by Willie Clark
If Sunday night at the Jazz Festival was all about extremes, Monday was all about expectations. I wasn't quite sure what to expect from Jeff Lorber Fusion at Harro East. I had written a preview on the group a few months back, and knew that Lorber has put music together for such wide-ranging projects as the Weather Channel and "Castlevania" video games, but that was about it. And that's a pretty big field to walk around in.
Lorber, however, was quite sure of himself and the masterful musicians he brought with him. All smiles as he jammed along and tinkled the ivory, his group put on one of the most entertaining and enjoyable sets I've seen at the festival yet this year. Each member of the group had stunning solos, and it was a seemingly endless string of them, going from keys, to saxophone, to bass, and drums, and back again. I've always been a fan of jazz improv; I think it's where the genre really shines and differentiates itself from other types of music. These were some top-notch musicians offering up great examples of the art.
Lorber himself even needed two pianos to contain his prowess. I've never seen somebody straddled between both a keyboard and traditional piano, easily going back and forth between them, sometimes playing both with different hands. It takes some smooth skill to pull it all off, and Lorber and crew had no problem bringing it in droves.
Next up I had back-to-back trips to the more Latin side of jazz. First was Pedrito Martinez Group at MontageMusic Hall, and then Rochester-based CalleUnoon the Jazz Street stage. I was excited for both acts, as I've really started to take a liking to more Spanish and world-influenced groups. So, my hopes were a little high.
The Pedrito Martinez Group focused around Martinez's conga playing, joined by a keyboard, electric bass, and another percussion player. And I'm not sure what it was, but I just couldn't get into the set. Perhaps with a mostly percussion-based band it can be hard to really show off. The sparse instrumentation leaves room for mostly rhythmic-based fluctuations, but I just couldn't get behind the group's Afro-Cuban beats.
I was also surprised when the band completely stopped in the middle of one song to have the sound guy turn the volume down. I've rarely, if ever, seen a band complain that they were too loud, and even rarer still is a group stopping dead in the middle of a song for any reason. I'll be the first person to complain when things are louder than they need to be, and even with Montage's tight quarters this was by no means blaring.
On the other hand, I still think that the Jazz Street stage is often turned up too loud, and I was also unable to get into CalleUno as much as I had hoped. The group played through a salsa-inspired set, and perhaps something was simply lost in the translation this time.
It's not like either group was bad, or made any glaring mistakes. The groups might have been hot and spicy to some, but I guess I like my heat (and music) a little hotter than most. They were both examples of safe and standard Cuban percussion and salsa groups; I just wasn't blown away like I was hoping to be.
Tuesday night I've only got one Jazz Fest show, Tommy Smith & Karma, but I'll also be checking out Motion City Soundtrack at Water Street Music Hall. I'll have thoughts on both shows on the blog, and back in full swing with three Jazz Fest groups on Wednesday.
Where did you go Monday night? What shows are you most looking forward to on Tuesday?