Friday, January 20, 2017

Laura Dubin Trio's Live at the Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival on CD

Live at the Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival may not roll off the tongue like Sunday at the Village Vanguard or A Night at Birdland, but to pianist Laura Dubin it's a very special venue. As a young Rochester girl, the festival influenced her love for jazz. As the liner notes of this double CD set explain, she traveled the world, honed her craft, and returned home to deliver "a triumphant performance that brings down the house." That sounds like a rather corny story made up by publicists, but when you listen to these two discs all the way through it definitely sounds like that's what happened. Joined by Kieran Hanlon on bass and Antonio H. Guerrero on drums, Dubin produces an exciting and dynamic set that's best served by cliches such as tour de force or electric. Yeah, I wrote those words, and I own 'em.

I feel like I'm being unfair to the XRIJF as well. It's a big deal, with close to 200,000 people attending every year. This particular performance is from July 2016, where the festival's performers included Erykah Badu, Gregg Allman, Chick Corea and Bruce Hornsby. And while the crowd watching this trio sounds relatively small, despite being in the Xerox Auditorium, they are notably enthusiastic and appreciative of the hometown girl who's done good.

What makes this particular live jazz recording special is a rousing combination of a great recording (drummer Guerrero serves as producer and recording engineer) and a lively and accessible performance by the trio. I suppose this latter part is due to the song selection--Dubin excels at bringing new life out of the old standards through thoughtful juxtapositions of both her original songs and even a few classical pieces such as Beethoven's Sonata No. 8 "Pathetique" and Mozart's "Rondo alla Turca." In other spots, she blends themes from perfect bedfellows such as Debussy and Gershwin, or Ravel and Rogers & Hammerstein. These fantasias are so fluid and played with such energy that the songs might be over before you make the most obvious connections.

If I had to pick one thing that I love about this recording, though, it would have to something very obvious--Dubin's performance. She fully embraces those sweeping and melodic soundscapes of Bill Evans, but then she'll tap the brakes and become playful like Bill Melendez. She's always switching it up for the grateful audience, playing pure and dependable ragtime one minute and, well, the Minute Waltz the next.

Overall, this is a clear-eyed and straightforward jazz performance that isn't rewriting history but celebrating it with a huge smile. Dubin thanks her audience every few songs, and you can hear a deep complement of palpable emotions in those two simple words--gratitude, modesty and excitement. And yes, she really does bring down the house.

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