As you saw from the previous "Live Views" post (OK, my cell phone camera is just not capable of capturing anything in motion), Billy Bang returned to Rochester to play on Thursday night after his "sold-out" appearances at the Montage Grill during this year's Rochester International Jazz Festival and previous appearances at RIJF and other venues. Rochester loves Mr. Bang and for good reason. A good size crowd came to Water Street to see Bang's most recent appearance in the Flour City and showed its appreciation over and over.
Getting out of Buffalo just in time to miss the two foot blizzard, and while the Winter's (it's still Fall, right?) first flurries swirled outside the Water Street Music Hall, Billy Bang and his incredible quartet were hot enough to melt the early snows in Rochester. Those who have heard Billy Bang play know that he has used his music as catharsis for demons from his experiences in Vietnam. I couldn't help but think that if the members of his stunning quartet—Andrew Bemkey on piano, Todd Nicholson on bass, and Newman Taylor Baker on drums—were also veterans of that war the intensity may have been too much. Starting out with Yo! Ho Chi Minh Is In The House from Bang's Vietnam: The Aftermath and ending with Chan-Chan, a wonderful tribute to the members of the Buena Vista Social Club, the playing throughout the evening was full of blistering solos by all members (especially Bang and Bemkey, whose playing was just off-the-hook at times) interspersed with quiet bits of reflection.
My earlier foray into jazz at Water Street of course had been Al Dimeola who trended toward the sound of a rock band. Water Street is such a large venue, I was worried about how the sound of a more traditional quartet would carry in the cavernous space. It fared quite well, given the aforementioned intensity of the playing and the massive sound system. The upstairs was cordoned off as the now "necessary" VIP space (OK, I didn't get in as a VIP this time as I did with Al Dimeola), but there was plenty of room. I understand that Water Street has no need of chairs in general for most of its shows, but my butt and back sure wish that they could afford something more than those cheap plastic folding chairs. Despite this small annoyance, it was another one of those quintessential Rochester music experiences . . . world class musicians, inexpensive tickets, easy accommodations, and cold beer.