Winter Jazzfest Marathon - Saturday

by Dan Lehner and Pete Matthews

DSC05308
Greg Osby and Lakecia Benjamin at Le Poisson Rouge

A warm Friday gave way to an even warmer Saturday - making Winter Jazzfest seem almost like Spring Jazzfest, encouraging causal wandering between venues and neighborhoods. Fortunately for attendees, there were plenty of reasons to get out of their comfort zones (literally and physically) to check out what each venue had to offer. 

82202535_601605277065093_4143478095753510912_n
L-R: Matt Brewer, Steve Lehman, Damion Reid

Starting at Zinc Bar, saxophonist Steve Lehman’s trio with bassist Matt Brewer and drummer Damion Reid is well-known for its icy precision, darting between the cracks of rhythm and harmony. But the addition of pianist Craig Taborn opened up even further dimensions to Lehman’s aesthetic map. Taborn countered Lehman’s intensity with a certain softness, allowing Lehman’s microtonalities to become even more pronounced, and he even seemed emboldened by the piano’s presence to round out some of the hardcore edges. Nevertheless, velocity was still the name of the game in Lehman’s group, the group’s energy bounding and stopping on a dime, through Lehman’s originals and one particular burning version of Kurt Rosenwinkel’s “A Shifting Design.”

 

Helen Sung Winter Jazzfest 2020
Helen Sung and Kush Abadey

Over at The Dance, Helen Sung was trying out a new configuration as well with her “Sung With Words” project. Not only was this a new instance for the acclaimed pianist to work with vocals (in this case, the adept and nimble Christie Dashiell) but also to adapt pre-existing text - in this instance, the poetry of former NEA chair Dana Gioia. Giving the audience a preview of the poem first, Sung's adaptations were diverse and layered; interpolations of the text would sometimes be in full, Mingusian avant-blues song form, sometimes reduced to the hush of single notes and cymbal scrapes. The musical landscape was, on its own, intricate enough - Sung utilized saxophonist Steve Wilson not only as a solo voice, but as a harmonic technique, locking in with right hand piano lines in unexpected ways. Not to be left out of the fun, Sung even had Wilson and herself contribute lush background vocals for a tune, giving Dashiell's interpretations even more depth.

Continue reading "Winter Jazzfest Marathon - Saturday" »


Winter Jazzfest Marathon 2020 - Friday Recap

 

82323243_2627381383983372_6031668787068010496_n
Charles Altura, left; Jure Pukl, right

by Dan Lehner 

An unseasonable warm spell may have made for an odd environment for Winter Jazzfest this year, but encouraging people to not merely park themselves in one space always yields the best results. The landscape of WJF this year was sprawling but manageable (the festival no longer utilized the New School auditoriums but a series of relatively convenient galleries and performance spaces in NoHo and the villages) and there was plenty of reason to go wandering.

Jure Pukl kicked off an early set at The Dance (a new addition to the map) with a stimulating quintet set. Pukl’s music had a maximalist, go-for-broke inventive quality built around easy-to-latch-onto ideas, anchoring the ambition of its performers with a catchy ideas, preventing it from losing focus. A robust tenor player, Pukl made long ropes of dense harmonies through the range of his horn, but was also adroit at a melodic gentleness. The same can be said of his bandmates: vibraphonist Joel Ross did a tremendous job of coalescing exciting melodic ideas out of the knotty logic of Pukl’s music and guitarist Charles Altura nestled his wide swath of intervallic ideas within the scope of prettiness and taste.

Continue reading "Winter Jazzfest Marathon 2020 - Friday Recap" »


Mariss

8482382664_20a88e4311_oA couple of days late on this, but just learned that Latvian conductor Mariss Jansons died Sunday at his home in St. Petersburg, after many years of on-and-off health issues. He was 76. Famed for his passionate, intense interpretations of the music of Brahms, Strauss, Mahler and more, Jansons was one of the most revered conductors in the world, regularly leading the Vienna and Berlin Philharmonics, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (of which he was music director from 2004-15) and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, which he led from 2003 until his death. Indeed, just last month, Jansons heroically led the BRSO in a program of Strauss and Brahms at Carnegie Hall, in what turned out to be his final concert. (He canceled a scheduled second concert the following night due to his illness.) Thanks to WQXR, you can hear the full concert below.

I was fortunate to catch Jansons' magic early on, while he was music director of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra from 1997-2004. In Pittsburgh, he was simply known as "Mariss", with the same rock star status normally reserved for its championship football and hockey players. If not quite as old school as Georg Solti or George Szell, Jansons had exacting standards, and was as demanding on his players as he was on himself.

“Nothing was ever good enough,” Pittsburgh Symphony senior vice president of artistic planning Robert Moir told the Washington Post in 2013. “It was a constant quest for that impossible, elusive perfection. No matter how blazingly outstanding the performance was — and they all were; I don’t remember a bad concert in the time he was here — I don’t remember him being satisfied.”

Jansons brought energy and deep humanity to the music of Tchiakovsky, Shostakovich - and, above all, Beethoven. I'll never forget his final concert at Heinz Hall, where he conducted a towering Beethoven 9th and was showered with rose petals as he exited stage left for the last time. Fortunately, I had several more opportunities to hear him in New York, as Carnegie's Clive Gillinson made sure he appeared here every season with one of the above mentioned orchestras. A difficult, deeply felt loss.

Times obit here. A tribute from Clive Gillinson here. More from his 2013 concert with the Royal Concertgebouw at Carnegie here


Category Is: Sonic Synesthesia at Baby’s Alright

by Kat Pongrace
IMG_4915In what seems to be the vanguard color of Gen-Z, a woman with electric green hair bounded onstage at Baby’s All Right last week (October 30) to open Category is: Sonic Synesthesia. The event was my first encounter with Pink Boot, an independent media outlet dedicated to celebrating women and femmes of color, and the line up for Sonic Synesthesia in no way came up short.

Brooklyn R&B songstress Alex Mali warmed up the crowd with songs from her recent EP Sweet + Sour, including her new track “Fighting Words.” Her intimate performance eschewed Baby's normally bejeweled backdrop in favor of a projection of the moon and clouds emblazoned with her name and her silhouette. For an opening act, she seemed to be highly anticipated, and from what I heard had been the primary attraction for many in the crowd attending. 

Following Mali, Los Angeles-based Mila J brought her signature girl group appeal with a side of some serious Scorpio energy. Mila, a former dancer and girl group singer (including an appearance in Prince's "Diamonds and Pearls"), exhibited a number of well-choreographed routines that avoided feeling overproduced. After recording a pair of EPs with Motown and recording with such artists as Jodeci and Timbaland, Mila is currently working on her debut studio album.

Continue reading "Category Is: Sonic Synesthesia at Baby’s Alright " »