Concert Review: Lake George Jazz Festival (Day 2) @ Shepard Park, 09/16/2023


Lake George was once home to the last remaining Howard Johnson restaurant in the world, celebrated for its array of ice cream flavors. Though the restaurant has vanished, the Lake George Jazz Festival—known for its diverse jazz selection—thrives. On Day 2, an estimated 1,000 visitors were treated to the South Asian-influenced sounds of Naya Baaz, the introspective music of the Aubrey Johnson Band, the contemporary hard bop of the Jared Schonig Quintet, and the evening concluded with the Afro-Cuban rhythms of Maqueque.

Photo by Rudy Lu

Naya Baaz is the brainchild of Josh Steinberg and Rez Abbasi. Steinberg, trained in classical Indian Sitar, has adapted his instrument for jazz by tuning it chromatically. Abbasi, a Pakistani American with a foundation in Indian classical music, embarked on his musical journey through rock and jazz. Accompanied by cellist Jennifer and drummer Jerome Jennings from the previous evening’s performance, Abbasi’s stage chatter humorously referenced his rock and Urdu backgrounds. He clarified that “Naya Baaz” translates to “New Bird” in his native language, not “Free Bird” (which they did not play). Jennifer Vincent, renowned for her bass skills, utilized a 5-string cello in this project, with the fifth string resonating in the lower registers, grounding the music. Their performance evoked the spirit of the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Shakti, and John McLaughlin’s early solo work, with hints of King Crimson. Despite some crackling from the sound system, the music reigned supreme. Notably, this was Jerome’s debut with Naya Baaz.

In stark contrast, the Aubrey Johnson Group presented introspective singer-songwriter compositions. Aubrey’s potent vocals stood out. Her ensemble—featuring piano, bass, violin, and drums—added a unique texture to the music. Chris McCarthy’s piano solos were particularly poignant. The band demonstrated that quiet compositions can be as impactful as louder ones.

Photo by Rudy Lu

The rhythm shifted again with the post-bop melodies of the Jared Schonig Quintet. Jared, a sought-after drummer in both Broadway and jazz circuits, recently released two versions of the same music—one with the quintet and another with a big band. Godwin Lous on alto sax and Philip Dizack on trumpet led the quintet with powerful solos. Fabian Almazan’s calming yet moody piano composition “Pacific” provided a breather from the intense bebop energy. Jared juxtaposed a recent piece “Take Me Back to Santa Monica” with an earlier track “Whiteout”, capturing his emotions from homesickness to a brash dislike of snow.

After a longer break than previous years, Maqueque, an Afro-Cuban jazz ensemble led by Canadian sax and flute artist Jane Bunnett, wrapped up the evening. Their vibrant performance featured tracks from their debut album and their latest, “Playin With Fire”. Da’nae Olano’s piano rhythms and Joanna Tendai Majoko’s vocals on Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine” were standout moments. The day concluded, leaving attendees invigorated by a diverse musical showcase.

Stay tuned for a review of Day 3.

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