JAZZ FEST 2013, Day 3: Ron reviews Rafael Zaldivar, Christian Wallumrod Ensemble, Dave Rivello Ensemble


I chose my Sunday night venues with the best of intentions. After researching all of the acts, watching videos, and listening to the music, I picked what I thought would be the best shows. So I was surprised to be disappointed by two out of three of them.

Rafael Zaldivar is an excellent pianist, but he didn’t seem to give much thought to the structure for his show at Max of Eastman Place. The first piece, for instance, lasted 18 minutes. That’s a bit too long, especially for a rambling work that was tough to get a grip on as it was. When it was over he said it was actually two tunes, but you couldn't tell.

By his fourth selection, a standard he did not name, he was playing interesting harmonies and doing fine two-handed spider-walking down the keys. There were flashes of real talent from Zaldivar and his bassist and drummer, but ultimately he failed to engage the audience.

I thought surely the eclectic Christian Wallumrod Ensemble from Norway, over at the Lutheran Church, would be an unusual, but wonderful, mixture of instruments and musical styles. And it looked promising. On the stage were the usual suspects; a trumpet, sax, piano, vibes, drums, etc. But there was also a violin, a cello, a harmonium, and a toy piano. And at one point the percussionist played a saw beautifully.

But it turned out the group was way too conceptual, experimenting with musical ideas rather than playing music. The first piece had frustrating stops and starts, which I’m sure was intellectually interesting, but not musically interesting. The second was mostly an exercise in doing anything with your instrument except playing it traditionally. Again, interesting, but not too musical. Finally at the end of the set the group actually played a piece of music. Start to finish. Just music. And it was great.

I finished the night with the Dave Rivello Ensemble at Xerox Auditorium. This 12-piece band just gets better and better. Members like trumpeter Mike Kaupa and bass clarinetist Dean Keller have been in the group for a long time, but most of the members are Eastman School of Music students who stay for a few years before moving on.

Kaupa, Keller, and saxophonist Doug Stone all had excellent solos. So did outstanding Eastman students like Alexa Tarantino (sax) and Chris Teal (drums). But the real stars of this band are Rivello’s compositions and arrangements. Rivello speaks the language of jazz orchestra eloquently; his voicings are just gorgeous.

There was just one thing that didn't work. Kaupa, a great trumpet player, sometimes uses electronic devices to enhance his sound and play in small group settings. I can see where that would work when he’s the only trumpet player. But when you’ve got two other trumpets right beside you, not to mention all the other instruments, why use a machine to broadcast the sound?

Tomorrow night I’m looking forward to hearing the Cuban pianist Alfredo Rodriguez and his trio at Kilbourn Hall. I also want to hear guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel at Xerox Auditorium. And I can't miss saxophonist Eric Alexander and pianist Harold Mabern at Montage.