by Dan Lehner
Vocalist Theo Bleckmann and guitarist Ben Monder have always had a contrasting yet complimentary relationship with one another, and that was as true during the second round of the WJF Marathon during Bleckmann's quintet set as its ever been during their stints as a duo. Bleckmann intoned beautiful, wordless melodies in clear textures, while Monder's sound was heavy, distorted and tempestuous. Elegy's melodies would decay into noise and then come back to more earthly environments. Bleckmann's experiments with vocal effects and electronics have aided this cyborgian quality to his music, his warped and harmonized improvisations mingling with (and then becoming indistinguishable from) the acoustic ensemble.
In contrast, Cyrus Chestnut's African Reflections was supremely, joyously earthly. It was a music of an older realm: the very deep tradition of different African folk musics (shadings of Congolese music and High Life) with the slightly less ancient Afrocentric, liberation-oriented jazz of the 1970's, the latter brought out in Steve Carrington's weighty, expressive tenor sound. Having been a first-call pianist in the contemporary jazz scene, Chestnut's sound was nimble and inventive; he could move deathly slow and then explode in sound in the same 30 second span.
The music at WJF has often been about applying one's concept to a continuum, a sentiment captures marvelously by Kris Bowers. The keyboardist performed back-to-back covers that were historically space decades apart, but married to each other by his aesthetic. The first was his looped solo version of Juan Tizol's "Caravan", complete with hand claps and Radiohead-style organ chords, the second being a sufficiently gangsta cover of tUnE-yArDs' "Gangsta" that intoned Merrill Garbus's rhythmic shouts into potent drum fills. Bowers's music was unafraid to take on thoroughly modern popular music like trap and metal, waters that other jazz musicians have treated but never dove into fully.
(Pictured: Chris Washburn)
Late into the night (at the literally always-at-capacity Zinc Bar) Chris Washburne's SYOTOS Band was interpreting classic rock radio staples into weird and eclectic mambo and other Latin/Caribbean styles (what he called "Acid Mambo"). Washburne's alchemy was pretty diverse: he either diverted from the original by adding angular bop lines in the cracks (which was his treatment for War's "Low Rider") or by amplifying the existing melody (which he did on the band's rather sublime take on Lou Reed's "Take a Walk on the Wild Side", where the whole horn section played the original bari sax solo in unison). While Washburne and trumpeter John Walsh played effective, cleverly executed latin jazz, SYOTOS band had a secret weapon in tenor saxophonist Ole Mathieson, who heavily subverted the usual stylistic flairs for airy irregular turns and machine gun modern jazz lines.
The last set at the Tishman building at New School found a quiet, fitting closer in the Mark Turner/Ethan Iverson duo. Performing mostly new music, the tenor sax and piano duet had neither the slightly zany, 12-tone jaunts that Iverson is known for, nor the rhythmically fluid, post-post-bop harmonics that Turner is known for. It was something in between, a collection of lovingly composed and poetic music. Scanning the audience, it was easy to see the pure draw that these musicians have from their peers (especially for Turner amongst saxophone players: Seamus Blake, Joshua Redman, Donny McCaslin and Tim Berne were amongst those quietly watching in admiration). A fitting end for a jazz festival: 1:00 a.m., a room of heavyweights and audience members, observing two great musicians do their thing in the dark.
(Pictured: Sun Ra Arkestra at Judson Church)
More pics on the photo page.