On Day 2, I enjoyed the huge beams of sunshine that mixed with the beams of pop music that erupted from the Parcel 5 stage. Wielding their sound like a hatchet, Grace Serene and Rochester’s Super Clean are geared towards funky and I mean freshly squeezed, juicy pop for the fledgling scene that ebbed and flowed with the pop tide and groove. The band came more pop than anything else, but didn’t assault the pop hooks of the well-received covers coming from Lake Street Drive. The crowd dug them big time. Me too.
Waiting for what some of us thought was a six-string vocalist, Samantha Fish received a glorious heavy horn blast from Dirty Dozen Brass, who broke the silence with honk, lead, and filled violence.
When Fish took the stage, thousands and thousands of people pumped their fists on Fish’s slide guitar. The sound was a bit problematic as it was bouncing off the downtown skyline of different height and circumference. From where I was sitting, it was like the sound was coming from a volcanic place, just a low-pitched rumble. But as I walked towards the porta-potties, the sound picked up and got better and better, and when the toilet stench was at its peak, the sound was at its fairest.
Fish’s playing was straight into Kansas City blues with a booming arena rock color. She mesmerized, cajoled and seduced us all. If you’re attending a Parcel 5 concert this week, you may need to search for the joint for the best sound. May I suggest the toilets? It’s a funky place to start.
For a quiet stop, I made my way into the Temple Theater, where the last time I went was as a musician playing a big band show with the Brian Setzer Orchestra. I can assure you tonight’s event was sweeter and calmer than that night as Rochester hometown girl Robin McKelle took the stage to chirp and coo under a head of red pigtails fire.
Now you don’t just listen to this girl. You absorb what it does to your soul. She took audiences on a silky-smooth journey with her excellent combo soaking up the rest of her contract. Pure delight, Jack.
Polyphonic melodies, joy and soul
The energy of day one remained, as Jazz Fest continued downtown for its second day. It was a restless crowd trying to fit as many shows as possible into one day. I was one of them. I started the day trying to see Ranky Tanky, who immediately sold Kilbourn Hall, which forced me to go to the Wilder Room to see the Kind Folk jazz quartet.
Kind Folk was an introspective change of pace after the most energetic shows I had seen so far. Saxophonist Alex LoRe, trumpeter John Raymond, bassist Noam Wiesenberg and drummer Colin Stranahan played a tight set of focused, thoughtful and emotional chamber jazz tunes. A quartet that formed in Brooklyn in a small apartment, Kind Folk presents the educated and balanced jazz that could be studied in the classroom.
I was impressed by how the trumpeter and saxophonist often fell into polyphonic melodies, creating two streams of thought that merged beautifully. I also loved how the band frequently played with time signatures and tempo; on their rendition of Kurt Rosenwinkel’s song “Mr. Hope”, Stranahan opened with this great drum solo built entirely around polyrhythms. This type of calculated sporadicity could be found throughout their ensemble. I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Kind Folk.
The second show of the day was my most anticipated of the week, and it did not disappoint. NYChillharmonic’s “progressive big band” was a sight to behold: four string players, nine woodwinds, a bassist, a pianist, a guitarist, a drummer, and the mastermind behind it all on vocals. Eighteen musicians gathered on the stage of Glory House International to blast away progressive rock songs, with weird time signatures, obtuse song structures, twists, harmonic details, all you can eat. Led by the incredibly talented singer-songwriter Sara McDonald who managed to flex the Jazz Fest audience more than most.
“You can yell at us, you can throw money at us,” McDonald joked, as the usually stiff Jazz Fest audience laughed. She never missed an opportunity to speak to the public, often making joking remarks about people leaving mid-set: “I’m sorry, I know that’s how festivals work, I’m just a jerk “, or saying that she forgot what some of her songs are about: “I don’t remember what these songs are about, we have to take into account the time of the pandemic. I was depressed.”
I would never expect that kind of humor to land well with an older audience, but Sara is too charismatic for her jokes to fail, even when she goes off on a tangent about a dream where she poisoned actor Daniel Craig.
Even more amazing than his comedic timing and crowd work is McDonald’s songwriting and degree of control over his mini-orchestra. His compositions are strong and memorable, often offering many changes in style and structure as one expects from prog. The way these songs were performed by the 18-piece band proved the band’s cohesion and showed McDonald’s deft methods of leading a massive band while being the lead vocalist. She merges the body language of a performer with the movements of an orchestra conductor, using her arms to direct the whole and convey meaning to the audience at the same time. Not to mention her vocals that somehow cut through the orchestral chaos behind her.
Speaking of the group behind her, it was so refreshing to see so many talented young musicians in this group, and the variety of instruments on display made for an engaging sight. Although none of them matched the energy of McDonald’s, each member of this group made a great contribution to the performance. Forget less is more. You’ve never experienced progressive rock like this before. Check out NYChillharmonic’s new 2022 single, “I Don’t Even Want It,” if you haven’t had a chance to see them perform.
Finally, as the festival was starting to wind down for the day, I was able to catch Ranky Tanky as they played their second show. The band definitely lived up to the hype. Hailing from Charleston, South Carolina, and drawing directly from Gullah culture, Ranky Tanky has an authentic and exciting sound that won them a Grammy for their latest album.
Quentin Baxter on drums, Kevin Hamilton on bass, Clay Ross on guitar, Charlton Singleton on trumpet and the incredible singer Quiana Parler, Ranky Tanky is a band full of talent and spirit. One of the first notable things about this band is that they love audience participation. On more than half of their songs, they had the audience clap along with them, and on some songs there were call-and-response sections. Ranky Tanky aimed to bring the audience into the performance with them, which reflects how central the clapping and stomping is to Gullah’s music.
The whole performance was soulful and the joy was incredibly contagious. Their set of life-affirming jams lifted the spirits of everyone in the audience. Speaking, as well as Ross and Singleton, who also participated in the vocals, never passed up the opportunity to educate the public about Gullah culture and tradition, so not only did everyone get to hear a great band play , but we also learned something.
If you missed Ranky Tanky, don’t worry, they’ll be playing two more shows: June 19 at the Hyatt Ballroom at 7:45 and 9:45 p.m.
Frank De Blase is the music writer for Rochester Beacon. Jess Williams is an intern at Rochester Beacon and a student at Ithaca College. All articles from the Rochester Beacon Jazz Fest are collected here.
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