Saturday, June 23, 2018

Jazz Fest 2018, Day 1: Daniel reviews Phony Ppl, Marius Neset Quintet, and Ron Artis II & The Truth

Posted By on Sat, Jun 23, 2018 at 1:44 AM

click to enlarge Brooklyn quintet Phony Ppl played Anthology on Friday as part of the 2018 Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival. - PHOTO BY ASHLEIGH DESKINS
  • Brooklyn quintet Phony Ppl played Anthology on Friday as part of the 2018 Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival.
After the first day of the 2018 Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival, the bar for riveting performances is already high. The artists I caught were far from conventional and boasted charisma that was matched only by their musical profundity.

First up was Phony Ppl, a Brooklyn-based quintet who owned the stage at Anthology. The band’s groove was seemingly effortless, as aspects of pop, soul, R&B, funk, hip-hop, even reggae made for a musical melange that was nothing short of infectious. Lead singer Elbee Thrie possessed a sleek and slinky smooth tenor voice that sold the seductive songcraft. Guitarist Elijah Rawk lived up to his name and injected electrifying panache into every solo. Each member of the group was exceptionally intuitive and technically sound, but bassist Bari Bass’s thunderous melodies and impeccable rhythmic sensibilities rooted the band and made the songs soar.

Phony Ppl makes polished dance party music that somehow manages to retain spontaneous, raw energy. The aesthetic is familiar enough to woo fans who crave 1970’s-style soul and funk, but unpredictable enough to win over Millennials for whom genre distinctions have become obsolete. Ultimately,there’s something vibrant and sultry about Phony Ppl’s sonic concoctions that can’t be denied.

I made my way clear across the festival to the Lutheran Church of the Reformation to hear Norwegian saxophonist Marius Neset and his quintet play a fascinating set that was enigmatic and esoteric, intricate and effervescent. Neset’s brand of jazz was both cerebral and danceable and his tone was penetrating and resonant, delivered with a youthful attack that often revealed funky tendencies. Yet somehow, it was drummer Anton Eger who stole the show. Eger, who has previously performed at the festival as part of the trio Phronesis, was restless and inventively lyrical, with a kinetic flow that was unstoppable. With this performance, he easily became my favorite drummer working today.

#XRIJF kicks off smooth and stylish with @phonyppl. #jazzCITY @roccitynews @XRIJF

A post shared by Daniel Kushner (@danieljkushner) on

I ended my evening at the Rochester Regional Health Big Tent, where Hawaiian trio Ron Artis II & The Truth laid down some soulful rock with ample amounts of funk and blues mixed in. Artis exuded positivity, but he played with a chip on his shoulder, as if he had something to prove. The music was simultaneously angsty and optimistic, embattled and uplifting. His solos were searing as if made of fire and grit. Undeniably virtuosic, Artis is as dynamic and mesmerizing a singer as he is a commanding guitarist. He has the most nimble hands of any guitarist I’ve ever heard before.

There’s another chance to here him and his band play the Jazz Festival with two more sets Saturday, June 23, at Montage Music Hall. 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. $30, or a Club Pass. You can also find out more about the band at

For Day Two, I’ll be taking in music by recently revamped trio The Bad Plus, saxophonist Melissa Aldana, and the jazz and hip-hop hybrid of the Doug Stone Quartet featuring Josiah Williams.

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