Jazz Fest Day 5: Joe Locke comes home; Tom Waits' music gets a makeover

Jun 27, 2018

Joe Locke
Credit Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival

Joe Locke said he’s inspired by words. Tuesday night, in his first set at Kilbourn Hall, the words were “welcome home.”

“This is always a spiritual experience for me to play here, because of my roots here,” he said. Raised in Rochester, an Eastman School of Music grad, Locke is widely regarded as one of jazz’s finest vibraphone players. He returns every few years to see some familiar faces and, thusly inspired, to play a knockout show at the Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival.

So yes, between songs in the packed room, he was calling out to people he knew in the audience, including Eastman School of Music percussion professor John Beck; Locke and Beck are both members of the Rochester Music Hall of Fame.

And yes, we got the knockout show.   

Just watching Locke is a visual treat. He silently scats along with the notes, the musical calculations in his face. He plays like he’s physically attached to the vibes, striking a note and leaping back, like a golfer watching his four-foot putt roll into the cup. 

Much of the material was from his soon-to-be-released new album, Subtle Disguise, featuring his band this evening of pianist Jim Ridl, bassist Lorin Cohen and a 21-year-old native of Russia on drums, Samvel Sarkisyan.

“Make Me Feel Like It’s Raining” was Locke’s tribute to the late vibraphone giant Bobby Hutcherson, “my personal touchstone,” Locke said. “He had a real grassroots personality.” As Locke said, “Make me feel like it’s raining,” was something Hutcherson would say when explaining what he wanted from music. Hutchinson didn’t want to literally get wet, but he wanted to feel some emotion. Something tactile, even.

More words. Locke talked about the 1987 film Orphans, and how he was struck by the line, “Safe and sound at the edge of the Milky Way,” and created a gentle piece of that name. The Scottish saxophonist Tommy Smith, a former bandmate of Locke’s, came out for “Red Cloud,” a piece written by Locke, inspired by a biography of the Sioux chief.

And Locke described a song he was about to cover as being drawn from the news in 1963, after a boxer was killed in the ring. Everyone was declining to take responsibility for the tragedy, he explained. “The metaphor is timely now as people pass the buck.” And then he brought out the singer Paul Jost, who had his own show here this week, for the most-surprising piece of the night: Jost scatting and singing the words of Bob Dylan, “Who Killed Davey Moore?”

Today’s jazz haiku

Flashing mallets speak

words, feelings, it’s raining, 

at galaxy’s edge

Speak Low, noir

Imagine one of those 1940s-era films where the female lead is a nightclub singer, a black-and-white image gracefully crooning what feels like jazz standards. Except they’re Jeff Buckley’s “Lilac Wine” and Randy Newman’s “I Think It’s Gonna Rain Today.” But her band is of a different era. Bassist Petter Eldh keeps a beatnik groove, and saxophonist Otis Sandsjo pushes the needle even closer to the edge, his circular breathing buzzing like a bee trapped in a jar.

This was Lucia Cadotsch’s “Speak Low,” a noir Swiss trio that was slipped into the “Nordic Jazz Now” series – it’s now Nordic & Euro Jazz Now – at the Lutheran Church of the Reformation.

It’s a speak low mix of the old as well, with Kurt Weill’s “Speak Low,” Nina Simone’s “Ain’t Got No, I Got Life” and pianist Ahmad Jamal’s 1957 “What’s New,” which Cadotsch described as the first appearance of a hip-hop beat. What’s old is new, what’s new is old, it all fits together nicely. Is there such a genre as “sultry avant-garde?”

Tom Waits gets a makeover

Tom Wait’s music is not overlooked. At least, it’s not overlooked by musicians. His songs make frequent appearances at the XRIJF. A Russian band was even playing them a few years ago.

But Waits’ lyric genius is frequently overlooked by the population in general because he makes us work so hard to get to the words, frequently cloaking them in clattering rhythms and bleating instrumentation. That’s where VickiKristinaBarcelona clears up matters. The all-female trio from Brooklyn specializes in Waits analytics. Female three-part harmonies, and just enough Waits-appropriate instrumentation to keep it smelling properly trashed up: Rachelle Garniez on accordion and blowing on a bottle, Amanda Homi on percussion and harmonium, and Terry Radigan on guitar and six-string electric banjo.  

Playing a standing-room only second set at Montage Music Hall, the band burrowed deep into Waits’ catalog, ignoring the obvious such as “The Piano Has Been Drinking” in favor of dirt-covered nuggets “Down in the Hole,” “Yesterday is Here,” “Chicago,” “Temptation” and, perhaps the best-known Waits song of the night, “You’re Innocent When You Dream.”

Do Waits’ often-rugged lyrics fit three women? Certainly. As the band pointed out, while this is Waits music, much of it is also the music of his frequent and overlooked co-writer. His wife, Kathleen Brennan.

Pinch-hitting for St. Germain: The Miles Electric Band

One big change on the schedule: The electro-dance band St. Germain, which was to headline Friday night’s big free show at the Chestnut Street at East Avenue Stage, has been forced to cancel its tour after one of the band members broke a leg. It is being replaced by the Miles Electric Band, an outfit dedicated to playing the music from Miles Davis’ electric period, with a roster that does include some members of Davis’ band.

Wednesday: Jazz Fest Day Six

Alison Krauss is sold out at Kodak Hall at Eastman Theater.

“Songs of Freedom,” 6 and 9 p.m., Kilbourn Hall. Ulysses Owens, Jr., has assembled music about freedom from three significant women artists: Joni Mitchell, Abbey Lincoln and Nina Simone.

Ghost-Note with MonoNeon, 5:30 and 7 p.m., Harro East. Ghost-Note is the percussion duo of Robert Sout Searight and Nate Werth, who claim influences ranging from James Brown to Afro-Cuban music. At XRIJF, they’ll be playing with MonoNeon, a YouTube star who was set to be the bassist in Prince’s next band before Prince’s death. Mono Neon’s own work is influenced by avant-garde musicians such as John Cage and the Dada artist Marcel Duchamp, which is why he often plays with a sock stuck on his bass’ headstock, and sometimes with random items duct taped to the instrument. One of MonoNeon’s albums is called Uncle Curtis Answered The Lobster Telephone. Interesting guy. The group also plays Thursday at Squeezer’s Stage at Anthology.

Davina & the Vagabonds, 8:30 and 10 p.m., Big Tent. A Minneapolis-based band, this is big-hearted cabaret rock with a lot of character onstage. A vintage sound that is jazz, R&B, soul, blues and rock.

Jeff Spevak


I’ll be on Scott Regan’s Open Tunings show, WRUR-FM (88.5), at about 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, where maybe I’ll tell an amusing story about Alison Krauss. I’ll also file a brief report from the jazz fest at about 5:50 p.m. Wednesday 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.