On June 20, the entire Northern Hemisphere celebrated the Summer Solstice, while in one small corner of the world, many silently anticipated and schemed for the Rochester International Jazz Festival, which started a few long days later. Later, on July 4, while most everyone in the United States was busy celebrating the birth of our nation, many in Rochester quietly rested in their homes, recovering from nine full nights of wall-to-wall, street-to-street music and merriment. Indeed, the final night of the festival ended in an explosion of sound that was brighter than any fireworks. Trombone Shorty partied with a capacity audience at a lot that fronted the new Midtown Tower, while a block away the Wood Brothers filled the corner of East Ave and Chestnut Street, and just one block from there Mingo Fishtrap jammed to a crowded Jazz Street. Meanwhile, the indoor clubs were still brimming with music, the food trucks were slinging sandwiches and the buskers were making every street corner their own mini music venue. Then the clock struck 11 p.m. and the fantasy of a vibrant downtown Rochester slowly drifted back to reality.
Throughout the nine days, NYS Music made it to 41 sets, in 13 venues to see 38 different acts. Nine continuous nights of music can’t be beat, and the Rochester International Jazz Festival proves worth the anticipation year after year. Of everything we saw, these 10 acts (not counting the headlining series) stood out as the best and brightest.
10. Makoto Ozone and Tommy Smith
Japanese pianist Makoto Ozone and Scottish saxophonist Tommy Smith make for an odd pairing nationalistically, but a masterful combination musically. Their duets ranged from beautiful classically leaning romantic landscapes to a bopping blues inspired by Gary Burton mistakenly orchestrating a popcorn explosion. But by far the highlight of the set came after Smith told a story of a keyless, legless piano that hung on the wall of the poor schoolhouse he attended as a child. He then proceeded to demonstrate how he would play his sax into the body of the piano, which caused the strings to reverberate. It was an incredible and gorgeous effect that we won’t soon forget.
Funk bands are a dime-a-dozen. It’s nearly impossible to rise above the fray. But Los Angeles’ Orgone has found the perfect formula and they have it down to a science. Starting with the supremely talented front of Sergio Rios on guitar and Dan Hastie on keys, they add in trombone and trumpet to a rhythm core of percussion, drums and bass. As an instrumental outfit the band takes the funk to rocking peaks behind Rios’ fierce shredding. But wait, there’s more. Enter Adryon de Len, with her Tina Turner hair in her Tina Turner dress shaking her Tina Turner moves. She’s got a voice that knows no heights, and soul that knows no bottom.
8. Red Baraat
Rochester-born Sunny Jain leads the international party band Red Baraat with a double-sided Indian drum called a dhol. The nine-piece band features an eclectic mix of instruments that when they all come together create what world peace must sound like — a reason to party indeed. Jain proclaimed the 5:30 p.m. set to be the earliest they had ever played, but was very excited for the capacity crowd that came to listen and dance. They opened with a spacey mix that slowly built around a distinguishable rhythm before exploding into a wall of sound. It was an announcement of their arrival, after which the usually seated Harro East crowd got to their feet to dance the early evening away. They mixed together their older material, which took on more of traditional feeling, with newer tunes which mixed in some guitar and horn effects lending darker edges to the otherwise happy affair.