The city of Albany made the call to hold the Riverfront Jazz Festival at its outdoor amphitheater Saturday. Sadly, they made the wrong call. Albany mayor Gerald Jennings closed the show at 3 p.m. after the third band, canceling the following three headline acts and the 8 p.m. fireworks because of threatening weather.
“We can’t continue, as far as I’m concerned,” said Mayor Gerald Jennings before the announcement. “Public safety is my first concern.”
While the summerlong Alive at Five concert series uses the 787 underpass for its rain days — not appropriate for jazz — the Saturday event had the backup option to move into the Palace Theater. But that option stayed open only until 8 a.m. Friday, explained Susan Cleary, director of the city’s Office of Special Events.
“We pushed it until 2 p.m. Friday. At that time the forecasts seemed OK for most of the day.” The decision involved more than the music acts, and included consideration of the underwriters, the vendors, tents, staging, and all the other components of a festival.
Still, the day was far from a complete loss, the decent-sized crowd seeing three excellent acts, though not the final three world-class jazz they were expecting. The canceled bands were trombonist Delfeayo Marsalis, guitarist Charlie Hunter and closing act The Mosiac Project, the all-women band featuring Terri Lyne Carrington on drums with vocalists Nona Hendryx and Gretchen Parlato.
As a result, The Pedrito Martinez Group was the last group to play, rising to the occasion. Cuban percussionist Martinez, a staple in the New York City club scene, put on a fun show, treating the venue like an Afro-Cuban jazz dance club. Venezuelan bassist Alvaro Benavides and Cuban keyboardist Araicne Trujillo were excellent on their instruments. With them, plus Martinez on conga and Jhair Sala on cowbell, the sound was full and strong. They were less about chops and tricks: instead they sang in Spanish, shouted, called and answered each other through the verses, shook their bodies at one another, and generally drove high energy at the audience for nonstop entertainment.
All four sang tightly together, Trujillo’s voice often alone and beautiful alongside her piano playing.
Some of the crowd filled the standing front area. Some attempted a subdued dance with the music, and a few were slightly skilled in more Latin rhythms like the clave and rhumba.
Martinez, wearing a sleeveless white T-shirt, a green flat-rimmed Yankees cap and jeans, was more concerned with winning the crowd than playing intricate percussion. He won on both counts.
At 3:17, Martinez must have got the signal to stop, because he abruptly ended the song, thanked the crowd and exited. Ten minutes later, rain started to fall. Martinez will be back in the region in November for A Place for Jazz concert.
Capital Region trio “Way Down” preceded Martinez, a young threesome from the school of John Scofield and Medeski, Martin and Wood. They played a set of fusion-based melodic originals, rotating on the solos and coming together for the finale of each song. While portions had demanding time signatures, most tunes bounced straight, particularly the New Orleans inspired “Groove for Nola.” Drummer Kevin Urvalek beat out a calypso rhythm with his both hands on the snare drum.
“This next tune is a dance number,” said guitarist Justin Henricks. He was right about the tune. Unfortunately, it was too early in the day for anyone to step up to dance. At this point, rain began spraying for a few moments, blowing over from a distant rainfall.
The final tune, probably their best, called “Dylan’s Song,” named after its originator bassist Dylan Perrillo, featured great guitar work from Henricks.
Local jazz group The Chronicles opened the day. The Chronicles earned the spot on Friday night, when they competed and won against seven other local groups who played around the city to win votes from fans.
The city of Albany has a lot of experience making weather decisions for their outdoor concerts. Sometimes they hit it right, sometimes they don’t. It was too bad for all involved that Saturday was a miss.