Winter Jazzfest 2016 - Wednesday Preview with Bill Laswell, Colin Stetson and The Ex

by Dan LehnerWJF113_feat
Winter Jazzfest 2016 started off with a bang this year - or, more accurately, a series of bangs alongside wails, screams, drones, scrapes and other sonic intensities. Adam Schatz introduced one of the most audacious beginnings to a WJF in recent memory Wednesday night at Le Poisson Rouge, featuring one act long missed, one never before performed, and one scarcely heard in the states (Happy Apple, Colin Stetson/Bill Laswell duo and The Ex, respectively). All were united by their hard-edged energy, pan-punk aesthetics and questing improvisational spirit. 

 Happy Apple's last appearance at a Search and Restore co-production (and in fact, last appearance almost anywhere at all) was at the Undead Jazz festival 2010. As such, the return of one of the quintessential "punk jazz" trios of the new millennium was eagerly anticipated and the band more than delivered. As they always have, Happy Apple took a cue from seminal alt and indie rock bands like The Pixies in their sensitivity for dynamics, particularly through saxophonist Michael Lewis's near-limitless range of ideas. Lewis toggled through breathy whispers and frenzied runs, both as a soloist on tunes like "Hence the Turtleneck" and as part of the group dynamic of "Freelance Robotics". The trio remains great melody writers, perpetuating rhythmic ear worms through their standbys like "Rise! Marc Anthony" and staccato indie rock energy on new tunes like "Vermillion Nocturne" (proving themselves worthy of a "much-anticipated" label on a new potential release). 

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Ron Pope and the Nighthawks at Irving Plaza

by Steven Pisano

  20160109-DSC_5870(All photos by Steven Pisano.)

Ron Pope and the Nighthawks played Irving Plaza last weekend, performing music off of their brand new self-titled album. Hailing from Georgia and now based in New York, Pope is embarking on a new phase in his career. Primarily known as a solo musician, Pope recorded his new record with a band and is bringing them with him on a 30-plus-city tour of Europe and U.S.

While his earlier music was a bit poppy (several of Pope's tracks were used on TV's So You Think You Can Dance), he has since grown his hair longer, and his new music is more Americana with country edges, which gets back to his roots in the South. And it fits him well.

At Irving Plaza, he started off singing old favorites for his fans, who had sold out the club, encouraging the audience to sing along with him. Then, he mixed in the new material as if he wasn't sure they would take to this new direction. But soon, they were bopping their heads on the uptempo numbers, and hugging each other during the ballads.

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“Angel’s Bone" at the Prototype Festival

by Steven Pisano

Top - Kyle Pfortmiller, Bottom - Kyle Bielfield, Jennifer Charles

(All photos by Cory Weaver.)

Angel’s Bone, presented by the unflaggingly innovative Prototype Festival and directed by Michael McQuilken, portrays the lurid tale of a suburban couple (Kyle Pfortmiller and Abigail Fischer) facing financial and marital distress who one day miraculously discover a Boy Angel (Kyle Bielfield) and a Girl Angel who have fallen out of Heaven and landed in their backyard.

It doesn't take long for this blessing to turn dark. At the wife’s blunt request (“Prune them!”), the husband holds high a gleaming meat cleaver and savagely severs the angels' wings. The couple then holds the angels prisoner in a clawfoot bathtub and exploits them by charging people for various services, including sex. The wife later entices the Boy Angel to impregnate her so that she can give birth to a human-angel hybrid. In the wife’s view, capitalizing on these innocent messengers of God is an acceptable way for her to finally get the life she feels she always deserved. 

The story is bold and daring, inspired by worldwide human trafficking, ranging from children sold for sex to indentured domestic workers. The United Nations estimates there are almost 30 million people in the world today living as slaves: a crisis in our midst. Unfortunately, composer Du Yun and librettist Royce Vavrek fail to explore this pressing issue in artistic terms. It seems to me that artists—writers, composers, filmmakers, painters, whatever—are uniquely equipped to help us understand or at least make us think about such issues by exploring their ramifications. 

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Preview: Winter Jazzfest 2016

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For the 12th year in a row, Winter Jazzfest takes over the Village this week, with more than 100 bands playing a dozen venues across lower Manhattan. This year's festival - as in festivals past - features a dizzying array of music from both the straight up and experimental wings of adventurous music, including sets by Vijay Iyer, Tim Berne, Theo Bleckmann, and the Sun Ra Arkestra, among many, many others. Go here to see the full lineup. 

The festival starts tonight with a preview show at LPR featuring Bill Laswell, Colin Stetson and The Ex. Passes for the full festival, including all preview shows and the Sunday closer at LPR, run $145, while the weekend Marathon Pass costs a mere $75. Still the best bang for your buck of any festival, anywhere. Don't forget to bundle up. 

More info on the Winter Jazzfest website