Jazz fest day 5: Pelt and Stenmark, a tale of two horns
Jeremy Pelt warns that a jazz band must stay active. Otherwise, other bands come sniffing around, “poaching members.”
If staying active is the key, Pelt was in no danger of losing any pieces of his quintet during Tuesday’s first set at Kilbourn Hall and the CGI Rochester International Jazz Festival. The opening was all frenetic trumpet and drums and bass chaos, then an abrupt shift to melodic piano and vibraphone: “Picking Up the Pieces,” the piece was called, “because that’s what we’re doing,” Pelt said.
Indeed, that’s what we’ve been doing the last couple of COVID years. Picking up the pieces.
As a leader, Pelt dresses to impress. He’s a big man in a suit, bow tie and neatly squared pocket hankie. And he has a sense that, as jazz players, what they’re doing is important. He’s written a book, “Griot: Examining the Lives of Jazz’s Great Storytellers.” It’s a selection of the dozens of interviews he’s conducted with jazz musicians, from Wynton Marsalis to virtual unknowns. Conversations about music and race, all linked to music composed by Pelt.
He’s collected the ideas of players such as saxophonist JD Allen, who Pelt says advised him, “Don’t dog the source.” Meaning, “the source is very important to this music.”
Sources like the singer and pianist Shirley Horn. She worked with Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, and some of the biggest names in jazz. She died in 2005, but on Tuesday night, Pelt remembered Horn by playing her “You Won’t Forget Me.”
That’s a slow one. Pelt said he likes playing the slow ones, he calls it “an art form.” A sensitive guy as a young man, “I’d have a date with me and act like I wasn’t crying,” he said.
Yes, Pelt learned from the best. Including the late pianist Cedar Walton. Who advised him, “Those ballads are so slow, I can get up between beats and take a piss.”
Today’s jazz haiku
notes must leap from the mallets
or else serve mai tais.
Stenmark: It’s all about context
Like Pelt’s trumpet, Oskar Stenmark’s cornet is three buttons and a spit valve. Beyond that, they’re two different instruments. Generalizations are stupid, so here’s one: Pelt’s sound was like what you’d hear hanging out in a hot jazz club. Stenmark’s sound was like walking in the woods, communing with nature.
At Tuesday’s first show at Glory House International – what in previous jazz fests has been the Lutheran Church of the Reformation before it was sold to another church – pianist Alex Pryrodny played as though the notes were coursing through his body, at times his forehead nearly touching the keyboard. The double bassist was a familiar face: Stenmark had drafted Eastman School of Music professor Jeff Campbell to fill out the trio.
The music was melodic, delicate, and mostly old, as Stenmark confessed. He’d collected much of it from vintage composition notes left on scraps of paper, and from other Swedish musicians that Stenmark’s grandfather had recorded on cassette tapes. One song went back to the 1700s; Stenmark didn’t say if he had found that one on a cassette.
So the show was deep on tradition. Stenmark even wore a traditional Swedish vest trimmed in red piping. But adjustments had to be made. “Bay of the Bride” had been composed on violin. But, “I am a terrible violin player,” Stenmark said, “so I am playing it on cornet.”
A sly sense of humor has often been a signature of these bands that have played the festival’s Nordic shows. Stenmark discovered that a ballad he had thought was a walking tune – they’re a big deal in a country of hikers – was actually a funeral march. No one was dead, but they played it anyway.
“It’s all about context,” Stenmark said.
As was the solo piano piece by Pryrodny. Music from his home country, as we learned as he began his introduction: “So, I am from Ukraine…”
And the room exploded in huge cheers and applause.
Jeff’s Wednesday picks
- Tommy Smith, Temple Theater, 7 and 9:15 p.m. The Scottish saxophonist is not only a significant player, but he has a playful side. In a Kilbourn Hall duet show at the 2016 jazz fest, he walked over to Makoto Ozone’s piano, where the lid had been raised, placed his tenor sax into the body of the Steinway, and played the sax until the piano’s strings could be heard vibrating and shimmering ever so slightly.
- Sheila E, Parcel 5, 9 p.m. The percussionist is best known for her association with Prince, but she comes from a family with a long musical history. Her albums “The Glamorous Life” and “A Love Bizarre” were the big ’80s breakthroughs, but she’s also been involved with film soundtracks, playing drums on “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.” Sy Smith plays at 7 p.m., Grupo Ife at 5 p.m.
- Connie Han Trio, Montage Music Hall, 6 and 10 p.m. At 26 years old, Han brings some intensity to the world of jazz piano; she’s admitted that her favorite music in high school was death metal.
- Stephane Wrembel, Theatre at Innovation Square, 6:30 and 8:30 p.m. Guitarist Wrembel is a frequent visitor to Rochester; he calls his trips here a "spiritual joy." Tonight's concert of originals and music by Django Reinhardt, with a six-piece band including violinist Daisy Castro and saxophonist/clarinetist Nick Driscoll, will take a very different approach from his last show in Rochester, a solo performance at Lovin' Cup. Wrembel says to expect a performance that reflects the setting of tonight's show: “We have a certain sound in the room, so we have to adapt to that. And then we feel ourselves that day, what do we feel like? And then we feel the crowd. And we always play a new repertoire every concert."