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Winter Jazzfest 2017 Closes with Charlie Haden's Liberation Music Orchestra

by Dan Lehner

Charlie Haden Liberation Orchestra
On Tuesday night at (le) Poisson Rouge, while Charlie Haden's Liberation Music Orchestra was playing Carla Bley's deconstructed and deranged take on "America The Beautiful", Barack Obama was making his farewell speech as president. Between those of us at LPR and those watching the speech at home, there was a shared sense of approaching dread, that we were watching a flawed yet reasonable emblem of American democracy devolving into something much darker.

The 13th annual Winter Jazzfest deliberately cast itself in the spirit of social justice through panels and musical protest, both blunt and oblique. Therefore, it was only fitting that the Liberation Music Orchestra perform the closing concert of this year's festival, in an attempt to recreate and honor the spirit of Haden's overt but poetic oeuvre in the realm of musical activism.

For the most part, the music was mostly subdued. LMO's music has always toggled between spirited Spanish fanfares and quiet tone poetry and - perhaps due to the somewhat somber overcast of approaching inauguration - this concert was definitely more the latter. The selections by composers other than Haden - like Bill Evans' "Blue in Green" and Dvořák's "Going Home" theme from the New World Symphony - were mostly cast in gentle, romantic colors. Other selections like last year's "Silent Spring" (named after Rachel Carson's seminal novel) were likely chosen for the mournful nature of their subject matter.

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Winter Jazzfest Marathon: Saturday Night

By Dan Lehner and FoM

DSC05873The second night of the 2017 Winter Jazzfest Marathon arrived after a day full of snow in NYC, making hopping between clubs a bit more challenging than on Friday. Fortunately, there was plenty of solid music to be heard without having to schlep all over lower Manhattan. Have boots, will travel. 

Peter Evans is a revered name on the tongues of many in the jazz and creative music world, both as a sideman for Mostly Other People Do The Killing and as a powerful solo trumpet player. But, he's also a curator of great improvised music as leader of his own ensemble. Their early set at SubCulture  (featuring the same roster from his quintet release "Genesis", plus violinist Mazz Swift) was a pivoting hexagon of powerful sonic and melodic improvisation. Members would pair off in duo and trio formats to create unique moments of music making, where oblique and often quite pretty melodies would emerge from wiry tangles. As impressive as Evans' huge range of sonic capabilities were, the real essence of the sextet was in the hands of electronics performer Sam Pluta. His laptop acted as individual actor, duo performer and sonic colorist, sometimes creating his own glitchy landscape and sometimes even manipulating the existing sounds being created in real time.

Another musician to use electronics to bend the usual balance of time and harmony was guitarist Jakob Bro, who appeared at the New School's Tishman Auditorium. His trio with bassist Thomas Morgan and drummer Joey Baron was of a considerably gentler variety than Evans's music; Bro's music had a peaceful melodicism, cast in an alt-country sensibility. The trio was not all Scandinavian cowboy chords, though: Bro often used his pedal board to create dissonance as well as echoey consonance. At one point, he set up a spectral field of harmony and then proceeded to subvert that by having the trio play outside the harmony, creating a softly drawn but noticeable sense of unease. Baron was a particularly important part of the trio's improvisational character, restlessly creating rhythms both within and beyond the time, reminiscent of Paul Motian's work with Bill Frisell.

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Winter Jazzfest Marathon 2017: Friday Night

by Dan Lehner

There was a sense of freshness in the air as the first night of the Winter Jazz Fest Marathon kicked off on Friday. The first real snowfall blanketed car windows, the first few days of 2017 were helping ease away the emotional drag of 2016 and the ever-expanding roster of artists and venues participating in the WJF lineup reminded us that there are people working hard and creating challenging, joyous and diverse music and plenty of people who want to see it happen. WJF also helped us prepared politically and emotionally for the coming Trump years by declaring a theme of social justice that permeated through its literature and testimonials from its artists.

Dayme Arocena made an explicit plea for US audiences to engage with the next generation of young Cuban musicians during her band's set at Le Poisson Rouge, and they more than backed that case up with their performance. Arocena's music has an old history - its imbued with a rich variety of Afro-Cuban musics from both the island and the motherland - but her conception also has a 21st century attitude, with vocoders, odd-meters and Arocena's stuttering vocal effects punctuating the rhumba phrasing. Ever the ambassador for her country's traditions, Arocena graciously showed the audience the diversity of Cuba's dance music landscape through guajira and cha-cha stylings, powered by her alluring and rich vocal style.

In an example of parallel cultural journeying, New York actually has its own version of the Cuban traditional music, interpreted by its numerous salsa bands like Spanish Harlem Orchestra, who played at the New School Friday night. SHO's modus operandi is relatively humble - they have a old school Nuyorican sound and just try (and succeed) to swing as hard as they can - but they're not without their specialties. Their music tastefully inserted jazz chordal substitutions a la Eddie Palmieri and the vocal harmonies between Carlos Canscante, Jeremy Bosch and Marco Bermudez was rich and meaty. Bosch also had an added surprise up his sleeve, getting into a flute battle with Mitch Frohman, in which Frohman was surprisingly evenly matched.

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TONIGHT: Winter Jazzfest 2017 Marathon Kicks Off

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Just a quick reminder that the 13th annual Winter Jazzfest Marathon kicks off tonight with more than 150 bands playing across 13 venues throughout lower Manhattan. Both single day and full weekend passes for the Marathon are still available on the WJF website, or you can pick one up at any of the participating WJF venues. (Venue map here.)

The WJF website has the shows listed by venue, but we've put together a more practical grid which lays out all of the shows by time, grouped according to which venues are close together. (That makes a bit more sense, don't you think?) Just follow this link if you want to download it to your smartphone.

We'll be posting live updates throughout the weekend @feastofmusic on Twitter and Instagram. See you out there!