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Winter Jazzfest: Wadada Leo Smith and Deerhoof, with Nicole Mitchell's Maroon Cloud

by Dan Lehner

Wadada Leo Smith and Deerhoof - Winter Jazzfest 2018It's often hard to see the forest for the trees at an event like Winter Jazzfest. WJF has set itself apart from other jazz festivals through its expansiveness, its large physical presence, and its commitment to inclusion and social justice. But, it can at times be difficult to know just what kind of person the festival is really for. There's no 100% definitive answer - any good jazz festival is pluralistic by nature - but last night's festival finale at Le Poisson Rouge might have given the closest indication.

The musical intersection of Bay Area experimental indie-pop veterans Deerhoof and Mississippi-born avant-garde jazz sound painter Wadada Leo Smith, in tandem with an audience who enthusiastically embraced both, felt like it belonged right at the heart of a festival that uses its energy to shatter both genre and generation boundaries and relentlessly asks the question, "What if?"

Deerhoof's sonic milieu regularly runs the gamut from riff-laden UK garage rock to aggressively wobbly free jazz - sometimes in the same 30 second span - and true to form, they blazed through a set of cheery, noisy, disorienting and catchy music with ease and gusto. The real interest, though, was where the band found common stylistic and improvisational ground with Smith. The most immediately apparent similarity is that Smith and Deerhoof had a knack for turning simple, even beautiful melodic lines into something more adventurous with a simple directional or stylistic turn. Smith's subtle strains and muted note rips would compliment the pinched harmonics and stuttering effects of Dietrich and Rodriguez's guitars, and he would complement their more droning moments with low, expressive trumpet tones.

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Winter Jazzfest: Saturday Night Marathon

 By Dan Lehner and Pete Matthews

Winter Jazzfest 2018 New School
Night two of the 2018 Winter Jazzfest Marathon began in the intimate fifth floor theater at The New School, where a crack team of trombonists were paying homage to the uniquely blithe and expressive spirit of Roswell Rudd. Art Baron honored Rudd's famously potent physical presence by "sanctifying" the room, facing each of the four walls and blessing them with little music segments, before launching into a sweet, genuine, plunger-and-pixie mute rendition of Ellington's "I Got it Bad". Brian Drye honored Rudd with his original "For Roswell", a gentle, folkish tune embellished with multiphonics and little mouth pops and swishes, ending with "Pannonica" (a nod to the Roswell Rudd/Steve Lacy recordings of Monk tunes). Josh Roseman's performance recalled some of his playing on his own "Treats for the Nightwalker", imbued with dubby wah's and hisses through a Harmon mute, and seemed to relate closely to Rudd's later work in the realm of world music.

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Winter Jazzfest 2018: Friday Night Marathon

By Dan Lehner and Pete Matthews

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New York is nothing if not a land of contrasts, so it was jarring if not totally surprising to slog through a warmer-than-usual rain storm on Friday’s Winter Jazzfest Marathon having just experienced a colder-than-usual near-sub-zero snowstorm only a week prior. However, New York is also full of tough natives and intrepid tourists, so no crowd was too deterred to pack and hop between the 11 venues (on the third of a record eight-day-long WJF) to see new configurations, old favorites and adventurous mixtures of the two on the first marathon night.    

Over at Zinc Bar, alto saxophonist Caleb Curtis was both riding and twisting a robust swing in trumpeter Josh Lawrence’s Color Theory, punctuating flowing melodic lines with wild zig-zags in unexpected directions at unexpected times. Propelled by drummer Anwar Marshall, bassist Luques Curtis and a rare Fender Rhodes/piano team of Zaccai Curtis and Orrin Evans, Lawrence’s beautiful and ambidextrous writing would alternate between gentle tippin’ and Blakeyesque group runs that would cluster around close harmony (sometimes on the same tune). One piece would have Lawrence and Curtis gently flicking specks of color on an orchestral canvas, then a faster one would show off Lawrence’s deftness as he carefully constructed, expanded and contracted melodic cells, all while never losing his mature, relaxed trumpet sound.

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Dawn of Midi and Mashrou' Leila at BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn!

Dawn of Midi - BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn - Feast of Music Jul 22  2017  8-06 PM
Those that braved the rain Saturday night at BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! got to see a pair of acts that are pushing both musical and geographical boundaries. Lebanese rock outfit Mashrou' Leila sang about the politics of exclusion and racism in their home country with their hearts on their sleeves. They clearly have an adoring fan base, many of whom turned out in force to support, but with the lyrics all in Arabic and their music mostly one-dimensional, the impact was lost on me. 

Personally, I was fascinated by openers Dawn of Midi: three Indian-Americans - bassist Aakaash Israni, pianist Amino Belyamani and drummer Qasim Naqvi - who started playing together in L.A. 10 years ago, and now live in Brooklyn. Along the way, they've accumulated some pretty big fans, including Radiohead, who asked them to open for them during two shows at MSG last year. Dawn of Midi's setup is that of a standard jazz trio, but their sound is anything but: using only acoustic instruments, they mimicked the repetitive pulses and beats of electronic so effectively, a good part of the audience could be seen bobbing their heads to it. 

More pics on the photo page.