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Friday at Winter Jazzfest (Day 1)

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Jazzfest menu

One of the most anticipated yearly music events – it was my first time to attend. Although I’ve done quite a bit of gig hopping before (too much temptation in New York even on a regular night), this time I probably set a personal record for the amount of bands heard in one night: caught 12 of the 31 groups on Friday (which would still make only 38% of all the Winter Jazzfest treats on offer for the day :)).

It was truly an unforgettable experience (and quite a challenge, to process that much musical information and find a way through the crowds)!

Here are some of my impressions from the first day of the Bleecker street & surroundings gig hopping marathon:

1. Started off with the Curtis Hasselbring’s Mellow Edwards @ Le Poisson Rouge, around 6 PM

Curtis Hasselbring's New Mellow Edwards

Curtis Hasselbring, trombone & guitar / Chris Speed, tenor saxophone & clarinet / Mary Halvorson, guitar / Matt Moran, vibraphone / Trevor Dunn, bass / Satoshi Takieshi, drums & percussion / Ches Smith, drums & percussion

Heard a nice guitar solo (tastefully poetic, created a spacious and open feel as if watching clouds in the sky…) by Mary Halvorson, but didn’t stay for the whole thing, still. In the early hours, there were quite few people everywhere, so it seemed like an ideal time for gig hopping and trying to see it all…

2. Off to Kenny’s Castaways to hear Ben Allison w/ Strings

Ben Allison trio w/ Strings

Jenny Scheinman (violin), Steve Cardenas (guitar), Ben Allison (bass)

That was one of the shows I had been looking forward to hearing (I’ve heard all three of them before myself quite a few times, but not this lineup).

I actually didn’t find it that interesting (the combination of jazz and folk often makes me wish it was either one or the other since rhythmically they are such different worlds). Great musicians though.

3. The Bitter End: Joel Harrison String Choir playing the music of Paul Motian

Joel Harrison String Choir

Joel Harrison, Liberty Ellman, guitars / Christian Howes, Sam Bardfeld, violins / Mat Maneri, viola / Dave Eggar, cello

That actually was not a tribute band (active for 10 years already, starting way before Paul Motian died…). Having a string quartet seems to be this year’s big trend for many bands…  This one was nice, but I still thought I should move on…

4. Julian Lage Group @ Sullivan Hall

Julian Lage, guitar / Jorge Roeder, bass / Tupac Mantilla, percussion / Aristides Rivas, cello / Dan Blake, sax

Adam Schatz presenting Julian Lage Group

This was one of the shows that I was really looking forward to hearing. And yes, Julian Lage is an absolutely amazing guitar player and instrumentalist with a great sense of drama. And they seemed to be enjoying what they do (and the audience loved them back for it) and the energy in the show was great (reminding of Pat Metheny Group somewhat).

But the melodic lines Lage played seemed surprisingly random, considering the outstanding quality of his musicianship. That kind of devalued the thing for me

Zinc Bar around 8:15 PM

(altough I guess great lines aren’t the most important thing people expect to hear nowadays)… So I didn’t stay for long.

Then tried to get in to Zinc Bar – as did many others, so it looked rather hopeless…Ditched the idea for the time.

Pete Robbins / Simon Jermyn / Oscar Noriega / John Hollenbeck / Ches Smith

5. Went to Kenny’s Castaways instead for Pete Robbins, Simon Jermyn, Oscar Noriega, Ches Smith

Pete Robbins and Oscar Noriega, alto saxophone / Simon Jermyn, bass guitar / Ches Smith and John Hollenbeck, drums

This sounded great,actually, but unfortunately it was quite crowded again, so I just stayed for a couple tunes…

6. Quickly checked out le Poisson Rouge and Nels Cline Singers

Nels Cline, guitar / Yuka C. Honda, keyboard / Scott Amendola, drums & electronics / Trevor Dunn, bass

It was quite crowded and didn’t seem like my cup of tea, so I hopped on…

Lucy Woodward

7. Lucy Woodward @ the Bitter End

Chris Bullock, saxophone / Nate Townsley, drums / Michael League, bass / Henry Hey, keys / Bob Lanzetti, guitar / Andy Hunter, trombone / Mike Maher, trumpet / Lucy Woodward, lead vocal

I guess some of those people form Michael League’s band the Snarky Puppy (often performing at Rockwood Music Hall). It was pretty nice. And the Bitter End was the cosiest (if seated) of the Bleecker Street venues and allowed a bit less stressful listening (although they had a pretty intimidating two drink minimum per person per set), so stayed there until the next band. Especially as, at that point, the lines outside had become pretty scary and finding a seat in any of the venues wasn’t that easy anymore…

Chris Morrissey w/ Aaron Parks, Mark Guiliana, Ben Wendel, Nir Felder

8. Chris Morrissey @ the Bitter End

Chris Morrissey, bass / Mark Guiliana, drums / Aaron Parks, piano / Ben Wendel, saxophone / Nir Felder, guitar

Stayed @ the Bitter End for this, but unfortunately it turned out to be a little bit of a disappointment…Not even sure, why exactly: maybe the compositions weren’t intriguing for my ear or was it just an off night or what… Aaron Parks played some beautiful solos, but despite that, it wasn’t that interesting, somehow. So I left after 3 or 4 tunes.

9. Another attempt to get into Zinc Bar, this time successful. Heard 3 or 4 tunes by Sketchy Black Dog.

Misha Piatigorsky, piano / Chris Wabich, drums / Danton Boller, bass / Liv Wagner, violin / Hilary Castle, violin / Colin Benn, viola / Agnes Nagy, cello

Sketchy Black Dog

The hardest to get in to, Zinc Bar was grooving that night… Misha’s set was about half way when we got there: and the atmosphere was hot. Great playing by everybody in the band, the string quartet sounded meticulous (+ it looked great how the women, dressed in red, were positioned on stage, encircling Misha behind the piano. Very sexy). Chris Wabich on drums was grooving and Misha himself was extremely charming (in a little bit of a Russian sort of way). His soulful phrasing (a quality that has become more and more hard to find lately), great feel for the blues and energy were really enjoyable. The repertoire seemed to consist of pop tunes (heard some Jimi Hendrix, the Police and so on). This is something almost everybody tries to do nowadays, but this band actually made it work, in style.

10. Gilad Hekselman 4tet @ Zinc Bar

 Gilad Hekselman, guitar / Mark Turner, saxophone / Joe Martin, double bass / Marcus Gilmore, drums

Gilad Hekselman 4tet w/ Mark Turner, Joe Martin, Marcus Gilmore

That was the highlight of the whole festival for me: really great band! I think Gilad Hekselman is one of the (quite few, actually,  based on my personal observations and comparisons between now and what I heard 2 years ago) musicians that has evolved a lot during the past couple of years, both as a guitar player and bandleader. He’s also one of the guys who builds the modern and new stuff consciously, on a strong foundation, so it actually sounds convincing (as opposed to somebody that would try to do some of this just because it’s hip and ending up sounding like excerpts from a jazz geek’s exercise book). I got huge respect for this kind of players, looking forward to what’s next from Gilad if he keeps moving on like that… Also, it was refreshing to see them playing without sheet music (except for Mark Turner, but in his case it was pretty understandable, as the melodies were complicated. And his playing didn’t seem to suffer from it anyhow). Joe Martin and Marcus Gilmore were absolutely mind blowing!! These are the real cats.

I wish there was a way to distinguish musicians of this level from the more and more undefinable (almost random) bag of “jazz”. The tools and awareness these musicians have for the improvising art are completely of another level – and they would deserve the credit for it also. It is a tremendous thing, to play this well.

Adam Rudolph's Moving Pictures

11. Adam Rudolph’s Moving Pictures @ Zinc Bar

Adam Rudolph, handrumset, kongos, djembe, tarija, zabumba, thumb pianos, sintir, multiphonic vocal, percussion / Graham Haynes, cornet, flugelhorn, percussion / Kenny Wessel, electric and acoustic guitars, banjo, percussion / Ralph Jones, flute, bass clarinet, alto flute, sop and tenor saxophones, bamboo flutes / Jerome Harris, acoustic bass guitar, slide guitar, vocal, percussion / Matt Kilmer, frame drums, kanjira, bata, percussion / James Hurt, cajon, sogo, kidi, bells, bata, percussion

That was pretty nice, and a contrast from the previous band – more like a world music sort of thing.

12. JD Walter @ Zinc Bar

 JD Walter, vocals / Jim Ridl, piano / Donald Edwards, drums / Luques Curtis, bass

JD Walter, vocals / Jim Ridl, piano / Donald Edwards, drums / Luques Curtis, bass

The only show so far that was a bit behind schedule (started a bit before 2 AM). I liked it, especially the deeply satisfying groove of the bass player, Luques Curtis! But I felt pretty saturated with all the music (and the alcoholic beverages that were softly enforced throughout the night) and decided to call it a day after a few tunes (definitely wouldn’t mind hearing JD Walter’s band more thoroughly some other time, though). Had a ($1) slice of pizza from Gray’s Papaya and arrived home around 4 AM (after some exciting shuttle bus transfers on the Q line). Was a great day!

Claudia Quintet @ Douglass Street Music Collective

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Claudia Quintet @ Douglass Street Music Collective

With Chris Speed (clarinet & sax), John Hollenbeck (drums & compositions), Ted Reichman (accordion), Drew Gress (bass), Matt Moran (vibes), special guest Gary Versace on piano. The place was really packed, lot of people standing…  Well, honestly, it definitely wasn’t a bad show, but somehow it really didn’t fascinate me so much – i think it sounded more promising on their myspace (and all those great reviews they’ve gotten). It also felt like they were holding back a lot, keeping it from going where it could go. As a friend of mine said, I like what they’re trying to do more than what it actually is. Maybe it was that particular show and them having new- underrehearsed- material. It got a little more interesting after the first couple of tunes, but in general I mostly stayed because they made me donate $10 for it. Surprisingly, i thought the room’s sound quality wasn’t that great, so not crazy about the venue either. Didn’t feel like a cool place to me. Drew Gress was amazing, though. Yeah, I’m a bit embarrassed to be such a snob with live music here, but I just want to get high on it, guess I’ve developed an addiction of a sort…

The last couple of posts came with an unusual delay – because I’ve been sick lately. So sick that on Monday night I actually missed Ben Perowsky’s Moodswing Orchesta @ Rose. Feel really really sorry for that one…

Brad Shepik trio @ Rose Live Music, Williamsburg

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Brad Shepik trio @ Rose

Brad Shepik trio @ Rose

Once again, great live music @ Rose, this time as part of the Sunday Brooklyn Experiments series – Brad Shepik’s Flat World trio with Chris Speed on tenor sax and Mark Guiliana on drums. I totally spaced out, really beautiful tripping music, took me far away (no wonder one of his albums is called Places you go). Or maybe was rather bringing into the moment. I really like Brad Shepik’s tunes and ideas and the effects he uses and he has really great sound. It’s funny, after hearing the trio a couple of times (first with Bill McHenry on tenor and then with Adam Niewood)  the compositions sound like old hits already :D. Chris Speed played really interestingly. I don’t know why, but at first I had the suspicion that he had been drinking or something. Which would have been probable anyway because they started an hour later than expected, so what better to do with an hour at a bar. Anyway this bass-less guitar trio is one of my favorites here, definitely.

Written by Ines

July 20, 2009 at 1:48 pm

AlasNoAxis @ Public Assembly, Williamsburg

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AlasNoAxis @ Public Assembly

AlasNoAxis @ Public Assembly

The first band in the triple bill featured Hilmar Jensson on guitar, Andrew D’Angelo on alto, Chris Speed on tenor, Peter Evans on trumpet,  Jim Black on drums – line-up pretty close to AlasNoAxis, but this band sounded much more heavy – Hilmar Jensson and Jim Black holding a thick heavy groove and the horns burning on top of it most of the time. It was a good band, no doubt, but I guess I’m one of those new age people who feel heavy metal is bad for my system :D. Didn’t hear much of the second band (guitar-violin duo), because went to check out Zebulon a couple of blocks away. What I heard there for the 5 seconds I dared to go in for was quite horrible. Some avantgarde saxophone duo hitting the highest notes possible – that was pretty scary ( I’m sure it was all great in the context, of course). Actually Eivind Opsvik’s Overseas band was supposed to play there but they planned to start a little later – exactly the same time as AlasNoAxis at Public Assembly, just to make people choose, I guess :D.
But AlasNoAxis (Jim Black on drums, Chris Speed on tenor, Hilmar Jensson on guitar, Skuli Sverisson on bass) was great, very interesting music (they have a new album out). And Public Assembly really does have good sound, just as they keep saying, but once again, better to bring along some earplugs.