Yes, hot jazz can be found in Dutchess County. Formed by horn player Matt Finley in 1988, Rio JAZZ has featured sixty-two professional musicians on stage over the past three decades. On Tuesday night they celebrated their 31st annual performance at Dutchess Community College.The number of players vary anywhere from six to twelve. Last night there were nine players and one singer.
The evening’s special guest was trombonist Peter McEachern who once toured and recorded with Blues legend Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown. McEachern at one time played with Rio JAZZ. At the moment McEachern is Chairman of the Music Department at Salisbury School and Director of the Quinnipiac University Jazz Ensemble; he plays a hot trombone and was especially effective in duets with Finley.
The broad, swelling sound of Rio JAZZ depends on a host of players riding the rhythm and taking turns with solo interludes. Central to their Latin sound is the percussion of Tomas Martin Lopez who has toured with the Grammy-nominated New Swing Sextet. The Cuban and Brazilian rhythms exploding from the hands and elbows of Lopez offer a rock-solid foundation. His rhythmic interaction with drummer Joel Rosenblatt, who has recorded and toured with Paquito D’Rivera, Blood Sweat & Tears, Spyro Gyra, and Lee Ritenour. The sonic interaction of these two drummers with different styles produces remarkable ricochet. Bassist Don Miller, who has performed with Dizzy Gillespie, Clark Terry, and Ramsey Lewis, is the third pillar of Rio Jazz’s basement sound. His current cd Dial M for Bass is currently receiving extensive airplay. He plays with the best and was an animated beating heart of the band.
Rio JAZZ opened with “Madalena,” a first hit by Ivan Lins in 1970. Rio de Janeiro-born Lins, the most famous living Rio composer, has over two-dozen discs out. The lush harmony and delayed additions to chords creates a memorable sound amid the duets of Matt’s horn and Peter’s trombone. New York City native Gerry Mulligan’s “It’s Sandy at the Beach” was next. Mulligan’s melodic sax sound and arrangements were central to the success of Miles Davis, John Lewis, and others. Here Dr. Christopher Brellochs, Associate Professor of Music at Dutchess Community College, who has played at Carnegie Hall and Birdland, mightily pushed that lush sound into the stratosphere.
“Up in Smoke” by guitarist Jeff Ciampa highlighted lightning picking. Ciampa has performed and recorded with Harry Belafonte, Bill Evans, and Roy Hargrove. This is a playful, comic riff with wandering melody. Besides Ciampa’s solo cds and film work, you can hear over thirty of his compositions on YouTube. This was a pleasant goof that served as a foil for Matt Finley’s new composition, “Enchanted,’ written for his wife Denise Jordan Finley. “Enchanted” lingers in one’s memory as a mellow reflection of happy moments.
Shifting gears, they broke out with George Benson’s famous “My Latin Brother.” A fourth horn, a sax played by Bruce Berky (the sound engineer for the concert), popped up on stage for a raucous rendition of this classic. With four horns my eardrums were at threshold. They closed the first half of the set with Walter Booker’s “Book’s Bossa,” which is really a samba with a brash bossa nova edge.
After the break Denise Jordan Finley sang her wonderful new lyrics to Matt’s newest composition “When She’s Gone.” Denise sang with lyric energy and dramatic presence, yet at times her words were blotted by the big band sound, yet the performance was truly exciting. This number was so good that I wanted a rewind; it's a current hit on Spotify and iTunes.
“Travellin’ Man” by Bob Berg followed. Here the rapid tinkling of the keyboard by Peter Tomlinson, who is on the faculty of Vassar and Western Connecticut State College, brought the metaphor of traveling to life. “Bright Light” by Peter McEachern brought the “dueling” duet of Christopher’s sax and trombone, yet here they were performing in complimentary mode.
Peter Tomlinson’s keyboard was the centerpiece of his composition “The Grifters” on which horns were generously included in his showpiece. Matt closed out the evening with his autobiographical “Thirty Cigars,” about which I have previously written here. This was a great high-octane number to close on—it remains my favorite Matt Finley horn composition, yet I thought the band was just getting going and could play another couple of hours if the appreciative audience hung around. A YouTube of Matt Finley’s “Brazilian Wish” appears below.