LIVE: Bridge Jazz Festival @ Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, 2/27/15

Marcus Roberts
Marcus Roberts

Review by Greg Haymes
Photographs by Rudy Lu

“That’s the thing about jazz,” Marcus Roberts explained as he settled in on the piano bench in the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall. “There’s room for everybody’s personality and perspective.” And certainly the opening night of the inaugural Bridge Jazz Festival proved that and more with a diverse array of music all nestled under the big umbrella of “jazz.” Three bands. Three unique approaches. All with a decidedly international spin.

Led by composer-keyboardist Elizabeth Woodbury Kasius, Heard – the Local 518 “world jazz ensemble” – kicked off the evening in fine fashion, melding jazz with influences that ranged from classical to African music. The percolating percussion duo of Zorkie Nelson and Ade Knowles with bassist Bobby Kendall laid the foundation, while Woodbury Kasius and clarinetist Jonathan Greene soared through a five-song, 35-minute set of buoyant, joyous melodies beginning with “Waltz for the Aviary” and the upbeat “Karibu.” While the set was primarily instrumental, they added the only vocals of the evening on “O Feche” and “Market Song,” singing in Ga, the native language of Ghana.

Israeli clarinet master Anat Cohen and her quartet served up the most adventurous set of the night, consisting solely of five songs culled from their not-yet-released album, “Luminosa,” with Brazilian influences – including a dip into Milton Nascimento’s rich songbag and a tribute to Baden Powell – bubbling up from under the band’s fusion-esque attack. The most off-beat selection of the night was a jaunty, jazzy re-make of Flying Lotus’ electronica hit, “Putty Boy Strut,” but they hit it out of the park with the joyously swinging crescendo of “In the Spirit of Baden.”

While Anat Cohen was looking forward, pianist Marcus Roberts and his trio – dazzling drummer Jason Marsalis and bassist Thaddeus Expose – offered the most old-school performance, focusing primarily on such time-honored standards as Harold Arlen’s “It’s Only a Paper Moon,” Cole Porter’s “What Is This Thing Called Love?” and a triptych of Gershwin gems (“The Man I Love,” “Lady Be Good” and “They Can’t Take That Away from Me”). Of course, the trio didn’t always play them straight up (the Cole Porter tune was in a 9/8 time signature), but they rarely strayed too far from the melodic path. Roberts was at his best with his lone solo excursion, “As Serenity Approaches,” a ballad full of spirit and hope that could serve as a soundtrack to a sunrise.

Excerpt from David Singer’s review at The Daily Gazette: “The world class Marcus Roberts Trio, a league above the preceding acts, presented its exquisite contemporary swing centered on traditional standards like George Gershwin’s ‘The Man I Love’ and ‘Lady Be Good.’ Even its originals pulled from the traditional, such as ‘Cole After Midnight,’ which Roberts wrote for Nat King Cole and Cole Porter. But this is where the expansion continues, because the more these songs are played, the more different they can sound. Roberts attacked — in his gentle way — Porter’s ‘What Is this Thing Called Love,’ in the unnatural nine-eight time signature. This gyrated feel is not what Porter had intended, nor was it something you dance to, but it was hard not to shake inside. Roberts played a wonderful circular riff, creating a whirlpool effect that eventually swirled up to include drummer Jason Marsalis and bassist Thaddeus Expose. Roberts is known for playing inside the trio’s rhythm, rather than out in front, but this was not always the case Friday night. More often than not, as in ‘Cole After Midnight,’ the rhythm players set a fast tempo while Roberts fed soft, tinkling notes at half the pace of his band for a round or two, before subtly increasing momentum with his right hand until he met his co-workers at full speed.”

LIVE: Bridge Jazz Festival @ the Massry Center, 2/28/15 (Day Two)

Cole After Midnight
Say It (Over and Over Again)
The Man I Love
It’s Only a Paper Moon
What Is This Thing Called Love
As Serenity Approaches (solo)
Billy Boy
Lady Be Good
The Way You Look Tonight
They Can’t Take That Away From Me
Bessie’s Blues
The Spanish Tinge

Happy Song
Putty Boy Strut
??? (Milton Nascimento)
In the Spirit of Baden

Waltz for the Aviary
O Feche
Cote de Nieve
Market Song

Jason Marsalis of the Marcus Roberts Trio
Jason Marsalis of the Marcus Roberts Trio
Tthaddeus Expose of the Marcus Roberts Trio
Thaddeus Expose of the Marcus Roberts Trio
Anat Cohen
Anat Cohen
Joe Martin of the Anat Cohen Quartet
Joe Martin of the Anat Cohen Quartet
Jason Lindner of the Anat Cohen Quartet
Jason Lindner of the Anat Cohen Quartet
Jonathan Greene, Zorkie Nelson and Elizabeth Woodbury Kasius of Heard
Jonathan Greene, Zorkie Nelson and Elizabeth Woodbury Kasius of Heard
Heard's Ade Knowles and Bobby Kendall
Heard’s Ade Knowles and Bobby Kendall
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