by Dan Lehner
Parodoxically, the more Winter Jazzfest grows, the more fragmented it becomes. To accommodate the (admittedly fortuitous) problem of growing crowds, WJF had expanded even further from its West Village and Bowery enclaves into the Union Square area, taking over three separate buildings of The New School. Unfortunately, this meant that walks between locations can be upwards of 20 minutes a piece, making venue hopping more difficult. Fortunately, WJF had focused on more carefully curating each venue to make staying put in a given location more rewarding.
ECM Records presented just such a night at the New School Tishman auditorium.Trumpeter Avishai Cohen presented his quartet, demonstrating ECM's signature preference for the colorful and crystalline. Cohen took a markedly diminished role in his own group, letting his rhythm section stretch on the trumpeter's pensive, determined compositions. Pianist Jason Lindner and bassist Tal Mashiach were the most intriguing tools in Cohen's workshop, playing and peppering his compositions with their most extreme registers, but reverting back to simple unison as soon as they got into it. Cohen's pieces flowed gradually but in an agitated sense, like stages of a rainstorm. Nasheet Waits' drums and Cohen's trumpet playing divided the quartet in half further still by playing in an unusually similar way: pointed, occasionally dissonant and with just enough edge to keep the music from getting too comfortable.
(Pictured: Roy Hargrove at The New School)
Though very different on the surface, the Ches Smith/Craig Taborn/Mat Maneri trio operated somewhat similarly to Cohen's trio. Smith's music (in conjunction with his CD release the same day), also favored filmic textures and pensive shadings with a sense of unease. The key difference was the level of intensity in either direction. When Smith's music was contemplative, it did so with an obsessiveness, looping and trading melodies that could be deconstructed or distorted at will. And when it got intense, it got almost acerbically so, each instrument being played to almost combustion level. Smith, like Cohen, had a real sense of color, although his being more cubist rather than impressionist. The trio was perfectly arranged to help in this endeavor, Smith being the metal wizard on an array of trap drums, cymbals, metal bowls and vibraphones, Taborn being able to somehow coax the same area of sounds on just his piano and Maneri employing a motherboard of electronics to fill the spaces in between.
Meanwhile, in NoHo, another jazz entity, the Revive Music Group, was putting on their particular brand of jazz music, one defined by a specific potency of kickass groove and post-modern swing through trumpeter Keyon Harrold. Harrold had an arsenal of trumpet vibes in his pocket, some that burned, some sweet and some with a searing bluster. As a rhythm section, Chris Dave and Burniss Travis had the equally diverse role of supporting Harrold and alto saxophonist Casey Benjamin's polyrhythmic jaunts and also bursting into their own sudden musical contexts as well. Harrold also dispensed with some of the stuffier "showcase" mentality of these time slots to let tenor saxophonist JD Allen sit in on the jam session classic "What is This Thing Called Love", wherein the band, particularly Allen, morphed the Cole Porter tune into the fold of the music that they were just playing earlier.
(Pictured: Dr. Lonnie Smith's Evolution at Judson Church)
The closing act at Judson Church, the "super secret guests", was also the most welcoming and familiar: The Bad Plus. It became clear during their set that TBP has set the standard for many of the bands that the festival still showcases today. But it was also clear that the trio still had more to say about their tunes, even as they pass their 15 year mark. Whether it was 2005's "Prehensile Dream" or 2014's "Self-Serve", there was an equal amount of mystery and unexpected hills and valleys in the group's energy that made everything feel fresh and young. It was a glimmer of hope for creative musicians that even the architects of the pre-eminent indie jazz trio still fit in so many years later.
More pics on the photo page.