LIVE: Albany Riverfront Jazz Festival @ Jennings Landing, 09/10/2022
It started, as usual, with local heroes, building in renown and buzz to showcase bigger and bigger touring stars.
Albany’s Riverfront Jazz Festival Saturday – restored, post-(kinda)-pandemic to its former glory, like SPAC’s Freihofer’s Jazz Festival in late June – felt like the first musical event that fully evoked the critical mass of unanimous joy together that we’d all been missing.
It was a rush; or maybe more accurately a slow burn, on a hot day.
First, local electeds honored the memory of Medal-of-Honor recipient Henry Johnson by presenting his namesake award to community leader/entrepreneur Angelo “Justice” Maddox. Then Teresa Broadwell took the stage with fellow regional stars in an affectionate, swinging look-back at the airy, agile jazz that filled dance floors from the 1930s up to the age of bop.
Singing and playing fleet, melodic fiddle, she brought out the swinging best in her veteran crew. Tanned, bearded alto saxophonist Leo Russo has the most miles on the clock and showed off the tastiest chops, soloing in “Joy Spring” with tender eloquence and sweet Paul Desmond-like tone. The beat team of drummer Michael Benedict and bassist Pete Toigo set the groove, flexible and phat, while guitarist Mike Novakowski was everywhere, whether soloing imaginatively or chopping chords into the groove. Broadwell arguably had the most fun, though, singing “My Little Red Top” and “Rhode Island” with humorous aplomb or digging into Stuff Smith’s violin fireworks number “Stuff It” with its tricky hesitation beat. After a peppy “Pick Yourself Up,” they picked up and left to happy applause.
Up next, Charged Particles from California went way more modern, to often-thrilling effect. The longstanding (30 years) trio of pianist Greg Sankovich, bassist Aaron Germain and drummer Jon Krosnick added tenor sax ace Todd Dickow in what they originally thought would be live-shows-only acknowledgment of how now-departed giant Michael Brecker inspired every reed-man since he came up in the 1960s. (I looked around for our own Brian Patneaude, a GIANT Brecker fan, but he must have been gigging elsewhere.)
Charged Particles (who could have dubbed themselves the Ions, but I digress), at first charged up aggressive (if little known) powerhouse Brecker numbers “The Mean Time” and “By George” in strong post-bop style before Dickow starred in Paul Simon’s “African Skies.” Brecker had played it on tour with Simon, but Dickow took it farther outside than I ever saw Brecker play it. In the Brecker Brothers’ “Straphangin’,” they brought the funk, Krosnick digging in big-time as Germain pushed double-time.
Taking their time in Don Grolnick’s “Talking to Myself,” they made it pretty at any tempo, taffy-pulling the beat around all kinds of ways. They closed very strong with Joey Calderazzo’s (a pianist, like Grolnick) “El Nino.” This happy riff on a tricky vamp loosened and tightened to end in repeating, high-momentum licks.
For pure power-jazz playing, this was the peak set of the day.
Black Tie Brass from New York juke-boxed classic pop through a Mardi Gras parade prism that had the crowd playing a very fun game of Name that Tune. Michael Jackson’s “Rock with You,” a Shaggy reggae romp, a Stevie Wonder mashup, the “Batman” theme into “This Is How We Do It,” a clutch of Bill Withers soul smashes – this was a jaunty ride.
Noting they’d played the festival in 2019, trombonist-leader Ryan McNulty charmed saying “You haven’t aged a day!” prompting laughing or rueful glances in the crowd. They swung with veteran confidence, giving familiar tunes both righteous respect and an elastic elation. They had fun, and they gave it: Randolph Smith, trumpet; Jaedon Alvira, saxophone; Matt Godfrey, keyboards; Liev Golowasch, drums and – maybe the band’s most valuable player – Sousaphonist Nat Ranson.
Since graduating from SUNY Purchase last year, 21-year-old singer Samara Joy has blazed like a comet through the jazz skies. While she crowd-funded her debut album, classic-jazz label Verve will release her follow up Linger Awhile. Both respect her elders – Sarah Vaughan, Carmen McRae, Nancy Wilson, Betty Carter, Thelonious Monk, Fats Navarro – as she did onstage Saturday. But she brought dazzling freshness both through the powerful beauty and reach of her voice and a precocious poise and presence. She knows what her voice can do and how to use it.
“Sweet Pumpkin” proposed marriage in shy hopefulness, then she echoed Nancy Wilson in the wistful, quiet “Guess Who I Saw Today.” An eloquent lyricist, she started Thelonious Monk’s “San Francisco Holiday” a cappella – she wrote its words – before her trio joined in: pianist John Thomas, drummer Evan Sherman and bassist Felix Moseholm. Before singing her own words to the late trumpeter Fats Navarro’s “Nostalgia,” she asked couples in the crowd to shout out how how long they’d been together. Then as the song, and her words, honored commitment, she pointed to each couple she acknowledged, plugging “40 years!” “20 years” into the lyrics.
In Betty Carter’s impatient, I’ve-had-it statement “Tight” and Abbey Lincoln’s philosophical “Straight Ahead,” she rode the feel as well as the words, belting midway through “Straight Ahead” before closing with a quiet croon. And she revisited the wistful vibe of earlier love songs in “If You’d Stay the Way I Dream About You,” setting up a sighting-on-the-subway thunderbolt love jolt into a torch-y what-if spiced with both a high, soft vocal climb and a low glide at the end.
She closed with a blues, engaging the crowd in a singalong that worked; then she stuck around, dancing to the headlining Soul Rebels and obligingly taking selfies with fans who clustered next to the photo pit where she bopped with her band.
Everybody else managed quick soundchecks but the seven Soul Rebels took their time. When they were ready, they threw down a chest-thumping beat you could feel in your feet and lifted up the spirit on brass blasts and rapping chants.
At times, the music seemed to be all bottom, drummers Derrick Moss and Lumar LeBlanc locking on the pulse with Sousaphonist Manuel Perkins, Jr. But lightning-quick horn stabs or lingering chords up front hit hard from trumpeter Julian Gosin, saxophonist Erion Williams and trombonists Corey Peyton and Paul Robertson.
It was all irresistible beats and exhortations to have a good time; and it hit like one long song. They urged us to turn it up and burn it up, reminded us we have friends we can depend on and that they came to party, encouraged everybody to walk right up to the sky and to keep the 504 (area code of their home, New Orleans) vibe alive. Even the could-have-been-jarring cover of Phil Collins’s “In The Air Tonight” somehow worked – partly because the band asked everyone to light up their phones, creating a glowing tapestry in the deepening twilight.
I felt bad/embarrassed for the homesick fan who summoned me to the photo pit barricade and asked me to have the band “play something Brazilian.” Not likely, as the Soul Rebels are perhaps more of their place than any crew on the road these days.
Revved from touring with Trombone Shorty’s Voodoo Threauxdown and with George Clinton’s Parliament Funkadelic machine, they hit the stage ready to party.
The crowd was, too.
The music managed to take respectful looks back and elbow its way toward the future.
Teresa Broadwell offered vintage tunes in a fun spirit completely devoid of museum-y stiffness; they swung it.
Two cool bands played primarily covers: Charged Particles re-created the Michael Brecker tribute stye of their “Live art the Baked Potato” – an album they never expected to release until they heard the live tapes – while Black Tie Brass celebrated 1970s-to-now hits with horn-powered (horn-y?) zip. Really rockin’.
Joy updated venerable instrumentals with tasty new-timeless lyrics and sang the songs of her idols with both touching reverence and right-now mastery.
Neither of the two brass bands was shackled to tradition: Neither played “When the Saints Go Marching In” or “St. James Infirmary.” Black Tie Brass downloaded pop radio favorites into a clever blend; old-made-older, and the Soul Rebels punched up their street-parade power-blasts with hip-hop into bass-heavy, hearty-chanted Sousa-phunk – the Mardi Gras or Jazz Fest mood, sky-writ large.
Jazz DJs Darrin Scott (Siena’s WVCR-FM) and Bill McCann (UAlbany’s WCDB) enthusiastically introduced the acts; Scott in a special New Orleans shirt you could see from Buffalo, McCann offering a gracious and unexpected shout out to me.
As the last blasts from the Soul Rebels echoed off downtown buildings, Scott engaged the audience in a countdown to fireworks launched from the Rensselaer shore across the Hudson – a noisy, brilliant, bright and booming coda.
Samara Joy sings at the Lake George Jazz Weekend at 3 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 17 in Shepherd Park. Free. 518-668-2616 www.LakeGeorgeArts.org. AND at Universal Preservation Hall (25 Washington St Saratoga Springs) on Friday, December 23, 8:00 p.m. $30.50-$50.50. 518-346-6204 www.proctors.org