It’s 5:30p.m at the onramp to evening. A muddy, ice-rimmed park-n-ride lot adjacent to the Red Carpet Inn just off the Thruway near Geneva—New York not Switzerland—seems an unlikely place from which to launch a joint road trip to Rochester (The Flower City!) for what will turn out to be the best jazz concert on the planet last night.
Freud would have called the motel’s use of Red Carpet overdetermined. It’s an image crushed under the weight of too many possible references. Red is the color of the Republican Party and of the electoral map of this state beyond the blue bastion of Manhattan Island and its satellites, among them the fallen industrial city of Rochester. Back where we started from, Geneva is as red as it gets. Red is also the color of the commies—still and always a threat, from Beijing to Moscow to Park Slope. Then there’s the bright American blood shed for freedom, and the Red Carpet rolled out for film stars and haughtily trodden open bythese self-aggrandizing liberal Hollywood elites. But President Trump treads on one too on the way to state balls and visits.
Subsequent googling of the Red Carpet Inn revealed that Luxury Trip Advisor allocates it a meager 1.5 stars. One respondent is blunt—“not worth the price.” Another lofts a deft allusion to a line from William Butler Yeats: “Motorist pass this one by.” With these small, unhoped-for blessings faith in humanity is momentarily restored.
My travelling companion for the evening’s jazz odyssey is a boyhood friend from Bainbridge Island, Washington, like me, marooned Upstate in the Empire State. After graduating from high school thirty-four years ago, we had driven across the country together in a Datsun B-210 on the way from the Northwest corner of the contiguous forty-eight to our respective Eastern seaboard colleges. On our approach from the west to Buffalo in late August of 1983 we had argued over whether to swing slightly north to take in the splendor of Niagara Falls. He vetoed the detour. We did not visit the mighty falls, nor stop at Geneva’s Red Carpet Inn, if it even existed back then.
Here we are, now in Trump Time, perched alongside that same stretch of road. As my old friend emerges from his vintage Subaru wagon still clad in its Washington plates a hulking Ford F-250 pick-up pulls up and the driver surveys us unapologetically. You can practically catch his lips repeating the mantra of Homeland Security: “If you see something, say something.”
My friend has a giant white bandage on his right hand yet has just climbed out of the driver’s seat of his car. He wears stylish white-soled urbanite sneakers and shoulders a suspiciously chic and bulging backpack. As he gets into my Honda, the menacing truck roars off emitting clouds of exhaust along with the message of its bumper stickers barely visible through a coating of road salt: “Make America Great Again” and “I’m Pro-Sasquatch and I Vote!” That explains the drive-by surveillance: to even the most casual observer, it looks like my friend has had a dust-up with the Man Ape of the Empire State.
This evening’s route from the Red Carpet Inn parallels the western reach of the Erie Canal towards its terminus in Rochester. God willing—and many are the houses of worship in these Christian counties—we’ll end up at Bop Shop Records in Rochester to hear another of our Bantabridgian pals and classmates, that most musical of modern drummers, Michael Sarin. Earlier in the day he, too, has driven all the way up from the Big Apple to propel a high-energy, razor sharp quintet led by his long-time collaborator, trombonist Joe Fiedler. Of his own journey to Rochester (one much-longer then that of his Upstate cronies), the famed drummer remarks that somewhere along the way he saw a “Lock Her Up!” billboard still gloating over Hillary’s political demise. It’ll probably still be there come 2020.
Still two hours before show-time, we head west on the Thruway before bending north towards Rochester on I-490. The rain turns to wet snow as we exit onto Monroe Avenue by a handsome neo-classical branch of the city library perched over the freeway, one of the many that between them have strangled and leeched the lifeblood from wilted Flower City, now necklaced by malls and gutted by the near-total evacuation by Kodak: in 1973 the company employed 120,000 workers; just over 6,000 are left.
An inveterate self-challenger, my friend chooses a Vietnamese noodle place and gamely makes his way through a large bowl of soup with his off-hand, his bandaged right one propped up on the table in a posture that these days could be taken as a Heil, Trump salute.
Duly fortified with Pho and Laotian beer, we head out Monroe Avenue in search of the Bop Shop (“Hand-Selected Vinyl Since 1982″). On the first pass we nearly sail right by it in the last of the twilight, not suspecting the place might be set in a petit mid-century strip mall between a hair salon and a chophouse, the names of the businesses printed in white letters on the green awning. But now we see its rows of alluring and expertly-curated LPs beckoning beneath intense fluorescent lighting that bathes the holdings in a clinical glare allowing for close inspection of the cover art in all its detail and diversity: while a book should not be judged iby ts cover, an LP definitely should be. On removing the discs from their sleeves the operating-table brightness makes possible a careful examination of the condition of the vinyl grooves.
The walls of the Bop Shop are rich with vintage posters and other objects of fascination. The store is as much interactive Kunstkammer as place of commerce—gift shop as museum, where the treasures themselves are for sale.
I peruse the Dexter Gordon bin, congratulating myself for owning all the LPs I see there. That is another service of such a tremendous shop: both to confirm and to query ones own tastes and collecting instincts. Nearby, I’m tempted by a Hank Jones record with him on electric harpsichord. But in the end I decide against a purchase that might dislodge this virtuosic, subtle player from his vaunted suavity with the jabs and jolts of such an alarming instrument.
A few minutes after eight the lights are mercifully turned down and Fiedler’s quintet takes to the elegant bandstand near the back of the long rectangular space—the musicians set up on a Turkish rug in front of a big Bop Shop banner and are flanked to one side by a bookshelf of biographies from Bach and Brecht to Mahler and Mozart, Shostakovich and Stravinsky. The last of these figures memorably sat in the front row at Birdland on 52nd Street in 1950 and heard Charlie Parker quote from the opening of the Firebird Suite in his own bebop burner Koko much to the Russian composer’s delight.
Here’s guessing that Old Igor nods approvingly inside his biography’s binding at evening’s end when the quintet launches into a super-humanly up-tempo rendition of Fiedler’s E. T. — a tribute to Swedish trombonist Eje Thelin. Even after a terrifically demanding 100-minute set of original contrapuntal tangos, bodacious bugaloos, and polymorphous Latin-infused fare of insouciant brilliance—Fiedler dances nimbly high in his range, then lets sheets of sound pour down past the controlled frenzy of his rhythm section: the exuberant, fiercely creative Sarin on drums; the colossal technician, hugely entertaining stylistic compendium of the guitar, Pete McCann; the rhythmically and melodically fantastical, yet unerringly reliable Rob Jost on bass. Tenor saxophonist Jeff Lederer, responds to Fiedler’s final solo with a blistering display of his own as unfazed by the pace as Parker himself might have been had his ghost been summoned to the aptly name Bop Shop.
The fleetest of the night’s offerings speeds us back to the park-n-ride, the quintet’s recent CD, Like, Strange ready to light up the Upstate night.