by Willie Clark
My Sunday night at the Jazz Fest was one of extremes. I took in three groups that couldn't be further apart musically, yet all brought together under banner of this year's festival. That's one of the things I enjoy most about the XRIJF, as the festival is really a grab bag filled with new talent waiting to be discovered every year. Here's who I got to sample tonight.
First up was the 78 RPM Big Band, a Western New York-bred group that's been playing for more than 30 years. There's a reason that the songs we call classics have become so revered in modern repertoire, and with so many groups at the festival that focus on original material, it can be nice to hear some familiar tunes here and there. For its show in the Big Tent, the group went through a wide mix of classic jams, including a very cool Latin-themed chart as well as Barry Manilow's "Copacabana." It was a good time, even for someone who wasn't around for the heydays of 78s.
They say music is the universal language, and Eivor Palsdottir on the Nordic stage at Luthern Church is a great example of how true that can be. It didn't matter if Palsdottir was singing in English or her native Faroese: it was the same transcendent, beautiful voice either way. Performing songs about rivers, gardens, and even a traditional bed time song about fairies, Palsdottir had a mesmerizing voice that gripped me in both serenity and grace. She possesses a soft, mystic, whisper-like quality, yet can also sing big enough to steal a whole room's attention. Hauntingly beautiful by all accounts.
From there things got hot hot hot with Monophonics under the Big Tent. The group blends psychedelic rock with funky, funky funk, and just enough soul to really keep things hopping. The group was loud - very loud - but that was the way the musicians wanted it: the trumpet and saxophone player just kept telling the sound guy to bring the instruments up, and roar they did.
With soaring psych-inspired electric guitar solos, a tight horn section, and that lovely spin of the organ (a reminder of how much I enjoy that organ when it's played right), Monophonics had the crowd up and dancing in no time. I can't remember the last time I saw a dance pit at a Jazz Fest show, but Monophonics lit fire under people's seats. Hot damn.
Monday night I'm heading a little south of the border, with Afro-Cuban percussionist Pedrito Martinez at Montage, local salsa band Calle Uno on the Jazz Street stage, and then Jeff Lorber Fusion at Harro East.