JAZZ FEST 2012, Day 9: Raul Midon, Joanne Brackeen, Arun Ghosh

Raul Midon played Kilbourn Hall to a packed audience Saturday afternoon. PHOTO BY MATT DETURCK

BY RON NETSKY

While tapping guitar chords with his left hand and keeping up a steady beat on the bongos with his right, Raul Midon turned to the Kilbourn Hall audience Saturday and said, “I want you to notice there are no looping machines up here.” He didn’t need any. He picked, strummed, and slapped percussively on his guitar, pausing occasionally to play a melodic run at breakneck speed. Then he added the trumpet that he seems to have built into his mouth. It’s uncanny in its resemblance to the real thing. Midon can “mute” passages and hit those slightly flat notes that seem to go with the instrument while “playing” beautiful solos.

There are several ingredients to being a successful singer/songwriter; among them are personality, intimacy, and having great stories to tell between songs. Midon has all of them in abundance, but he has a lot more. In addition to his breathtaking guitar technique and Stevie Wonder-like voice, he’s got an unusually exuberant songwriting style. You can feel the emotion in his tunes because he doesn’t follow any rules. As a result of all of this, Midon had the audience in the palm of his hand all night. I guess I should mention that he’s blind, but aside from figuring into his story-telling, it didn’t matter.

Joanne Brackeen seemed oblivious to the fact that there was an audience in Hatch Hall for her concert Saturday night. Between songs she spoke quietly to a couple of friends in the front row. In the middle of her set a saxophonist joined her for a couple of tunes. Then he left. From what I could hear, she told her friends something about bumping into him in the hotel lobby. It took shouts from the audience — “Who was he?” — to get her to say: Pat LaBarbera.

Aside from that, she was great. Her playing was sparkling. If she had told us the name of any of her tunes I could tell you that one of them, the second she played, was especially wonderful, with an odd march-like quality. LaBarbera and Brackeen played a terrific version of Duke Ellington’s “In A Sentimental Mood.” And she played a beautiful solo rendition of Cole Porter’s “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye” (the one tune she named).

Clarinetist Arun Ghosh never stopped moving when he led his quintet in a show at Christ Church. He was kinetic in both his playing and his dancing. It just seemed to be in his personality. Ghosh led his band through mostly original tunes that were derived from his southern Indian roots (West Bengal) and his Manchester, England home. Everything the band played had a joyful quality to it.

While his bassist and drummer had come over from England with him, the alto and tenor saxophonists in the band were Rochester’s own Colin Gordon and Doug Stone. While they usual played the more steady parts, allowing Ghosh to soar over them, they both took adventurous solos. They fit right in even though they had just joined this somewhat unusual ensemble the day before. The show ended with an energetic take on The Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows.” Ghosh explained that because John Lennon was influenced by Indian music when he wrote it, the band was bringing it full circle.

Looking back on XRIJF 2012, I can’t imagine any other conclusion: it was bigger and better than ever. This year I only saw one headliner and I had to put my fingers in my ears to avoid instant deafness as a result of the ridiculous sound levels of the outdoor shows, but I still loved the festival. My favorites of the past nine days are all over the place in terms of style and content and that’s what makes this festival great. Here they are:

-Vocalist Tessa Souter took a chance on songs merging classical melodies with her lyrics and a jazz sensibility at Montage.

Yggdrasil & Eivor managed to conjure up that ancient Nordic magic at the Lutheran Church.

Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey examined the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 with a furious musical statement at Xerox Auditorium.

Eldar delivered one of the greatest performances I have ever witnessed when he played “Rhapsody In Blue” at Hatch Recital Hall.

-The Orlando LeFleming Trio delivered a magnificently subtle performance at Christ Church.

Now that the festival is over, who did you like best?

One comment

  1. Anonymous · · Reply

    A remarkable thing about the Jazz Festival this year was that many people stayed at shows they previously would have walked out on and ended up giving the performers standing ovations. What should be made of this? I say congratulations to the festival organizers for expanding the audiences experiences of a variety of musical styles and tastes. I hope this signals a willingness to accept new things. But folks please cut down on the loudness of the Big Tent and outdoor shows.

    We can only hope more arts organizations will stop the homogenization and dumbing down of American culture and expand opportunities to experience newer works or older works that mean something besides entertainment.. Was the world crying out for Shrek the Musical or Legally Blond the Musical or could these be cynical money making ploys using established franchises?

    Where are arts events relevant to current topics? Why does one arts organization have a sign in the lobby pointing out the number of subscribers giving money and the amount they give are below national averages. Should they blame subscribers for their failure to become relevant?

    Another organization seems geared to audiences over 65 or under 12 years of age. Our major orchestra seems to rely on Pops concerts, which have no interest to me, to put people in the seats? Anyone know what demographic these appeal to? Is it sustainable? ESM has had successful smaller events which indicates a broader interest is there. Do we need donors with deep pockets that are willing to take chances?

    The arts remain relevant but are many arts organizations relevant other than in their own minds?. Any ideas as to how they can become relevant or is it a lost cause? Goals for Greater Rochester and Renaissance 2010 seemed bankrupt of ideas in this area. Does TV and mass media play a role? Any thoughts?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: