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Saturday @ Winter Jazzfest (Day 2)

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Saturday night jazzfest menu

Got there around 8:15PM this time and started off, just as the day before, with trying to do some quick gig hopping and check out all the venues for the most appealing sounds…

On the average, I think it felt even more crowded than the day before (it was 2000 people both nights and it was sold out). Come to think of it, according to the data on Search&Restore website, the capacity of Zinc Bar is 250, 800 for le Poisson Rouge, 345 for Sullivan Hall (although I never saw that being at capacity),which totals 1395 people, theoretically. That would leave around 300 each for Kenny’s Castaways and the Bitter End. So it’s pretty understandable that the crowds were all over the place.

1. Bernie Worrell Orchestra @ le Poisson Rouge

Kyle Cadena, guitar / Andrew Kimball, guitar / Scott Hogan, bass / Glen Fittin, percussion / Shlomi Cohen, alto sax / Ofer Assaf, tenor sax / Justin Mullens, trumpet / Karl Latham, drums / Evan Taylor, drums

Pretty straightforward funky kind of music. Hopped on pretty soon…

2. Herculaneum @ Kenny’s Castaways

Dylan Ryan, drums / David McDonnell, alto saxophone / Nick Broste, trombone / Nate Lepine, tenor saxophone and flute / Patrick Newbery, trumpet / Greg Danek, bass

Stopped by really briefly: seemed like a nice hang, but not spectacular enough to settle down…

Bernie Worrell Orchestra

3. Lionel Loueke @ Zinc Bar

Lionel Loueke, guitar and vocals / Michael Olatuja, bass / Mark Guiliana, drums

Although I had heard Lionel Loueke a few times, I was a bit curiuos to hear this particular lineup with Mark Guiliana on drums. Finally managed to get in to Zinc Bar (it was so crowded that I didn’t really see anything). They sounded nice, but I only stayed for a tune or so, as the mission for the night was to hear something mind blowing… :)

4. Andy Milne’s Dapp Theory @ the Bitter End

Andy Milne, piano, keyboards & vocals / John Moon, poet / Aaron Kruziki, reeds & vocals / Chris Tordini, basses & vocals / Kenny Grohowski, drums & guitar

Andy Milne's Dapp Theory

Back to the Bitter End. That one was crowded as well (oddly, everybody also stayed near the door, actually there was more room on the other side of the room). The band had energy and intention + they played well, so it was a pleasure to listen. Later on John Moon, the poet and vocalist in the band, performed some interesting improvised (?) poetry, locking it in with the band’s groove. Haven’t heard things like that too often, so I thought it sounded interesting, the rhythm of the words and the music…

5. Mostly Other People Do The Killing @ Kenny’s Castaways

Peter Evans, trumpet / Jon Irabagon, saxophone / Moppa Elliott, bass / Kevin Shea, drums

Didn’t fascinate that much me at the moment. Hopped on…

Fabian Almazan & Strings

6. Fabian Almazan and Strings @ Sullivan  Hall

Fabian Almazan, piano / Linda Oh, bass / Henry Cole, drums / Jenny Scheinman: Violin. I / Megan Gould, violin. II / Karen Waltuch, viola / Noah Hoffeld, cello

Didn’t hear enough of it to form an opinion. And to be honest, I thought Sullivan Hall wasn’t that appropriate a venue to hear this kind of music anyway as the sound of the room is more suitable for rock (bass is heavy, not so clear overall). On the average, the venues that have jazz in New York normally have really great balanced sound (rooms are dry and not emphasizing any particular frequencies). So I’d rather hear Fabian Almazan and Strings somewhere else.

Justin Brown Group w/ special guest Ambrose Akinmusire

7. Justin Brown Group @ Sullivan Hall

Fabian Almazan, fender Rhodes & piano / Burness Travis, electric bass / Matthew Stevens, guitar / Special guest Ambrose Akinmusire, trumpet / Justin Brown, drums

Another band I was looking forward to hearing – but somehow the music and the playing didn’t touch me this time.

Vijay Iyer Trio @ le Poisson Rouge

8. Vijay Iyer trio @ le Poisson Rouge

Vijay Iyer, piano / Stephan Crump, bass / Marcus Gilmore, drums

That one was great! The only drawback was that Le Poisson Rouge was packed as hell. Marcus Gilmore, once again, sounded great. And so did Stephan Crump on bass and Vijay himself. Looking forward to hearing them again soon, preferably in a bit more relaxed environment.

Allison Miller's BOOM TIC BOOM

9. Allison Miller’s BOOM TIC BOOM @ the Bitter End

Myra Melford, piano / Jenny Scheinman, violin / Brad Jones, bass / Allison Miller, drums

The Bitter End was packed as hell as well, but I managed to squeeze through the mob to the other side of the room, so it was quite cozy. I also found the music to be charming somehow, although it probably wouldn’t have been a jazz purist’s cup of tea (again, this conflict between the rhythmic worlds of jazz and folk). Allison Miller had loads of great musical ideas, enjoyable grooves and it was refreshing to hear her creative musical vision pouring out of the drum set: she treats the instrument in quite a unique way. They also had a nice energy as a band and were clearly enjoying what they do – it is always incredible to witness how much that actually adds (regardless of the actual music).

Taylor Eigsti trio

10. Taylor Eigsti trio @ the Bitter End

Taylor Eigsti, piano / Eric Harland, drums / Harish Raghavan, bass

That was the highlight of the day for me. Great musicians, great band!  First, they played a few originals, then a pretty impressive version of Wayne Shorter’s Deluge. Tenor player Dayna Stephens stepped up as special guest for (his arrangement of) Joe Henderson’s Black Narcissus. For the last tune, vocalist Becca Stevens joined for a tune written by her and Eigsti, Magnolia.

Taylor Eigsti trio w/ Becca Stevens and Dayna Stephens

What impressed me most in the concert was Eigsti’s almost McCoy Tyner kind of energy in his melodic lines. It was also great how he made musically meaningful use of textures of the actual instruments, combining the more intense sound of the piano (even more noteworthy as the actual piano seemed to be rather crappy) and the mellow sound of Rhodes. Harish Raghavan’s command of the bass was almost scary. And Eric Harland was as great as ever, or better.

11. Tyshawn Sorey Oblique @ the Bitter End

Tyshawn Sorey, drums / Loren Stillman, alto saxophone / Todd Neufeld, guitar / John Escreet, piano, keyboards / Chris Tordini, bass

Tyshawn Sorey Oblique @ the Bitter End

Although that was one of the late-night sets (starting at 01:45 AM) and many had departed, but there seemed to be quite a few musicians around to see this one. What bothered me about this one, though, was how they (not Tyshawn though) seemed to be struggling with all the reading. Most players were so fixed on their sheet music that it looked almost humorous. Although this kind of intellectual and many-faceted compositions seem to be one of the interesting developments in jazz and one probably can’t really play music like that by heart, is reading music really supposed to be something that jazz musicians should demonstrate in such extreme ways? I feel that lot of the effortlessness and grace that one would expect from the live music gets lost. All were great musicians (heard some spectacular solos and overall amazing musicianship), though, and it was kind of fun to try to process and make sense of the load of musical information presented (giving an almost sport-like thrill…).

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!

Music feast ahead: Winter Jazzfest 2012

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2012 NYC Winter Jazz Fest

The eighth New York Winter Jazzfest coming up, to deliver over 60 mouthwatering performances in a compact spread of 5 different venues in the West Village. This Friday and Saturday (January 6th and 7th) – all music lovers in the city are going (me too)!

The sheer amount of music will be quite overwhelming, I expect. Imagining that if one would go see a concert once a week every single week of the year, it would still add up to only 52, compared to the 60 on just the two nights… What a way to take a bite out of this thriving music scene here.

I’ve been going through the program for a while (and it’s even kind of educating to do some pre-listening on some of the artists): it looks like it’s quite difficult to construct the absolute best itinerary for the nights – practically all of it has the potential to sound pretty mind blowing.

But as I’ve actually heard quite a many of this year’s performers before at some point, this time time I’m particularly excited about:

Julian Lage Group – (haven’t heard him live yet, but he seems to be a great guitar player and musician) Friday, 7:45pm @ Sullivan Hall

The 5 venues: the Bitter End, Le Poisson Rouge, Kenny's Castaway's, Sullivan Hall, Zinc Bar

Ben Williams and the Sound Effect – Jaleel Shaw, Matt Stevens, Gerald Clayton, Etienne Charles, Justin Brown. Sounds like a promising bunch Saturday, 12:45 AM @ Sullivan Hall

Justin Brown Group –  curious to see his own group (seen him doing a great job as a sideman on several occasions) Saturday 10:15 pm @ Sullivan Hall

Taylor Eigsti – one of the best young pianists now? Must be a great concert (with Eric Harland and Harish Rhaghavan) Saturday 12:30 AM @ the Bitter End

Tyshawn Sorey Oblique : interesting music! Saturday 01:45 AM @ the Bitter End

Yeah, and then I’m going to try to squeeze in Lionel Loueke (with Mark Guiliana on drums!), Marc Ribot’s Ceramic Dog, Wallace Roney (a little bit different generation than most of the Jazzfest, but sounding hip…), Chris Morrissey (with Aaron Parks, Mark Guiliana, Ben Wendel, Nir Felder = such a promising lineup!), Steven Bernstein’s MTO plays Sly (everybody’s raving about them), Ben Allison trio, Joel Harrison String Orchestra…

But most of all, I expect some of the fun to lie in playing it by the ear…

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