NYC Winter Jazzfest 2015: Friday Recap
Prototype Festival: Toxic Psalms at St. Ann's Warehouse

NYC Winter Jazzfest 2015: Saturday Recap

by Dan Lehner and FoM

The Cookers, WJF 2015
(See our Friday recap here.)
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. 
Over at the Minetta Lane Theater, veteran band The Cookers proved once again that music is the ultimate Fountain of Youth. Between them, the seven members of this jazz supergroup (Donald Harrison (alto), Billy Harper (tenor), Cecil McBee (bass), George Cables (piano), Billy Hart (drums) Eddie Henderson and David Weiss (trumpets)) have more than 250 years of experience and have played on over 1,000 recordings. But, make no mistake: these septuagenarians still have serious chops, taking no prisoners with their ferocious blend of hard-bop. Harrison, the baby of the group at 54, was absolutely riveting, tossing out extended solos with power and finesse. Suffice to say: these guys know how to put on a clinic.
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Jacob Blickenstaff/NY Times
Tributes are not unusual in the jazz world - they're downright common at jazz festivals - but Rudresh Mahanthappa's Charlie Parker project was a far cry from anything expected. Parker's influence was used in extremely non-literal ways; Mahanthappa used a part of Parker's "Donna Lee" mostly as a bridging point between dense, rock-driven vamping in his "On the DL", and copped the intervallic structure and the sunny disposition of "Relaxin at Camarillo" for his positively pretty composition "Chill". Mahanthappa and 20-year-old trumpet marvel Adam O'Farrill took another indirect influence from Parker in their soloing, where long boppish lines were peppered with their own unique concepts. Mahanthappa's solos were as razor-sharp as audiences have come to expect, although the paternal presence of Bird seemed to have given his performance a more gentle edge. 
jen shyu
It can be said, without hyperbole, that no one on the creative music scene does what Jen Shyu does. Still relatively fresh from her pilgrimage to South East Asia, Shyu's performance at The Players Theater - a mostly unbroken take of her work "Seven Breaths" - spanned everything from her usual standbys of voice, piano, moon lute and er hu, but also incorporated East Timorese instruments, pre-recorded sounds and a heavier-than-ever emphasis on spoken word and dance. Shyu's performance emphasized story, and even got the audience involved through teaching them Korean words of encouragement (basically the East Asian version of the common jazz "Woo!") Shyu's voice has not only gotten better over time, it's gotten more diverse and impactful, wielding a pan-Asian quilt of carefully threaded styles.
The Campbell Brothers, WJF 2015
Over at Judson Church, The Campbell Brothers offered their special blend of "sacred steel": gospel, blues and R&B delivered via lap and pedal steel guitar (Darick and Chuck Campbell, respectively), anchored by Phil Campbell's penetrating vocals. After a set of originals and covers - highlighted by Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come" - they delivered a searing interpretation of Coltrane's masterpiece A Love Supreme, mining it's deep, ecstatic spirituality, more Indian raga than jam session. Close your eyes, and you might even call it a 3-part symphony. 
Henry, Hampton and Low, WJF 2015
The night ended back at the Minetta Lane Theater with the debut of Henry, Hampton and Low: yet another supergroup featuring tenor Levon Henry, guitarist Alan Hampton, and singer-songwriter Meshell Ndegeocello (a.k.a. "Low"), whose music has been moving in a more experimental direction over the past several years. All three took turns at the microphone, but it was Ndegeocello who haunted, unleashing her dark, hypnotic voice to maximum effect in "You Might Think Twice," about the exacting price of falling in love. 
Winter Jazzfest in its 11th year gave hope to jazz fans in its exponential growth, as well as how different the festival is year after year. Frustrating though it may have been to be perpetually locked out of venues, standing in long lines in the cold and adjusting to new venues, these shifts suggest that jazz might just be ready for the wider stage it deserves to have again.
More pics on the photo page