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Winter Jazzfest 2014: Saturday Marathon Recap

by Dan Lehner and FoM

Tillery medium

Winter Jazzfest is known for having its acts whip their audience into a frenzy (for a "jazz crowd," that is) but the start to Saturday's marathon at (le) Poisson Rouge began with a gentle hum. Tillery, the vocal (and guitar and ukulele) collective of Becca Stevens, Gretchen Parlato, and Rebecca Martin, lulled the audience in with their particular brand of mysterious post-folk. As to be expected, Tillery's vocal harmonies are complex; while not ever being harsh, they often fall into close intervals and interesting combinations of dovetailing and harmonizing. They also put to the best possible use each of their unique vocal styles: Stevens' flowery-but-direct soprano, Parlato's smokey mezzo, and Martin's bluesy/bluegrassy alto, all grounded with some Afro-Cuban-style clapping. 

There was more Afro-Cuban music to be had at The Bitter End, with Michele Rosewoman and her New Yor-Uba ensemble. Rosewoman's group struck as if Gil Evans had been involved with Cuban music instead of Spanish; the multihorn writing was lush and gave room for soloists like Alex Norris and Vincent Gardner to flesh out bebop ideas over each texture. A major component of Rosewoman's music is rhythmic counterpoint: At just about any moment, the music was simultaneously anchored and swayed by the constant cycling of the percussionists (colored wonderfully on drum set by Tyshawn Sorey) and the slow exposition of the voices, undulating the powerful three-on-four patterns.

MilesokazakiRhythm is also a major component of Miles Okazaki's music, and his quartet performance at NYU Law with Donny McCaslin, Francois Moutin, and Dan Weiss was no exception. Okazaki's music was assembled around sets of long and short patterns inspired by Steve Coleman, but Okazaki's performance was just as much informed by Wes Montgomery, Brazilian music, and Bach as it was modern jazz. Moutin soloed all the way up into the knottiest registers of his bass, and Weiss— perhaps known best for his polyrhythms and influences of Hindustani music—swung as hard as anyone could have wanted. McCaslin in particular was an incendiary addition to this band; whereas Miguel Zenon had previously tackled the mostly tensing, not-quite-releasing chords of Okazaki's "Figurations" with a sleek and clarion sensibility, McCaslin charred the entire landscape with a thundering low register.

slavic soul party

At Bowery Electric, Slavic Soul Party revived their fantastic tribute to Duke Ellington's legendary "Far East Suite." SSP imaginatively recast Ellington’s music, originally composed for a global State Department tour, into non-western styles, sometimes geographically appropriate ("Depk" in the style of Indian wedding music), and sometimes more reimagined ("Ad Lib on Nippon" as a Bulgarian piece). Of course, being a brass/reed band, SSP kept all of the soulful regality of Ellington's horn parts intact with pieces like "Bluebird of Delhi" ("More like Istanbul," quipped percussionist Matt Moran), switching from somber open fifths to shimmering jazz chords.

mostly other people do the killingAt one point in time, Mostly Other People Do the Killing referred to itself as "terrorist bebop," but during their set at NYU Law, it felt and sounded a lot more like "terrorist pre-bop." MOPDTK was like a power-noise artist's interpretation of the Jimmy Lunceford Orchestra, a surreal and deranged territory band straight out of a David Lynch film. But, as Dolly Parton once said, it takes a lot of finesse to sound this scary, and MOPTDK had it in spades. Long-standing members Jon Irabagon and Peter Evans interspersed classic swing-era solo licks with unearthly extended technique. The written music was surprisingly restrained, even pretty. The band's true strength was in how they sonically plunged into overdrive and formulaically threw it off the rails, with at least one complete cessation per tune. New additions Ron Stabinsky on piano, Dave Taylor on trombone, and Jon Lundbom on guitar opened up new possibilities, such as in Stabinksy's solo piano intro, jamming in snippets of Billy Joel and The Police.

henry threadgill There was an incredibly poignant moment that came in the last five minutes of Henry Threadgill's tribute piece, "Old Locks and Irregular Verbs," dedicated the departed Butch Morris at Judson Church. The previous moments of the work were filled with restless introspection and forceful cooperation. The unorthodox instrumentation (drum set, tuba, cello, two pianos, and two alto saxophones) allowed Threadgill's piece to operate in factions. Jose Davila's tuba made warm but pained interplay with Christopher Hoffman's cello, while pianists David Virelles and Jason Moran dictated the emotional core of each piece, which had a vague harmonic logic but appeared to move suspended in time. It climaxed into a sustained chorus of carefully constructed tones that offered finality without giving resolution—a fitting closing tribute to an old friend whose loss resonates but whose spirit lives on.

Darcy James Argue's Secret Society at SubCulture

Darcy James Argue Secret Society

I only caught the tail-end of Darcy's set, but the big band's sounding as sharp as ever. Next stop for Darcy: the 56th annual Grammy Awards, where Brooklyn Babylon is up for Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album. No word if he and Caroline are planning to share a table . . .  

Mark Guiliana's Beat Music at Bowery Electric

Mark Guiliana Beat MusicThe kind of set I seem to remember hearing some late night during a rave: a wild blend of synths, dub beats, guitar, and Guilana's drums, with vaguely ominous voices playing overhead. 

Endangered Blood, NYU Law School

Endangered BloodSure, I've seen these guys at Barbès more times than I can remember, but what a kick it was to see them get a rise out of the crowd gathered in this ornate salon that looked like a stand in for the East Room of the White House. I felt like I was stuck on a train with no conductor: Jim Black exploding on drums, Chris Speed defying gravity on tenor, Trevor Dunn keeping pace on bass, and Oscar Noriega blowing his head off on alto. Wow.

Gretchen Parlato, (le) Poisson Rouge

Gretchen Parlato

Parlato has established herself as one of jazz's leading up-and-coming singers, and she delivered the goods in an intoxicating set, her silky voice soaring over Taylor Eigsti on piano, Alan Hampton on guitar, and Mark Guiliana—who must have teleported over from the Bowery—on drums. 

EYEBONE at NYU Law School


With Nels Cline on guitar, Teddy Klausner on keys, and Jim Black on drums, these guys got loud. Really loud. Is this really a law school? Adam Schatz: You've got some explaining to do, young man.

Marc Ribot's Ceramic Dog at Judson Church


Alongside longtime members Ches Smith on drums and Shahzad Ismaily on bass, it was new addition Mary Halvorson who Ribot credits with helping to work out some muddiness in Ceramic Dog's latest material. "I just called Mary," Ribot said, "knowing she'd know how to clean things up. And, she did."

More pics on the photo page.