It's a rare treat for jazz audiences to be able to hear a large work performed in its entirety, especially when the music on drummer Dan Weiss's "Fourteen" is a Herculean task to perform just on record. However, Weiss didn't assemble his particular large ensemble on Saturday night just for the hell of it: they all shone through, even if some had to pull double-duty (e.g. Matt Mitchell playing piano and glockenspiel; Jacob Garchik on trombone and tuba). Weiss's music is an amalgam of his influences, requires a working knowledge of everything from Indian classical music to metal, and each ensemble member shared in the amalgam, through both their own parts and occasional group action, such as intricate clapping. The most impressive moments were found in the impossibly tight, unreal sounding vocal harmonies of Judith Berkson, Maria Neckam and Lana Is, as well as outrageously different trombone solo trading between Garchik's sonority and Ben Gerstein's almost reversed-sounding idiosyncrasies.
Following Weiss at The Players Theater, alto saxophonist Darius Jones was busy fleshing out his own diverse musical concept. Jones's group covered a free, textural, occasionally aggressive terrain, shaded with skittery drum n' bass hues from drummer Ches Smith - which could turn to R&B-submerged ballad jazz or hardcore Public Enemy-style boom-bap on a whim. Jones's unison duet with French vocalist Emily Lesbros was particularly poignant, the singer explaining the piece was about tolerance and unity (a sentiment sorely relevant in her home country right now). Jones's band also included the heavily used pianist Matt Mitchell (who had just played a set before and would play a set afterward), who soaked up Jones's concept singularly, creating dirhythmic concepts with just his two hands.
The Friday portion of the 2015 Winter Jazzfest, with a temperature of 17°F before windchill, was the coldest in WJF history since the inaugural festival (when it was -2°F). Not that this, in any way, impeded the festival's popularity. This year's festivities, which expanded to an unprecedented 10 venues, were so well-attended that the organizers instituted a live-update system of how crowded each venue was at any given time. (Running joke of the night: "You'll never get into Zinc Bar.") The surging popularity indicated that the goals of the festival - to have as many people as possible experience new and improvised music - were pretty much guaranteed to be met.
WJF is like the Comic Con of creative music, offering a chance to preview new groups from familiar artists that haven't released records and/or hit the clubs yet. Arturo O'Farill's "Boss Level Septet," which appeared at SubCulture, represents the leading edge in Latin-inspired creative music. The septet's music came from the same place as rhythm-oriented artists like Dafnis Prieto or Steve Coleman, but much of the music was knottier, more bombastic - almost zany in a controlled way. Much like Miles Davis adding Bill Evans's impressionism to 50's cool jazz, O'Farrill's sonic ace card came in the form of guitarist Travis Reuter, whose liquid, effects-drenched sound, plus his unique sense of harmony, propelled the music forward and sideways. The collective O'Farrills are no slouches either, with pianist Arturo taking a wide-ranging, Horace Silver "play everything" stance, and the marvelous trumpeter Adam O'Farrill finding himself somewhere between Freddie Hubbard and Peter Evans.
Trumpet sage Ingrid Jensen performed alongside keyboardist Jason Miles at Judson Church for another yet-to-be recorded project, "Kind of New", which borrows directly from the Bitches Brew-era Miles Davis tradition. Jensen was more than prepared to take this role on - she had the same blistering upper register, used almost more as an effect rather than part of a melodic sequence. Of course, Jensen - as well as her tenor sax compatriot Jay Rodriguez - had more than enough door-breaking melodic chops to up the energy. Kind of New's music was like Woody Shaw and Bill Withers jamming in a desert - a meeting place of alternately breezy/serious 70's soul vibes existing alongside explorations of shapes and intensities.
In the American South of the early twentieth century, a 6-yr old boy plays with tin soldiers from the Civil War, backlit as shadows on a small white screen. The boy’s mother wails, and suddenly, a mysterious red object is pulled from her, glowing like a hot coal. It is a baby boy.
But this is no pretty Gerber baby. With its large head and shrivelled red body, the parents marvel at their newborn in horror, as if it were not quite human. The boy, known only as Brother, had been hoping for a playmate, but realizing he’ll never be able to play with that, readies a pillow to smother the thing.
But suddenly, the infant smiles at the boy, and from that instant on, he becomes the weakling’s defender, eventually teaching him to walk, climb, swim, and be strong. Brother renames him Doodle, saying he moves like a doodlebug: the larva of a fly that burrows patterns in sand.
Award-winning pianist Larry Weng performed a brilliant set Thursday night at SubCulture, which has quickly become one of the hottest - and my favorite - places to hear music in the city, thanks to great acoustics, a cozy atmosphere, and a quality Steinway piano. The show opened with a short piece by Horatio Parker: an American composer and a mentor to Charles Ives at Yale. The piece, La Sauterelle, had a playful, bouncy rhythm to it, with some great jazzy runs in the right hand. Composed in 1899, it had the sound of something that might be played in a wealthy man's parlor room.
La Sauterelle proved to be a great lead-in for the surprise-hit of the evening: Charles Ives' Piano Sonata No. 1. When I listen to music, I often find that my brain conjures various images and emotions. Ives' music almost does the opposite -- it sets up images that you might expect, then smashes them right as they begin to form. Weng's handling of the complex musical structures was magnificent. Not only did he handle the many technical challenges with grace, but he brought artistry and emotion to the themes, making it look like a whole lot of fun in the process.
Next were Maurice Ravel's beautiful Sonatine and Miroirs, which Weng played with a light, refined touch. In contrast to Ives, Ravel's music conjures strong, defined images. In particular, the third movement of the Sonatine, "Animé," was brilliantly executed: it's lightning fast and dense at times, but Weng played it cleanly and with great dynamic range.
Weng graced us with an encore, but rather than play something showy, he played Claude Debussy's La plus que lente: adelicate, atmospheric work which left me in a very pleasant and reflective mood. There's no better way to end your Thursday night.