Monday, June 25, 2018

Jazz Fest 2018, Day 4: Ron reviews Jane Bunnett & Maqueque, Christian Sands, and Strings Attached

Posted By on Mon, Jun 25, 2018 at 11:47 PM

click to enlarge Jane Bunnett & Maqueque played the Temple Building Theater on Monday night. - PHOTO BY ASHLEIGH DESKINS
  • Jane Bunnett & Maqueque played the Temple Building Theater on Monday night.
In Cuban Spanish, the word “maqueque” means “the energy of a young girl’s spirit.” In Jane Bunnett & Maqueque, the spirit of five young Cuban women came through loud and clear. The band played a lively show of Afro-Cuban jazz to a near-capacity crowd at the Temple Building Theater Monday night. Working with Cuban musicians is nothing new for Bunnett, a Canadian flautist and saxophonist. Maqueque is merely her latest project; it should serve to launch the musical careers of five gifted players.

click to enlarge Vocalist Elizabeth Rodriguez of Jane Bunnett & Maqueque. - PHOTO BY ASHLEIGH DESKINS
  • Vocalist Elizabeth Rodriguez of Jane Bunnett & Maqueque.
At first the music seemed pretty tame, but halfway through the second tune the group came alive with irresistible percussion from Yissy Garcia on drums and Magdelys Savigne on congas. Celia Jiménez played an infectious bass line and Elizabeth Rodriguez authoritatively took the lead on vocals. But the stand out member of the group, to my mind, was Dánae Olano. Every time she took a solo on the piano, it was electrifying.

Of course Bunnett was blending right in, weaving around beautifully on alto saxophone when she wasn’t standing to the side, proudly watching the members of her group. The repertoire mostly consisted of unfamiliar, indigenous Cuban music. The one exception was an Afro-Cuban tinged version of Bill Withers’s “Ain’t No Sunshine.”

This was my first show at the Temple Building Theater, a theater that I didn’t know existed, and it was a positive experience. The seats weren't great but the sound was excellent and that’s not true of every XRIJF venue.

Pianist Christian Sands has made a lot of fans in Rochester. Hatch Hall was filled and people were still lined up outside for his concert. Once he began to play, it wasn’t hard to understand why. He started out in a pretty quirky way, turning on the sound on his phone and placing it in the piano where it resonated nicely. Birds were singing and Sands began to sing back with his fingers on the keys. He explained later that he had woken up to birds, so he recorded them on his phone.

It was that kind of spontaneity that prevailed in his set. Early on he thanked the audience for coming and "hanging with me for a while, listening to me practice." That got a laugh, but he said he had no set list, he would just be improvising. Still, there were vehicles that got him going: “Stella By Starlight,” “Tea For Two,” an elaborate blues, etc. But every one of them was a wild ride, with multiple intersecting styles, incredible pyrotechnics and a great musical imagination at work.

Strings Attached at the Xerox Auditorium boasted four excellent guitarists — Jack Wilkins, Vic Juris, Ron Affif, and Mark Whitfield — but the concert still managed to lack excitement. Maybe it was the format. The guitarists, seated in chairs, started a tune, each one took a solo and they ended the tune. The only one who stood up and really got into his solos was Mark Whitfield. He also stood out for the exuberance in his playing. These guys had musical cred; at one point Wilkins introduced a tune by saying, “This is an obscure Charles Mingus tune called 'Diane.' We used to play it a lot when I was in Mingus’s band.”

Tuesday night, I look forward to hearing Eastman Faculty member and first-call keyboard player Gary Versace at Hatch Hall. Then I’ll catch Lucia Cadotsch at the Lutheran Church before ending the night with home-grown vibraphone star Joe Locke at Kilbourn Hall.

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