by Erik Ritland
Rambling On is a seriously fun blog and podcast covering sports, music, culture, and more. Check us out on Reddit, Twitter, Facebook, or at our website.
What: The Twin Cities Jazz Festival
When: Thursday June 25 - Saturday June 27, 2015
Where: Lowertown St. Paul and surrounding area
Read part one here.
The second day of the St. Paul Jazz Festival started out with a bang – of thunder, that is. A pleasant afternoon changed suddenly when a thunderstorm moved in so quickly that it forgot to tell the pesky sun to stop shining. It was definitely the strongest sunshower I’d ever seen. Humid sunshine rolled in after the rain stopped, however, so the sidewalks and benches dried off quickly and the outdoor festivities rolled on.
Going into the festival I was especially excited to see the Araya Orta Latin Jazz Quartet. They’re fantastic on their own (members have played with stars Michael Brecker, Chick Corea, and Gloria Estefan) but this performance promised to be special, as legendary Trinidadian steel-pan artist Othello Molineaux joined them for most of their set. Early in his career he played with one of my heroes, bassist Jaco Pastorious.
My one complaint about the Twin Cities Jazz Festival, and most events in Mears Park, is that they have a limited, expensive beer selection. Plus it’s all out of cans, which isn’t a bad thing in itself, it’s just that tap beer fits the festive outdoor atmosphere a lot better. Alas, after Araya and company I enjoyed a crisp, refreshing Steel Toe Sommer Vice at one of my favorite St. Paul bars, the Bulldog.
No Room for Squares played the 6th Street Stage shortly after the Araya Orta band finished their set. The quartet of sax (Jimmie Wallace), trumpet (Jon Pemberton), bass (Adam Tucker), drums (Bill Stieger), and keys (Mikkel Romstad) was straightforward and bopping. Tucker, though he rarely took a solo, always looked intense as he kept each song rolling with his fluid bass lines. Stieger was the ringleader, his drums loose and swinging and his between song banter charming, but the star of the show was the tenor sax of Jimmie Wallace. His wild playing danced around rhythms and often summoned Coltrane.
Finding the crowd and heat a bit overbearing I made my way up the 5th Street hill to another one of my favorite St. Paul spots, the Amsterdam, to see Black Market Brass. The intimacy of the Amsterdam highlighted the musicianship of the nine-piece, although their up-tempo combination of funk, Afrobeat, jazz, and rock fits better at a party with a dance floor. Their first set was looser, featuring many trippy, droning extended sections for each member to solo.
Despite a section of inclement weather the second day of the Twin Cities Jazz Festival was as successful as the first (and I only scratched the surface of variety of bands that played throughout my beloved St. Paul). The event, which gets bigger and better every year, is certainly on the verge of becoming nationally-recognized.
Read part three of Rambling On's coverage of the Twin Cities Jazz Festival here.
Erik Ritland is a writer and musician from St. Paul, Minnesota. His blog and podcast Rambling On features commentary on music, sports, culture, and more. He was also Lead Staff Writer for Minnesota culture blog Curious North. Support Erik's music via his Patreon account, reach him via email, or find him on Facebook and Twitter.