Jazz Fest 2019, Day 4: Jeff reviews Enemy and Paa Kow


Paa Kow's Monday, June 24 jazz festival performance at The Montage Music Hall was heavy on percussion. - PHOTO BY JOSH SAUNDERS
  • Paa Kow's Monday, June 24 jazz festival performance at The Montage Music Hall was heavy on percussion.

Embracing the uncomfortable

When a band climbs onstage, a trio wearing all black, you will soon discover one truth.

There are many shades of black.

Cavernous Christ Church can make a band look and sound like trolls scuffling through a shadowy cavern. Enemy overcame that through sheer virtuosity during its first set Monday night at the CGI Rochester International Jazz Festival. First the thrum of Frans Petter Eldh’s bass. Then Kit Downes reaches into the depths of his piano to elicit a new language from the strings. Drummer James Maddren is a timekeeper from many dimensions.

This is the kind of band that audiences might fear. Because the unfamiliar is uncomfortable, isn’t it? This is not Paul Marinaro celebrating the 100th birthday of Nat King Cole Tuesday night at Kilbourn. It’s more like when, after seeing Girls in Airports Friday night at Lutheran Church of the Reformation, a woman said to me: “What was that all about?”

Sometimes you don’t need an answer. Enemy only poses questions. The British trio comes together, then scatters. Tempos change: slow, fast, slow, fast. Now restrained, Maddren using brushes to hush, we’re listening for that common thread between the musicians. And there it is… then gone. No, it’s over there! Minimalist taps on snare drums and cymbals, then sudden intensity.

Swinging from a light breeze to the very definition of cacophony. Dichotomy, that’s Enemy. A song title gives away the game: “Children With Torches.” Downes explains how another song is inspired by Maddren’s hometown of Croydon, just outside of London, “a gray, brutalist part of the world. And a part of that is beauty.”

Ominous, then beauty. Enemy understands what it has just put its audience through. Eldh went to the microphone before the final song and admitted that this arrhythmia is not for everyone: “Thanks for understanding.”

Today’s jazz haiku

Bathed in pale blue light
subterranean echoes
boundaries broken

Electrical dysfunction

Paa Kow was the talk of the fest after its first show at The Montage Music Hall. An eight-piece, multiracial band, led by Ghana native Paa Kow, the band returned to the packed club for its second performance with three sets of drums up front, congas, and what looked like a few drums that had floated ashore and were hand decorated, including one the size of a small jet engine pointed right at the audience.

The band was a groove machine — with horns, electric guitar and bass and keyboards, a shaker the size of a basketball with a skirt of beads that rattled when you beat on it, plus a little cowbell and whistle. Paa Kow even dropped a little philosophy on the crowd, describing how we all had to work together; you need the left hand to wash the right side of your body, and the right hand to wash the left side. World peace as a hygiene lesson.

Then a loud pop as the band finished a song. The onstage electricity was gone, and the band walked off the stage. As it turns out, there was a water main break in the basement, affecting the entire building, and the knee-high flood had finally caught up to a circuit breaker. Indeed, pumps were working to clear the basement as the crowd filed out, with hoses on the sidewalk draining water into the street.
The Montage expects to be ready for Tuesday’s shows with The Willows at 6 and 10 p.m.

Day Five: Jeff’s picks

Marc Cohn & the Blind Boys of Alabama headline the 8 p.m. Tuesday concert at Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre. Tickets are still available. By the way, Friday’s George Benson show at the venue is sold out.

VickiKristinaBarcelona, 5:30 and 7:30 p.m., Geva Theatre Center’sFielding Stage. This trio of women were one of the captivating acts at last year’s fest, with their interpretations of Tom Waits’ songs. They were back in January for a packed show at The Little Theatre. It’ll be all Waits again.

Nat King Cole at 100 with Paul Marinaro, 6 and 9 p.m., Kilbourn Hall. You’re singing Nat King Cole? You better be good. This Chicago singer sounds up to the job.

Ozmosys, 7 and 9:15 p.m., Temple Building Theater. Omar Hakim, Rachel Z, Linley Marthe and Kurt Rosenwinkel. I gotta stop using the word “supergroup.”

On Tuesday, I’ll be at VickiKristinaBarcelona and Ozmosys. And if I can find a half hour to stick my head in Eastman Theatre for Marc Cohn & the Blind Boys of Alabama, that’s another night where dichotomy is the operative word.