. Sunday's crowd learned this while Blackman and her longtime quartet was busy flattening Shepard Park.
The cheers got louder and wilder as Blackman (sporting nothing flashier than mid-sized hoop earrings) ramrodded the band through a groove-alicious set of post-Bitches Brew fusion. The only reason J.D. Allen's buttery tenor sax wasn't the coolest (non-Cindy-related) sound on the front line was because Carlton Holmes kept pouring pulsating Fender Rhodes over George Mitchell's thick, buzzing bass line. With all that, though, what drove this set was an unearthly drum style from an alumnus of the school Tony Williams and Jack DeJohnette built. If Cindy Blackman is remembered for anything, that should be it.
BIG FINISH: After an intense set like Blackman's, a lot of acts would have a hard time reeling the crowd back in, even with a half-hour break between sets. However, Either/Orchestra is not "a lot of acts", though they are a LOT of act! We're talking a ten-piece ensemble with two percussionists and a six-man front line, which is a lot of musical throw weight. But rather than throwing bombs from the jump, E/O eased out of Russ Gershon's opening, in-the-clear solo into easy samba of "Soul Song." Then keyboardist Josh Rosen and percussionist Vicente Lebron picked up the pace and E/O started doing what they do best: Having fun!
Don't get me wrong: Either/Orchestra is not about the party first and the music last. It's just that E/O believes that having fun and playing great music (and playing it damn well) aren't mutually exclusive. Charlie Kohlhase wasn't showing off when he danced to Lebron's call-and-answer with drummer Pablo Bencid; Kohlhase was living the moment, just as he was when he shook the place with his bari sax on "Fast Ed." Gershon was dancing himself during Jeffrey Udden's wild alto solo during the smoking "Number Three." And why not? He was at the front of a musical brigade that mixed Latin and World rhythms with the kind of long-form chaos Mingus loved to concoct. You gotta dance to that! And even if you don't, you still gotta love it.
LAST CHORUS: Here's proof Jazz at The Lake is really Brigadoon – a magical place that appears for two days, beautiful music happens, and then disappears for a year. On Saturday, Program Director Paul Pines paid tribute to John and Marilyn Breyo, who have doled out over $200,000 in the 13 years they've been JATL's patron. Unfortunately, the Breyos are leaving the area, which means the festival was losing its primary financial support, and possibly a 26th year of existence. Pines basically told the crowd that he was looking for an angel, and if one was in the crowd, it should come see him during the break.
Only a few minutes later, Pines met Kenneth & Susan Grushkin – New Jersey residents who spend the summer in Pilot's Knob. This was their first Jazz Weekend; in fact, they weren't even through their first day! And yet, that singular vibe that keeps the regulars coming back year after year had already touched them, and they wrote a check for Pines on the spot. That's why Jazz at The Lake is Brigadoon, and that's why I'll be back next year… Well, that and I know Pines has another rabbit to pull out of his hat, and from the smile on his face, I know it'll be a good one!

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.