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Billy Mays

Ricky Rodriguez

Ignacio Berroa

Ben Wendel

Giacomo Gates

Giacomo Gates

Photos by Rudy Lu

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(feat. Giacomo Gates, Ignacio Berroa Quartet, and Bill May’s Inventions Trio)
Shepard Park
Lake George, NY
September 19, 2009

by J Hunter

Notes from the opening day of “Jazz @ the Lake 2009”:

OPENING (THE THEME) – To paraphrase Steven Colbert, this brings us to Jazz Weekend 2009’s word: Invention – not just the theme for the festival, but also an integral part of the opening act’s name. Bill Mays’ Inventions Trio features Mays on piano, Marvin Stamm on trumpet and flugelhorn, and Alisa Horn on cello, and the knee-jerk reaction would be to call their singular music Third Stream. One teensy problem with that shoe-horn maneuver: Third Stream attempts to mix jazz with classical music, usually failing to capture either genre. That was decidedly not the case here.

The classical element was present in both the performances and the material. The 27-year old Horn’s heartfelt bowing on Villa-Lobos’ “Bacchianus Brazilieros #5” put the needle on the “Expressive” meter firmly into the red, and there were moments in two separate-but-gorgeous medleys of tunes by Bill Evans and Thelonious Monk that were undeniably chamber music. But the aggression in Mays’ phrasing is more Jazz Standard than Lincoln Center, even on his evocative “Yakima”, and Stamm’s “Charlotte Delights” (written for his granddaughter) had more than a little ragtime running through its veins. Mays was grinning like a fiend on the “boogie-woogie classical” closer “Rolling Down the Water Gap”, and Horn was loving it, too, pounding out the beat with her right heel as she and Stamm flew formation on the accent figure. The piece earned wild cheers and a standing ovation, which seemed to have Mays bemused. “This (audience) is really unique,” he observed, still grinning. Right back atcha, Bill!

DIZZY LIVES ON – Will people be lauding Wynton Marsalis over 15 years after his death, as so many do for John Birks “Dizzy” Gillespie (1917-1993)? A jazz ambassador superseded only by Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington, Gillespie not only brought America’s music to the world; he brought the world’s music – as well as some of its purveyors – back to America. One of those purveyors was Cuban drummer Ignacio Berroa, whose quartet absolutely torched Saturday’s middle set. Along with giving Gillespie his props as a musician and ambassador, Berroa also said Dizzy “is responsible for this terrible English I’m using this afternoon!”

Playing material from his 2006 Blue Note release Codes, Berroa and his band were brilliant in any language. The music spanned from Chick Corea’s “Matrix” to a time-sig-jumping take on Gillespie’s “Woody ‘n You”, with a riveting side trip to Miles Davis’ “Pinocchio.” Throughout the 90-minute set, Berroa showed why he is considered a master of both traditional and Latin jazz percussion. All the music had a hard-bop base, solidified by acrobatic performances from reedman Ben Wendel, pianist John Ridl, and bassist Ricky Rodriguez. But it was Berroa’s talent for embossing each piece with enough Latin spice that made the set pop a little harder, and made the crowd jump to their feet once again. Smiling appreciatively at the post-“Woody” ovation, Berroa cracked, “I’m glad you all appreciate classical music.”

WORDS OF LOVE – Like every writer, I’ll occasionally hear or read something that makes me think Damn (or words to that effect), I wish I’d thought of that! For instance (with Big Love to Tunes International): “If a Rolls Royce could sing jazz, it would assuredly sound like Giacomo Gates.” That is just dead solid perfect – because there is no car like a Roller, and nobody sings like the ex-truck driver who took up his current gig in his 40’s. Gates’ performing style has been favorably linked with Eddie Jefferson, but prolonged exposure to Giacomo shows his music is all his, and he had Shepard Park laughing and bopping all through Saturday’s closing set.

Motioning toward his band (which included guitarist Tony Lombardozzi and – in festival director Paul Pines’ words – “the shape-shifting John diMartino”), Gates told us, “They have the same idea of what’s going to happen next… as you do!” Maybe so, but you couldn’t tell. What happened was ninety minutes of unmatched bliss, featuring great tunes from Gates’ last disc Luminosity (Bobby Troup’s “Hungry Man”, Meredith D’Ambrosio’s “Melodious Funk”); a cool version of Irving Berlin’s “Blue Skies” that included a scat-driven story of the club date that inspired Monk to write “In Walked Bud”; and a melancholy take on “Since I Fell for You” that Gates personalized with a pre-song story about someone who’d crossed his path and influenced him to close the tune by saying, “Since I fell for you, life ain’t worth a damn.” Gates sells out on every song like John Elway sold out on every play, but that moment was as real – and as brave – as it gets.

ONE MORE THING – In the middle of the Harry “Sweets” Edison tune “Centerpiece”, Gates broke off into an ebullient lyric of his own about “A social call/From John and Paul.” It referred to a call Giacomo had received from Pines and Lake George Arts Project executive director John Strong. It was, indeed, just a social call, and that business-free communication inspired Gates to write “Social Call.” After the show, Gates presented Pines with a laminated copy of the lyrics.


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.