By Jessica Novak
Puddles or not, people came to Clinton Square ready to dance on Friday, July 29. The 2011 edition of the Northeast Jazz and Wine Festival kicked off with a heavy dose of funk amid the evening acts, culminating with the seasoned pros of party music known as Atlas.
Dave Hanlon’s Cookbook kicked it at the Mardi Gras Pavilion with two sets at 5 and 8:30 p.m. that showed off their soul. “We need a dance floor up in here,” shouted lead singer Ava Andrews; mere seconds later, couples, friends, kids and adults were shaking it out in front of the stage. Andrews’ big, full vocals made songs like “Love and Happiness” and “Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine” explode with energy and precision. She could also ease it down just as well to deliver some seriously sexy tunes that led to plenty of slow dancing out in front of the stage. The backing band took turns soloing, especially Ed Vivenzio on keys and Lee Tiffault on guitar, as they hooked the crowd by the ears and drew them in.
At the World Beat Pavilion, The J Project brought it down to a chill groove with Marvin Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up,” among others.
The six-piece was heavy on the bass, with a ringer tenor sax player and some synthy keyboard effects throughout the show as well. The group was obviously feeling the groove, and the crowd seemed happy to hear singer Mike Houston’s announcement of the new release Feel Good Music (independent), a solo CD issued by his brother, guitarist Jeff Houston.
Around 9:30 p.m. the party joined at the main stage with Atlas. With guitar, sax, trumpet, trombone, bass, full percussion, drums and rotating vocalists, the big party was led by the big band, complete with horn pops, dance routines and one recognizable song after another. A quick bit from Beyonce and Jay-Z’s “Crazy in Love” popped in with Earth, Wind and Fire’s “September” and Michael Jackson’s “The Way You Make Me Feel.” Later on
they broke into even more party anthems including “Car Wash,” “Jungle Boogie” and tracks from Average White Band with guest trumpet player Jeff Stockham, who offered more sonic contributions throughout the weekend with his own band, Jeff Stockham’s Jazz Police, as well as 33 DC.
Atlas’ three decades of experience were evident in their tight live show, which featured a smooth flow of hit medleys plus dance moves to match. Even after 30 years, the band still looks like they’re having the time of their lives, getting people dancing, smiling and shouting along with their extensive tune catalog.
The highlights on Saturday, July 30, seemed to circle around the alto saxophone, as the instrument made multiple appearances throughout the night.
Tradewind, which took the main stage at 4 p.m., featured employees of Syracusebased embedded systems engineering firm Critical Link. The father-daughter duo of Lauren and Dave Rice alternated turns on the tenor, alto and soprano saxophones.
Following up at the World Beat Pavilion, E.S.P. contributed three different sets at 5, 7:30 and 9 p.m. Saxophonist Brian Scherer and the band moved from smooth jazz and Pat Metheny-style songs to lively, forceful funk-leaning tunes. The group played several songs from their new CD Reach (Spider Records) and included some explanations about its making throughout the set. The album’s addition of pianist Jeff Lorber, for instance, happened through a connection bridged by Jimmy Haslip, bassist for The Yellowjackets and the producer of the CD.
The quartet played songs new and old, including one Scherer wrote 29 years ago when he was trying to imitate his favorite horn player, Jackie McLean. The piece featured Scherer’s clear, smooth tone, with a soft background of brushes on drums. E.S.P.’s sets managed to be both professional and fun, as they joked with the audience between songs and imitated police sirens on their instruments as nearby cars passed on the street.
Antonio Hart, accompanied by his young backing trio of pianist Noah Kellman, bassist Kate Davis and drummer Kevin McDonald, again brought the saxophone front and center during his 6:30 p.m. show. Kellman was cool and relaxed, as was Davis, who donned a plain black dress, a pair of big, dark, round sunglasses, some bright red lipstick and straight-across hair bangs that made her look like a fashion model from the 1960s. McDonald let his energy and enthusiasm show in his facial expressions and fervent playing.
Hart proved a natural on stage, with the look of a gentleman and an amazingly clear tone that cut through the hot air of the evening. Tunes went from funky, with syncopated bass lines, to swinging, including classics like Cannonball Adderley’s “Know What I Mean.” No matter the tune, Hart delivered everything with emotion and his backup trio followed his lead.
Next on the main stage, Dee Dee Williams brought a different kind of energy to the environment. “Hello Syracuse,” she shouted. “How are ya’ll tonight? That’s what we say in Texas: ya’ll.”
Hailing from San Antonio, the half-Irish, half-Indian blues powerhouse gushed into songs that got growly a la Dana Fuchs and also emotional, courtesy of an original titled “Damn Your Eyes.” She dipped into Stevie Ray Vaughn’s repertoire and let her thrown-together band—whom she had just met a few hours ago, including Morris Tarbell of Corn-Bred—take the lead with “The Sky is Crying.”
The audience was steadily amused as Williams went on about her experiences in relationships, how she considers herself a goddess and her announcement clarifying that she wasn’t just drinking Gatorade, but rather Gatorade with vodka. At one point she asked the audience for song topics so she could riff some impromptu blues; although Williams rejected a song suggestion concerning a root canal, she took the topic of sex and ran with it for an a capella improv that had everyone, including the sign-language interpreter, laughing right along. Williams was a breath of fresh Texas air during a humid Salt City summer night.
Just past his 10 p.m. starting time, Fowler High School graduate Jackiem Joyner took the stage and blew up Clinton Square with sax in hand. He had a presence about him that defied his smoothjazz genre title, as his band helped show off his funky side, thanks to some heavy bass lines and a killer bass solo toward the end of the set.
Joyner was playful with his audience, at one point holding out on hitting a final note he wasn’t sure he could make. He started the riff three times, before finally going for the last high note and hitting it on the final try. The large crowd filling the square ate it up during his well-received set.
Sunday, July 31, proclaimed as World Jazz Sunday and presented by La Liga, began at 1 p.m. with a lively set by 33 DC, a music gospel group that sang in Spanish yet really communicated a universal language of hope, love, joy and celebration in the power of God. Frequent English translations between songs explained the choruses they sang, thus allowing the audience to understand short stories of faith that singer Pastor Jose A. Esquilin wanted to share, as he mixed both worship and awe. One memory concerned Hurricane Hugo’s September 1989 path of devastation as it blew through their home in Puerto Rico. As Esquilin and his wife were frantically trying to board up the windows, their 6-year-old child came out of his room and started singing to God. They all stopped what they were doing, met in the center of the house and sang, somehow finding peace amid the storm.
The day continued on with other flavors, such as the traditional jazz sounds of the SOHO Trio in the World Beat Pavilion, and the groovy, bass-heavy sounds of Rochester-based AudioInflux in the Mardi Gras Pavilion. Drummer-singer Chris English sang, “This is a song that you can dance your booty off,” as the group jumped in following the bass line. They mixed originals with covers, including Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Goin’ On,” and kept the relaxed, funky vibe going all the while.
was a hot weekend, but one filled with jazz, wine, funk and soul,
breathing life once again into the fleeting summer’s party space at