Jazz Fest 2018, Day 3: Ron reviews Bill Dobbins, Kuara Trio, and One for All


At Hatch Hall, Bill Dobbins played a fascinating program of preludes he wrote between 1991 and 2001. - PHOTO BY JOSH SAUNDERS
  • At Hatch Hall, Bill Dobbins played a fascinating program of preludes he wrote between 1991 and 2001.
Eastman School of Music professor Bill Dobbins has had such a rich musical life that he can reach back through the decades and come up with a fascinating program. At Hatch Hall Sunday evening, Dobbins revisited some preludes for piano that he wrote between 1991 and 2001. If you think that sounds too classical for a jazz festival, think again. His influences in these compositions were all over the place, from Russian composers, like Scriabin, Shostakovich, and Prokofiev, to jazz greats, like Ellington, Strayhorn, and Clare Fischer, a particular favorite of Dobbins. What he took from these influences was filtered through his late-20th century sensibility.

My favorite of these pieces was a mash-up (although he didn’t call it that) between a Chopin etude and "Zingaro," a tune by the great Brazilian songwriter Antonio Carlos Jobim. Dobbins explained that while playing the Chopin piece, he realized that the left-hand part fit perfectly as a sort of bass line to Jobim’s song.
Dobbins played six of these preludes, each complete with a background story that slashed through musical boundaries. Although the emphasis was on the compositions, his playing was superb, especially on a wildly exuberant homage to an obscure Catalan composer, Federico Mompou.

With players from Finland (pianist Samuli Mikkonen and drummer Markku Ounaskari) and Norway (Trygve Seim, saxophone), Kuara Trio played a fine set of Scandinavian jazz at the Lutheran Church. With the absence of a bass player, Mikkonen and Ounaskari kept up a hypnotic pattern through most of the tunes while Seim improvised over, under, and around it. The entire set had an ethereal feeling, but the most other-worldly tune came when Seim — a very large person, with a beard long enough to make members of ZZ Top question their manhood — put down his tenor sax and played a tiny soprano sax beautifully.

I ended the evening with One For All, a collection of jazz stars who, despite having their own careers as leaders, have played together for more than 20 years. Just the front line — Eric Alexander on saxophone; Jim Rotondi, trumpet; and Steve Davis, trombone — was an embarrassment of riches. Add David Hazeltine on piano; John Webber, bass; and Joe Farnsworth, drums, and you’ve got one of the greatest groups playing today.

The band played a couple of original tunes and (my favorite) a highly idiosyncratic rendition of a well-known Dizzy Gillespie tune, “Manteca.” The one aspect of the set that, to my mind, didn’t fit particularly well was when Rotondi and Davis left the stage and Alexander was featured on Lionel Richie’s “Still.” He definitely milked the song for all it was worth and the audience loved it, but it was a bit too smooth for me.

Joe Farnsworth, Eric Alexander, John Webber, and David Hazeltine play again Monday, June 25, at Max of Eastman Place. 6:15 p.m. and 10 p.m $30, or a Club Pass.

Monday night I’ll be checking out Strings Attached at Xerox Auditorium. Then I’ll head over to Hatch Hall where pianist Christian Sands will be at the Steinway. And I’m anxious to hear Jane Bunnett And Maqueque, an all-female group, at Temple Building Theater.