Saturday, June 30, 2018

Jazz Fest 2018, Day 8: Ron reviews the Geoffrey Keezer Trio, Maciej Obara Quartet, and Jean-Michel Pilc

Posted By on Sat, Jun 30, 2018 at 12:00 AM

click to enlarge Jean-Michel Pilc performed in Hatch Hall on Friday night at the 2018 Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival. - PHOTO BY JOSH SAUNDERS
  • Jean-Michel Pilc performed in Hatch Hall on Friday night at the 2018 Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival.
Sometimes a group with a big name in the title only has one true star, but at Xerox Auditorium, the Geoffrey Keezer Trio proved to be a band of equals. Keezer may be the most well known member; after all he’s played with Sting. But every time bassist Ben Williams or drummer Billy Kilson took a solo, they were top notch. And as a trio playing together, they could not have been tighter.

Keezer played some original tunes, including one evoking a perfect night in Alaska, titled “Port Alexander Moon,” but he also took on one of Thelonious Monk’s most challenging compositions, “Brilliant Corners.” On the Monk tune Williams switched from an upright bass to an electric bass and was a lot funkier. Keezer also played electric piano and, for much of the rest of the concert, he had his left hand on the acoustic piano and his right on the electric. The group got pretty far out on a long, unidentified tune but came back down to Earth for a beautiful rendition of “Across The Universe,” which was part of a John Lennon medley to end the set.

At the Lutheran Church, members of the Maciej Obara Quartet were very happy to be in Rochester after numerous travel problems. They got so deeply into their music, I don’t know if they realized that they spent about a half-hour playing the title track of their new album, “Unloved,” written by film-score composer Krzysztof Komeda. Obara’s playing ranged from gorgeously lyrical to downright furious. In fact, the entire group was capable of building up the momentum so gradually that you could be caught off guard by the mood shifts.

Obara’s quartet also boasted excellent players. Dominik Wania played the kind of piano solos that sound like a running brook, sometimes calm and sometimes cascading, but always moving. When the band really got going, bassist Ole Morten Vaagan was totally unified with drummer Gard Nilssen. Toward the end of the set Nilssen got a chance to cut loose with a great solo using mallets instead of drumsticks.

I’m not sure what Jean-Michel Pilc was up to a Hatch Hall and I’m not sure he knew either. It seemed like the case of a brilliant player not knowing quite what to do with his set. First he tried comedy, doing physical jokes at the piano in a manner reminiscent of Victor Borge. He said he would warm up and proceeded to play a scale. Then the scales turned into something akin to Paganini's Caprice No. 24; he played scales high and low and simple and filigreed, lots of variations. This was followed by a piece where his left hand played a pattern in the middle of the keyboard while his right hand played on both sides of it.

Pilc did a lot of slamming his hands down on the keys and there were dramatic gestures each time he finished playing. There were quotes thrown in through out — a line from “Ravel’s Bolero”; a line from “Norwegian Wood” — and there was a lot of meandering. Pilc obviously has the chops to play whatever he chooses. Maybe it was some kind of new piano-of-the-absurd thing that I’m not hip to, but all I heard was a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing.

On the last night of the festival, I’ll catch Mark Lewandowski at Christ Church, Thomas Stronen at the Lutheran Church, and Matt Wilson at Kilbourn Hall.

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