by Angela Sutton
River to River Festival hosted the multi-instrumentalist Dana Leong, along with sidemen John Shannon (guitar) and DJ Icewater (turntables and electronics), at One New York Plaza for an eclectic lunchtime set on Thursday.
Nominally a jazz trio, the band moved fluidly between electrified jazz, reggae, house beats, and psychedelia that recalled early Pink Floyd. Although this music was born for dance clubs, its smooth polish and tight control kept things cool enough for noontime in the Financial District and the (mostly) seated audience of cubicle escapees.
Starting on the trombone, Leong quickly moved to his electric cello for the bulk of the set, a better fit for this group's digitally mediated sound. Leong is clearly a talented string player, always on-pitch and getting an equally good sound whether standing or sitting, plucking or bowing. His improvisations were deeply felt, taking their time to develop and rarely given to boastful fireworks. Leong did take advantage of his pedals, however, particularly the wah, to spice up the basic sound of the bowed cello. Stylistically protean, nonetheless, I thought his best work came in pieces that looked towards the eastern Mediterranean sound, a kind of 21st-century gypsy street music.
The group's clearest connection to jazz was its use of the guitar, principally for harmonic support, though Shannon showed some shredding skills when he cut loose in the Floyd-inspired piece (part of a soundtrack for Leong's upcoming documentary project). The rest of the interest in the set usually fell to Icewater, who kept busy switching between laptop, drumpad, and a pair of turntables. Together, these two musicians did a great job of creating a pocket for Leong to fill.
River to River wraps up this weekend, but there is still plenty to see.