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Jazz Fest Day 4: blending in some Norwegian folk music

Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival
Trail of Souls

Trail of Souls, we feel your pain. It is a very, very, very, very thin line between the loneliness of Norwegian folk music and “Motherless Child.”

Moon Hooch – apocalyptic dance-floor saxophone jazz – and its incandescent reign as the best of the Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival after Sunday’s Day Three – my opinion, probably not yours – lasted a mere 24 hours. A nearly full house for Trail of Souls' first show at Lutheran Church of the Reformation drifted out onto the sidewalk Monday on Day Four, murmuring as if they’d just seen a miracle. Words fail…

But I’m paid to try.

It started so innocently. Electric guitarist Knut Reiersrud, in crimson fedora and shoes and cobalt-blue suit, opened with what sounded like fairies dancing on a glacier. Drummer Pal Hausken (who like the bassist Roger Arntzen and pianist Morten Qvenild is a member of XRIJF veterans In the Country) lightly tapped a bell, as though we were hearing a buoy far out at sea. Then Hausken’s drums rolled like far-off thunder and Solveig Slettahjell began to sing, whispering a Norwegian folk song, foreign to the audience’s ears, but nonetheless haunting. Behind her, the music swelled, building, building, building. Then it faded. Then again slowly building, building, building. A masterful display of tension, release, tension. Crescendos of drama.

There was some internal madness looking to find a release in Slettahjell as she shifted to “Mercy Street,” drawn from the Anne Sexton poem, “45 Mercy Street,” later interpreted by Peter Gabriel. Words of a woman in deep, deep trouble. For a full hour, we felt the pain.

Through it all, Reiersrud’s electric guitar wailed like Hendrix when needed, then backed away. And what was that trick of licking his fingertips and rubbing them along the guitar body, producing an uncomfortable moan?  

More despair awaited. The ominous Clark Sisters gospel song, “Is My Living in Vain?” The traditional Negro spiritual, “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child,” with just Slettahjell and Qvenild on stately piano, Slettahjell holding a long, heartbroken cry of defeat and despair.

It was clear the set was drawing to a close as Hausken sounded the lonely buoy bell once again. We are all adrift. But the audience would have none of that, standing and demanding the encore. Which it got. There’s simply not enough pain in this world.

Today’s jazz haiku

Moan of oars and voice

human spirit cast adrift

yes, all of us, all

Tuesday: Jazz Fest Day Five

Quite frankly, there is no way for a human being to experience all of the music that deserves your attention on this day.

It starts with Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, 8 p.m. at Kodak Hall at Eastman Theater. The band is celebrating 30 years of music, an uncategorizable fusion of bluegrass, jazz, country, rock and classical.

The Joe Locke Group, 6 and 9 p.m., Kilbourn Hall. Locke, raised in Rochester, and a graduate of the Eastman School of Music, is considered perhaps the finest vibraphonist in jazz today. His vibrant style, swooping over the tiles with two mallets in each fist, is not only a sonic treat, but fun to watch.

Junior Brown, 7:45 and 9:45 p.m., Squeezer’s Stage at Anthology. The Oklahoma native plays an instrument of his own invention. He calls it the “guit-steel,” part regular guitar, part steel guitar, and it’s built for pyrotechnics that are a perfect counterpoint to Brown’s country-fried deep voice and roadhouse songs about the highway patrol.

VickiKristinaBarcelona, 6 and 10 p.m., Montage Music Hall. Three women harmonizing on the music of Tom Waits, accompanying themselves with Waits-appropriate instrumentation that includes banjos and bottles. Beyond Waits, Rachelle Garniez, Amanda Homi and Terry Radigan have also played with Thomas Dolby, Jack White, Jackson Browne, Patty Loveless and Ray LaMontagne.

Lucia Cadotsch, “Speak Low,” 7:30 and 9:30 p.m., Christ Church. Tenor sax, double bass and the enchanting vocals of the Swiss-born Cadotsch. In a note accompanying her CD, she explains the idea: “It was a different world back then. There was a time before you could amplify sound with electricity, before you could accumulate sound in plastic…”

Jeff Spevak


I’ll be on Scott Regan’s Open Tunings show, WRUR-FM (88.5) at about 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, and will file a brief report from the jazz fest at about 5:50 p.m. Tuesday on WXXI-AM (1370) and WRUR.

Jeff Spevak is a Rochester-based writer. His web site is jeffspevak.comHe will be reporting for WXXI throughout the Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival.

Here's video of the Royal Bopsters who played Monday night at Kilbourn Hall (video by Martin Kaufman)

Jeff Spevak has been a Rochester arts reporter for nearly three decades, with seven first-place finishes in the Associated Press New York State Features Writing Awards while working for the Democrat and Chronicle.