June 15, 2008

It's All About Timing ... RIJF Day 2

So yesterday, I headed leisurely over to the Fest with plans to meander before Robin McKelle's 6 o'clock set. After perusing the offerings in the merch tent, I decided to get to Montage early and snag a good seat. Although it was only 5:20 when I got over there, this was not to be. There was a sizable line working its way in and by the time I got in the doors, the place was packed and it was standing room only (it occurred to me later that the audience was full of family and friends of the local star). I spied wall space in the corner and quickly claimed it before that too dissipated and sent off a warning text to Ken who was on his way.

McKelle got off to a late start and my annoyance at the delay and having to stand initially left me apprehensive and looking for a reason to take off. But. The marvelous vocalist made it up to me when she opened her mouth to reveal a beautiful sultry voice that brought to mind Rosemary Clooney and Ella Fitzgerald. Though most of the numbers were standards, her renditions made the pieces all new to me. I was particularly taken with her performance of Billie Holliday's, "Don't Explain" which gave me chills -- in the good way. Between numbers, we got a taste of her witty personality as she sought, rhetorically, a solution to the hair falling in her face, and plugged her new CD, due to come out stateside in August (she repeatedly stressed the limited copies from the European release that she brought with her, humbly pleased with the fact that it debuted #1 on the French jazz charts). Her humor and playfulness shone best though with her performance of "Bei Mir Bist Du Chon," which after a plea for audience participation landed her friend's husband on the stage. He was then subjected to her stage flirtations and doing the salsa.

The annoying waitress was back working her rounds, but finally must have gotten a talking-to, as she managed to tone her voice down to a whisper during the latter half of the show.

Because of her late start, McKelle still wasn't finished with her set at 7:10 when I left to try and get a good seat at the Church. However, my early departure landed me in front of her merch table to snag one of the remaining copies of her new CD.

Ola Kvernberg Trio

Next stop was the Church for the show I was most looking forward to -- the Ola Kvernberg Trio. Sporting Austin Powers glasses, the violinist and his band members were everything I hoped they would be and more. Having played the violin as long as I have, I'm always partial to the fiddlers -- especially when they've got something innovative to show me. Kvernberg was just a-MA-zing. Between pieces, he fed us anecdotes of life as a jazz musician. My favorite was his telling us about his grandfather who would tell him there was no money in playing jazz. According to Kvernberg, his grandfather insisted that country music was more profitable and often tried to steer him in that direction. Kvernberg's response was to try to play jazz that sounded kind of like country. What I heard last night was a sound that was just irresistible: bluegrass, Norwegian style, with a jazz twist.

The Church gig won out as my favorite of the night, though it was a tough call between this and The Bad Plus, which apparently has quite the following. After I left the Church, I set off to find Ken at the Tent. There was a significant line there that seemed to be moving slowly, so I let him know I was off in search of grub at the stands. I opted for a giant (and satisfying) hot dog (my guilty pleasure) and noting that the line was already forming in front of Kilbourn (at 8:30 for the 10 o'clock show!), quickly jumped in. Ken met up with me shortly thereafter and we caught up on what the other had seen and heard. The doors finally opened and we quickly snagged the legroom seats (not an issue for me, but the rest of the gang does tend to sport the longer limbs). The auditorium filled up quickly and Seth was keeping us apprised of his arrival status. It was getting closer to showtime and Seth and Christine were still trying to get to us (apparently, their full days not only resulted in a delay getting to the festival site, but also included a return home to get the passes they had forgotten). Surprisingly, the usher was extremely accommodating and kept us updated as to the status of people coming in as well as how much more time we had to try and hold the seats. This resulted a last-minute call to Seth letting him know we still had his seats and they shouldn't give up yet. They made it in the nick of time.

Prior to the start of Jazz Fest, Seth had talked up this band to me. Yesterday, Ken seemed surprised that he hadn't ever made me a mix CD of this phenomenal band (Ken, I'm now waiting for that CD). This was my first time seeing them, and boy, were they nothing but fun. I was completely won over by the time they did their number about the 1980 world champion skiier -- penned by drummer Dave King, who according to pianist Ethan Iverson celebrated for three-hundred and sixty-five days after the win with a victory dance each day (the number allegedly embodied one of those such dances) -- and didn't think it could get much better. But then there were four. The band announced its new collaboration with Wendy Lewis -- a petite woman with powerhouse vocals and took off with Nirvana's Lithium and Pink Floyd's Comfortably Numb, to name a couple. Having no familiarity with the band's previous incarnation, I don't have anything to compare it to, but the general consensus appeared to be that the collaboration made a great thing even better. I was completely wowed. Oh, and they obliged with an encore ... oooh, Barracuda!

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