XRIJF Day 8 – Helen Sung, Red Baraat, Cyrille Aimée
In another great night of jazz, I thought I would do another recap of the night. I took in three shows, Helen Sung at Hatch at 6pm, Red Baraat at 7:15pm in Harro East, and finally Cyrille Aimée at 10pm in Max of Eastman Place.
Hatch Hall is equally beautiful and unforgiving, and Sung made the most of her set there. She was late to jazz, as she only discovered the genre in her twenties at the University of Texas, when she finally “freed herself” from the “heel of my Russian piano teacher.” Eventually she would go on to study at the Thelonius Monk Institute in Boston, further cultivating her jazz chops and her love of Monk’s work. Sung was incredibly humble and modest on the microphone in between sets, downplaying her own talents and her “quest for swing,” and profusely thanking the XRIJF, and the audience for their fervor and listening.
Many jazz pianists have studied classical, and some you can hear the classical influence in their chords and styles, but so few have combined the two effectively; to synthesize jazz through the lens of classical, and to make it work. Sung has worked hard to make jazz her life’s work, saying that she didn’t want to fake it just because “(she) has the chops.” Every chord dripped in classical sounds and style, aside from a few bebop chords, from the voicings to the way that Sung played with cadences and texture changes. With impeccable technique, she effectively delivered her message.
A small woman with a huge sound and emotional — but not overly dramatic — presence and delivery, Sung played a varied set. Starting with a more modern take on an oldie, “Sweet and Lovely,” she progressed to a Monk medley, containing “Eronel,” “Light Blue,” and “In Walked Bud,” that combined Sung’s classical touch with hints of Monk’s quirk and flavor. Moving to Chick Corea’s “Armando’s Rhumba,” she played an original, “Hope Springs Eternal,” that combined Romantic and Impressionist sounds and Nelson Riddle’s take on the blues, including a riff that he often used (think “Witchcraft”) and frequently using the 6th scale degree over the chords. She ended with two cookers, “Equipoise,” a standard covered by drummers Max Roach and Roy Haynes, and then a searing and spectularly done James P. Johnson stride piano piece, “Carolina Shout.”
And for something completely different.
Next was Red Baraat, the epitome of a street band. The nine-piece ensemble featured a drum kit, percussion section, dhol (a two headed Southeast Asian drum), a guitarist, a sousaphone, and a brass section with trumpet, soprano sax, trombone, and bari sax. Man, were they fun.
Harro was an odd choice; these guys would have excelled on the street. Incredibly high energy, the group that’s led by Rochester native and dhol player Sunny Jain, produced volumes of sound with grooves and rhythms informed by bhangra and Qawwali tradition, but played with the aesthetic and horn sounds of a rock-funk New Orleans street band. Think of these guys as Bonerama gone bhangra.
Blasting through songs, the group got people standing, and kept them there.
The highlight of the show was without a doubt the dance competition. About eight people got up on stage, and danced like crazy, but one stood out. Eastman faculty member and Jain’s teacher “from 10 (years old) to 18” Rich Thompson got up and cut a rug with some serious dad moves. It was fun for all, and obviously a treat for Jain.
I would love to see these guys out on the street, as they fully deserve their review by the NPR, “the best party band in years.”
Finally, I saw Cyrille Aimee, who just released a new CD, “Let’s Get Lost.” A XRIJF favorite, Aimée not only put on a great show, but improved from last year’s performance.
Performing a deft set, combining both standards and original compositions, the French Aimée and her band, which had acoustic and electric guitars, bass, and drums, took the sounds of French hot jazz and gypsy, and weaved them into a polished performance.
Aimée has incredible diction, whether she is singing in French or English. This is a trait that is equally and thoroughly appreciated, while being equally rare. She reminds a listener of a cooler, bluer, and sassier Stacey Kent, taking that lyrical delicateness and melding with some attitude to create a girlish sound that is still effective emotionally and musically.
A jazz singer to her core, Aimée also uncorked some impressive scat singing. In very high heels and a tight pencil cocktail dress, she bobbed and shimmied with an impressive head of curly hair while scatting, using her left hand in a Bobby McFerrin-like horn imitation. She truly scatted like a horn player, using an informed background to combine licks, melodies, and even some catchy riffs in her solos.
Her band was just as loose, fun, and great as well, particularly her bassist and acoustic guitarist. Seeing Django Reinhardt patterns from anyone is impressive, but Adrian Moignard unleashed fast lines, repeating eighths notes and strumming that whipped the chord into cheers, and bluesy riffs. Aimée also sang a duet with her bassist, a French and English rendition of “Autumn Leaves.”
Aimée and her group owned the Max stage (which has continued its reputation of excellent sound), in a fun, entertaining, and exceptional performance performance.