We Saw it on Jazz Street

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Wednesday June 27, 2018

From NYS Music

And To Think We Saw It On Jazz Street: The 2018 Xerox International Jazz Festival, Reviewed
By: Eli Stein

Most days of the year, Gibbs Street in Rochester’s East End is a quiet side street you’d drive by without taking much notice. Though for 9 days in late June, it gets renamed Jazz Street and the surrounding area becomes a vast musical hullabaloo. Big tents are erected, rock clubs become jazz clubs, and churches morph into ornate high-ceilinged music venues. Food vendors come by truck, tent and cart. Police blockade traffic while happily allowing open alcohol containers in the streets. A tale of such excitement would hardly be believed, had it not occurred every year for the past eighteen years. This was the Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival’s 18th season, and this is what we saw.

Adventurous piano trio The Bad Plus returned to the festival after a ten year absence. This year the band experienced their first lineup change, replacing founding pianist Ethan Iverson with Orrin Evans. The Bad Plus has always been the sum total of the musician’s personalities. Iverson was fairly rigid and controlled with a heavy classical influence. Evans brings in a looser more free-wheeling attitude. The music then was more fluid, the band took more improvisational risks, and even delved into a more traditional swinging jazz sound at times. The band hit on a few classics like ‘Big Eater’ and ‘Anthem for the Earnest’ but really focused most of their attention on their new material like the manic ‘Safe Passage’ and the aired out beauty of ‘People Like You.’

The aptly named vocalist, Jazzmeia Horn, on the other hand, turned her voice into an instrument. Her classic interpretation of jazz standards got turned on their head once she started scatting. Impossible sounds emerged from her mouth as she pushed the human voice to exciting new realms. It’s possible the best trumpet player we saw at the festival didn’t even play the trumpet!

Singer Deva Mahal’s band came out dressed in white to show solidarity with those marching to protest families being ripped apart at the country’s border. In a set spanning pop, funk, rock and soul, she also exhibited some gospel influence, singing ‘Everyone deserves to be free / I would stand for you would you stand for me?’

Jazzmeia Horn used ‘Willow Weep For Me’ to opine on the state of race in the country, singing about police brutality, private prisons and more.

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