Sunday, June 13, 2010

Roots And Riffs

(Easy Star All-Stars)

Easy Star All-Stars, the Itals, and the Wailing Souls at the waterfront world tent last night. The only disappointment was having to leave the reggae fest to venture up the hill to the outstanding Sonny Rollins concert, at 8.

The feeling lasted all of about 20 minutes, washed away by Rollins' furious first blizzard of notes.

The following extended set included calypso (a nod to his parents, both native to the Virgin Islands) - including Russell Malone with guitar voicings that sounded like steel drums; straight-ahead bebop; blues (with Rollins' jaunty, tongue-in-cheek vocals on "Dirty Shame"); and finally two stunning show-closers with former recording partner Jim Hall. In A Sentimental Mood and If Ever I Should Leave You were simply breathtaking. An audible "ooh" rippled through the Flynn as the last notes still hung in the air.

Special note here on the ensemble, too: guitarist Russell Malone's classy, elegant lines wove a shimmering gossamer thread through each number - what a fine player. When his seat was filled by Jim Hall later in the show, it seemed fitting. Longtime partner bassist Bob Cranshaw also offered many tasteful moments, and percussionists Sammy Figueroa (congas) and Kobie Watkins (set) grounded the group with spirited solo work and solidly artful playing throughout.

One bone (not trombone, just bone) to pick here that I have to mention: the eternally temperamental sound system in the house was not on its best behaviour to host a night with the jazz legends. I was fortunate to have seats 8 rows back, dead center, and I strained to hear Rollins through the first several numbers when all of the other instruments were playing. What was the experience like for folks in the back, or on the balcony? He did come through loud and clear in the ballads, and by the end during his tradeoffs with Hall the mix sounded just fine. But no one should ever have to work that hard to hear Rollins. He certainly did his part.

After the first couple of tunes, the gentleman sitting next to me whispered to his partner, "He's got a lot of WIND!" That's a fact.

I came away from the night with my head spinning, a very happy jazz fan. A more musical evening I've seldom experienced.

1 comment:

  1. Ben O'Brien SmithJune 13, 2010 at 4:37 PM

    Wish I could have gone to the Sonny Rollins show but my pocket isn't that deep. I'm happy to see someone else acknowledging the mix as an issue at a Flynn show (especially such a high profile and expensive one!). It needs to be cleared up that the issue is not the sound system itself but the person (people) running it.

    I have sat in a wide variety of locations in the Flynn over the years and tend to gravitate now towards the front row center of the balcony for a decent view and some of the best sound in the auditorium. Still, it never ceases to amaze me how long it takes the front of house engineer to tweak an obvious problem in the mix.

    A similar issue was present at the Arturo Sandoval concert last Friday. For the first three tunes (totally to over 20 minutes), the piano was far too loud and the tenor saxophone was barely audible. I glanced down at the engineer every few minutes to see if he was making any adjustments. He did at one point, though nowhere near what was needed. Friends of mine at different locations in the audience made the same observations.

    I understand that the acoustics in the Flynn Theater are not necessarily the best to work with as a front of house engineer, but I feel as though a lot of these issues fall at their fingertips on the board. I'm saddened to hear the there were issues for the Sonny Rollins concert but I'm not surprised in the least.