Before I get into my thoughts on a hot weekend at Jazz & Rib Fest, there is news of transition at one of Columbus’ finest locations for live jazz: Brothers Drake. After their annual all-day celebration of National Mead Day on Saturday, August 6th, the bar and meadery will be closing for about a week for renovations that will remove the current stage. In a chat with owners Sarah and Oron Benary on Tuesday, they described a variety of factors that made it time to make a change, including the need for more mead production capacity and a desire to refine the performance space and the customer experience. While louder (rock, soul, etc.) weekend shows are being discontinued (with the exception of quarterly festival shows), Mr. Benary stressed that they remain committed to live jazz, as he feels that the meadery is a great environment for jazz and that jazz is good for business. Therefore, Jazz Wednesdays should return after a very brief hiatus, likely by the end of August, and look for jazz shows on weekend nights as well in the near future. With a focus on quieter shows, the owners are looking to enhance the sound quality of the room with new equipment suited for lower volumes and other improvements. Stay tuned for updates, and check out Brothers Drake’s slate of jazz shows before the renovation: The Liz Woolley Band (see below) on Friday, July 29th; the Electric Freq Project, featuring Jeffro Jam, Lisa Bella Donna, Chase Potter, and Willie Barthel, on Saturday, July 30th; and Nashville’s MVT on Wednesday, August 3rd! It is also worth noting that the timing of this change coincides with the departure of music and entertainment manager April Kulcsar, who has been integral to the development of the meadery as a live music destination, as she moves on to new opportunities in the music industry. Good luck to April and Brothers Drake!
Jazz Nights (and days) Out
Both the temperatures and the music were scorching at Jazz & Rib Fest 2016. I was lucky to have the chance to attend for most of Friday and Saturday’s schedules, so I saw a large selection of great jazz. After waiting out the rain early on, I started with the jazz/funk of Broad Street Lineup Friday afternoon, who hit some choice soulful grooves on classic covers like Gil Scott Heron’s “Home Is Where The Hatred Is” and Allen Toussaint’s “Everything I Do Gonh Be Funky (From Now On).” The Jazz Poetry Ensemble’s return to the fest after a 10-year absence was timely and well-received, with leader/poet Michael Vander Does reading Bertolt Brecht’s “Gods of War” over the band’s mission statement, “Make Jazz Not War.” Venerable Cleveland tenor saxophonist Ernie Krivda and his Quartet swung hard, with help from Columbus’ own Roger Hines on bass (directly after playing with JPE) and Louis Tsamous on drums. For the second year running, I greatly enjoyed a Cincinnati-based brass band, as the Nasty Nati Brass battled the heat with a mix of New Orleans classics and a wide range of covers, including “Crazy” by Gnarls Barkley and Foxy’s disco-funk jam “Get Off,” a personal favorite rendered with finesse. The all-star lineup of Milton Ruffin & The Ohio Old School Funk Band warmed up the West Bank Park crowd for headliners BWB with a set of classic smooth jazz/funk/R&B party anthems.
The Joey DeFrancesco Quartet put on a jaw-dropping display when they headlined the Genoa Park Stage. Modern organ master DeFrancesco was joined by his regular trio of Akron guitarist Dan Wilson and drummer Jason Brown as well as Australian saxophonist Troy Roberts, a new quartet recording an album this week. The music was scorching from the get go, as opener “Trip Mode,” title track of the trio’s 2015 album, was an intricate organ jazz tune played intensely fast, but all players had no problems unleashing dramatic solos. “Cuz You Know,” the last tune I heard, was pure soul jazz testifying, as Roberts took a soulful lead and DeFrancesco’s fast licks ascended into sustained majesty. My night ended with New Orleans’ Dirty Dozen Brass Band, nearing 40 years as a band but still inspiring parties and good times wherever they go. Brass band standard “Li’l Liza Jane” was delivered with an epic call and response, and Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” kept the crowd dancing. Baritone saxophonist and original member Roger Lewis was featured on a James Brown-themed medley and shone brightly. The DDBB ended Day 1 in effortlessly joyful fashion.
Saturday was even hotter, but that didn’t stop long-running local salsa jazz outfit Yumbambe from playing a fiery afternoon set that inspired a few brave souls to dance. The Liz Woolley Band followed in impressive fashion, as I was struck by the cohesiveness of the young jazz-pop ensemble. While talented vocalist Woolley was well-suited for the lead, this is truly a band of five equals, as vibraphonist Dylan Bram and guitarist Dennis Hodges contributed high-level solos and accents, bassist John Allen added nimble basslines, and drummer Brian Ellerman propelled the rhythms artfully. Jazz-funk masters fo/mo/deep held court at the AEP Bicentennial Park Stage for the dinner hour with a pleasing variety of grooves and styles, including “Groidology,” a favorite of mine since my first weekly column that gave me goosebumps while waiting in line for ribs! The AEP headliner Saturday was Grammy winner Arturo O’Farrill and the Afro Latin Jazz Octet, who delivered world-class Latin jazz with passionate grace. His Despedida Suite showcased his writing skill and the gifted ensemble, with complex melodies switching from player to player, interweaved over irresistible grooves. The Octet was a great conclusion to my time at the 2016 fest, and I can’t wait for next year!
Shows To See This Week
Saturday, July 30th (10pm – 2am): The Claudettes at The Walrus. The Chicago-based band has had a lineup change since its last stop in town, with vocalist Berit Ulseth taking over the lead role and singer/bassist Zach Verdoorn joining the founding duo of Johnny Iguana (piano) and Michael Caskey (drums). The band is preparing to record a new album with producer Mark Neill, who was behind the boards for the Black Keys’ Brothers among other well-received albums. Expect the now-quartet’s mix of blues, jazz, soul, rock and much more to continue to evolve, and this weekend’s show should be an entertaining step in that process. No cover!
Sunday, July 31st (7pm – 9pm): Bill Dobbins Trio at Bungalow Jazz. Internationally recognized pianist, composer, and educator Dobbins makes his annual stop in town before returning to Rochester, NY to teach and direct the jazz ensemble at the Eastman School of Music in the fall. Dobbins will be joined by a top-shelf rhythm section of Andy Woodson on bass and Jim Rupp on drums. Expect to hear exquisitely executed tunes on host Becky Ogden’s beautiful piano in one of the best listening rooms in town. A cash donation of $20 is suggested. Dobbins will also be in action Monday night when he joins Vaughn Wiester’s Famous Jazz Orchestra’s weekly gig at the Clintonville Woman’s Club, where vocalist Barbara Knight will also be featured.
Wednesday, August 3rd (10pm – 2am): Mark Gonzalez Quartet at Dick’s Den. Guitarist/vocalist Gonzalez is leading the August residency at Dick’s Den, which will showcase his wide range of musical interests and regular projects that don’t fall under the jazz umbrella. But the need to fill a month of Wednesdays provided the opportunity to form a fantastic band that Gonzalez is “beyond thrilled to play with” for his opening show. He will be joined by bassist Chad Greenwald and
drummer Mark Lomax, a group of great friends who have only jammed together “once or twice,” EDIT: drummer Tomasz Jarzecki, along with Joe Loyer, Gonzalez’s bandmate in the Jumbo Chimps, on sax. Gonzalez tells me that “The music will span the likes of Mingus, Hubbard, and Shorter all the way to Scofield and some tripped out versions of Zeppelin tunes.” Cover is $4.
Have a great week!