Best of 2011: Dead Cat Bounce, Freihofer’s Festival on our list of year’s best jazz performances
The Capital Region 2011 jazz scene saw arrivals, departures and the continuation of some vital traditions.
Among the arrivals was drummer Mike Benedict’s band Bopitude, which held a CD release party at The Linda, WAMC’s performong arts studio and led off the Albany Riverfront Jazz Festival. The band is at work on a new recording, featuring baritone saxophonist Gary Smulyan.
The departure of pianist, composer and arranger Yuko Kishimoto, who returned to her native Japan following her own CD release party, severely diminished the local scene.
Benedict’s and Kishimoto’s CDs were produced by Tom Bellino’s Planet Arts label, which also won a Grammny for its Vanguard Jazz Orchestra CD. Bellino continued to present his Jazz One 2 One concerts at the Athens Cultural Center, including a standing-room-only performance by vibraphonist Joe Locke.
The concert series A Place for Jazz celebrated its 25th season with a spring concert by saxophonist Houston Person, and a fall series that included pianist Kenny Barron and vocalist Freddy Cole.
Two other traditions marked multi-year milestones: the Sunday Jazz Vespers series at the First Reformed Church in Schenectady and Keith Pray’s Summer Jazz Camp at Proctors.
And the indomitable pianist Lee Shaw bounced right back from hip replacement surgery to resume her steady round of gigs, which continue Tuesday night with a concert at the First Reformed Church by her trio, with Rich Syracuse, bass, and Jeff Siegel, drums.
Here, in chronological order, are the top 10 jazz performances of 2011 by Gazette reviewers Tim Coakley, Geraldine Freedman and Michael Hochanadel.
Dead Cat Bounce at Proctors GE Theater (Jan. 15). The sextet (four saxes, bass and drums) expertly played seriously original music that mixed challenge and comfort to powerful effect. They blended, blurred and busted out in unexpected patterns all night in music of smarts, heart and humor. (Hochanadel)
Jimmy Cobb’s So What Band at The Egg (Feb. 10). The veteran drummer and last survivor of the Miles Davis band that recorded the famous “Kind of Blue” album led a sparkling group to re-create that seminal disc. The group included trumpeter Jeremy Pelt, saxophonists Javon Jackson and Vincent Herring, pianist Larry Willis and bassist Buster Williams. All played well, with Willis especially capturing the crowd’s favor. (Coakley)
Piano Jazz Summit at Proctors (April 1). Jacky Terrasson, Cedar Walton and Hiromi Uehara demonstrated three disparate approaches. Terrasson went through numerous permutations and variations over many styles. In complete contrast, Walton showed a solid, more traditional approach. His playing was sure, polished, well-rounded and complete. Besides a technical fluency and strong harmonic sense, Uehara exudes joy: of discovery, of the music, of the moment. She plays with her eyes closed, her face wreathed in smiles. She was completely absorbed. (Freedman)
Lee Konitz and the Empire Jazz Orchestra at Schenectady County Community College (April 12). The veteran alto saxophonist displayed his typically oblique approach to melody, finishing his segment by sailing over the ensemble on “Thingin’ ” — his take on “All the Things You Are.” (Coakley)
Freihofer’s Jazz Festival at Saratoga Performing Arts Center (June 25). Another victory of music, fellowship and fun over weather and bad behavior relating to real estate (huge tarps and tents). Highlights: pianist-singer Eliane Elias, the fusion combo led by drummer Jack DeJohnette, singer DeeDee Bridgewater, guitarist-singer Lionel Loueke and singer Michael McDonald. (Hochanadel)
The Heath Brothers Quartet at Skidmore College (June 28). The great veteran tenor saxophonist Jimmy Heath encompassed much of the history of his instrument, along with his brother Tootie on drums, Jeb Patton on piano and David Wong on bass. With a thunder and lightning storm flashing outside the Zankel Music Center, Heath and crew worked their own deeply rooted way through an assured evening of music. (Coakley)
Terell Stafford/Dick Oatts Quintet at A Place for Jazz (Sept. 16). They launched the season with a strong, straight ahead performance, an uncomplicated old-school blowing session. Co-leaders trumpeter Stafford and saxophonist Oatts made the most of impeccable rhythm section support. (Hochanadel)
David Sanborn with Joey DeFrancesco at The Egg (Oct. 22). This trio may be the ideal format for Sanborn, who has lots to say on each song but typically steps back when leading bigger bands. Restless and zippy in up-tempo tunes, he used all of the horn to extract all of the feelings in each song and was warmly expressive at slower tempos. (Hochanadel)
Bela Fleck & the Flecktones at The Egg (Nov. 6). Banjo, piano or harmonica, bass and synthesized drums — these odd ingredients combusted via rapid oxidation, catching fire and staying hot, with explosions punctuating the burn. Roadie/violinist Casey Driessen spiced each of two sets at the end, a tasty bonus. (Hochanadel)
‘Benny Goodman — A Carnegie Hall Tribute’ at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall (Nov. 10). Drummer Brooks Tegler led a dynamic big band in a re-creation of Goodman’s famous 1938 concert. Trumpeter Randy Reinhart offered some crisp, forceful solos and clarinetist Joe Mideri expertly evoked the King of Swing. (Coakley)
— Gazette jazz writer Tim Coakley