I began Thursday at the new festival venue which is one of the oldest auditoriums in Rochester. Pianist Bill Charlap played at the Lyric Theatre and, with its gorgeous dome, it is absolutely magnificent. I don't know about other kinds of musical acts, but for solo piano, the acoustics couldn't have been better.
Charlap is a human jukebox. You don't have to put money in, and I swear he could go on forever without repeating a song. He played everything from Scott Joplin to George Gershwin to Duke Ellington and on and on. And he never just played the song. There was enough embellishment on "Tea For Two" to transform it into the "Tea For Two Sonata."
I couldn't spend much time at the Lutheran Church with Polish saxophonist Maciej Obara and his group, Obara International. The group went on 20 minutes late and I had to leave early if I wanted any chance to see Stanley Clarke. But, if the group's first two tunes where any indication, this band is intense start to finish. At the beginning of its set they were already in overdrive.
Both of the Stanley Clarke shows at Xerox Auditorium were filled to capacity and it's not surprising. Last time he was at the festival he was in Kodak Hall; it's rare to have the chance to see an artist of his stature in a fairly intimate venue.
Clarke was a phenomenon when he came onto the scene in the early 1970's and he is still a great bassist. His ability to create worlds of sound by thumping and slapping his electric bass and bowing, plucking, and tapping his acoustic bass is unsurpassed. The highlight of the show for me was his rendition of Charles Mingus's "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat."
He surrounds himself with exceptional young players who stand out from the crowd the way he did early in his career. Some of the best moments in the show came when he walked over and dueled with them. One of his two keyboard players is Beka Gochiashvili, who is now 19. A few years ago, he was the Joey Alexander-like teen sensation in the jazz world. He still plays piano beautifully, but also plays electric keyboards in the band with somewhat exaggerated body language and expression.
The drummer is 20-year-old Mike Mitchell, another phenomenon. His set had eight cymbals and at least eight drums and he used them all, seemingly all the time. At one point he was doing more with his feet than most drummers do with their hands and feet. Of course a power drummer means that everything else has to be turned up and I was glad I brought my earplugs. They were protecting my ears for the entire electric bass portion of the show. With earplugs in I could hear everything just fine at a reasonable level.
But I didn't really know what loud was until after Clarke's show when I walked by the outdoor stage where Soul Stew was playing. They are one of the world's great cover bands but I felt like I was from another planet as I walked down Gibbs Street covering my ears while everyone else in the huge crowd seemed fine. A few times I took my hands away to see how loud it was and each time I couldn't believe people were okay with it.
Then I went into the big tent where the real soul man (not a cover band) Sonny Knight was playing to a crowd of maybe 50 people. He was great but I had to put my earplugs back in fast. As I was leaving I took them out and once again could not imagine how anyone could tolerate that level of volume. Maybe I'll just have to return to my home planet. But not until the festival is over.
Friday night I'll start with innovative guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel and his New Quartet at Kilbourn Hall. Then I'll be checking out British saxophonist Denys Baptiste at Christ Church before going over to the Little Theatre to catch the Chilean saxophonist I've heard good things about: Melissa Aldana & Crash Trio.