LIVE: Lake George Jazz Festival (Day Two), 09/19/2021

The diverse sampling of improvisational music continued in Day Two, with three completely different acts.

Stephanie Chou

Stephanie Chou’s (pronounced ‘Chu’) musical style was one of the most diverse I have heard. A triple threat being a composer, singer, and alto saxophonist, she led her unconventional band consisting of a pianist, violinist/erhu player, and drummer through ballads, Chinese pop/folk songs, her own pop songs about as diverse topics as advanced mathematics and unanswered letters as well as excerpts from her opera on Japanese atrocities toward Korean and Chinese women during WW2, a subject that has been recently focused on by the Asian American community.

Most touching was her sharing with us her experience growing up as a Chinese American with a song about the tough job of making tofu and a tongue twister about eating grapes that were rhythmically recited in a highly original fashion. That tongue twister transported me back to my childhood where I was taught the same tongue twister but not in the same manner!

An Erhu is a two-string Chinese instrument that is thousands of years old. I have seen other Chinese instruments played in jazz such as the woodwind Hulusi played frequently by David Amram, but this is the first time the Erhu was played. Andy Lin demonstrated the traditional way this instrument was played in a solo piece in which he described the galloping of a horse which was then followed by a flock of birds flying.

Pianist Or Matias played with drama and enthusiasm frequently displaying a wide grin and dramatic movement while performing.

Drummer Ronen Itzik readily played the part of a Chinese percussion ensemble, frequently using his cowbell to sound like the woodblocks frequently heard in Chinese music.

I would be negligent to mention that Ms. Chou’s tone on the saxophone was sometimes unique, resembling that of a Chinese woodwind instrument. Tones that Charlie Parker never would have heard or thought of creating. Yes, the music does evolve.

Ingrid Jensen Band

Canadian trumpeter Ingrid Jensen has been considered one of the leading trumpeters of this time. Her recent collaborations have included female supergroups, Teri Lynn Carrington’s Mosaic Project, and Artemis. Artemis just played in June at Freihofer. She helped close the 2018 festival with Sharel Cassity’s group. The set included one original “Higher Grounds” but primarily consisted of covers; Stanley Clarke’s highly rhythmic “Why Wait “featuring her husband/drummer Jon Wikan, Chick Corea’s “High Wire” which was both lyrical and swinging.

The most moving piece was the band’s cover of Bob Marley’s farewell “Redemption Song”. Even though the lyrics weren’t sung, the meaning of power, hope, and peace was clearly expressed leaving much of the crowd speechless.

Black Art Jazz Collective

This 8-year-old group has 2 original members saxophonist Wayne Escoffery and Jeremy Pelt. All members have distinguished careers with other bands including those lead by Tom Harrell, Bobby Hutcherson, Ron Carter as well as frequently their own. Wayne Escoffery appeared at the festival in 2019 with his own band. The band played much of their latest release “Ascension”.

The set opened with “Ascension” written by pianist Victor Gould.

Twin Towers written by one of Wayne’s teachers was not about 9/11 but Wayne Escoffery and Jimmy Greene, two tall then students.

“Pretty” penned by trumpet player Jeremy Pelt was played in response to the band’s experience of the beauty of upstate NY while driving to Lake George. To my ears though, it sounded more like a placid beautiful Sunday in Central Park.

The closer was “Tulsa”, a composition by trombonist James Burton III.

The young drummer was Mark Whitfield Jr. He dazzled the audience and his bandmates with his command over his drumkit.

So ended the return of my favorite music festival in nippertown which in spite a brief shower on Day One was perfect. A big thanks go out to Dan Kelly and Tanya Tobias for taking the challenge of reviving this festival. This festival always marks the end of summer. Perhaps 2021’s also marks the beginning of something new and wonderful.

Photo Gallery by Rudy Lu

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