Jazz Feed

"Soundtrack '63" at the Apollo Theater

by Steven Pisano

"Soundtrack '63" at the Apollo Theater

(All photos by Steven Pisano.)

On Saturday night, the Apollo Theater presented "Soundtrack '63," a production of Soul Science Lab based in Brooklyn. Using a rich gumbo of archive film footage, photographic slide shows, and live musical performances, the show explored black history in this country from the forced transport of slaves in the 18th century, through the Civil Rights movement of the Fifties and Sixties, to today's Black Lives Matter and "I Can't Breathe" protests.

Soul Science's creative director Chen Lo believes that it is vitally important to keep black history fresh in young people's minds according to the Ashanti principle of sankofa--"Seek the past to understand the present and build for the future." For Lo and musical director Asante Amin, this means remembering important landmarks in black history, and the best way to remember them is through music. A 13-musician orchestra and a quartet of knockout singers--Keisha Gumbs, Moses Gardner, Karyn Porter, and Matthew Thomas--kept the stage electric with first-rate music throughout the night.

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Snarky Puppy and David Crosby Play Carnegie Hall

by Nick Stubblefield

Snarky_blog

It seems unconventional for the Brooklyn-based jazz collective Snarky Puppy to play at Carnegie Hall, but Snarky Puppy isn’t a conventional band. When I walked into Carnegie’s Stern Auditorium last week, an usher handed me a tie-dyed bandana embroidered with “The 60s: The Years that Changed America.” The night’s program was part of a concert series this year throughout New York that honors social justice and protest in America. With their history of frequent collaborations with artists from many musical and ethnic backgrounds, Snarky Puppy were the perfect hosts for an evening celebrating protest, peace, and unity.


Michael League, Snarky’s bandleader, chief composer, and bassist, stood front and center. The band, consisting of drums, a smorgasbord of auxiliary percussion, keyboards, guitar, and horns, managed to comfortably fill a stage mostly known for accommodating concert orchestras. The group’s musical style proudly defies classification. There were elements of bebop, Latin-American styles, and African-American gospel in the music, but Snarky’s purposeful blurring of musical boundaries is largely what defines the group’s sound. As the stylings and textures ebbed and flowed throughout their all-instrumental mini-set, there were ever-shifting variations in timbre that kept the music engaging. Multi-instrumentalist Justin Stanton alternated between a trumpet and a vintage Fender Rhodes, shredding equally skilled bebop-inspired jazz improvisations on each.

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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: Nicole Mitchell's Black Earth Ensemble at Le Poisson Rouge

DSC04326Winter Jazzfest 2018 Artist-in-Residence Nicole Mitchell has spent more than three decades on the vanguard of jazz as a composer and flutist, and has developed a unique voice that blends technical innovation with a spiritual outlook. Her latest project, Mandorla Awakening II: Emerging Worlds, is set in a not-too-distant future where a an egalitarian society struggles with how to incorporate technology into our lives. Speaking to The Wire last year, Mitchell says it comes down to how we learn to see ourselves in each other - something which has a good bit of relevance these days:

"How do we honor our wonderful diversity rather than be threatened by it? How do we learn to share our resources and care for all, rather than being selfish? That helped me to arrive at my narrative, which riffs off the question: how do we create an advanced society that is in tune with nature, and how do we actually move away from our addiction to greed, which compromises our love for each other?"

Mitchell blends music from disparate cultures in Mandorla: you can hear Japanese taiko, shakuhachi and shamisen, free jazz, rock, banjo, even the synth-driven sounds of Stockhausen. Mitchell gives each of them equal time, and it's a revelation how much these diverse musical sounds have in common. 

The climax of the work comes in the final part, "Timewrap", in which the extraordinary spoken word artist Avery R. Young channels his inner gospel preacher, screaming and shouting like a man possessed, joining hands with various audience members and promising to take them "to the other side." It was the most ecstatic, thrilling, and inspiring musical moment of this early 2018, and hopefully a harbinger of things to come. 

The prolific musician-scholar Tyshawn Sorey opened, eschewing his usual drumkit for a synth-driven set that was about as avant and modern as anything I've heard in a jazz mien. Not that he or anyone needs to adhere to any standard definition when it comes to playing "jazz."

More pics on the photo page