by Steven Pisano
The 9th annual Northside Festival, running through this Sunday, June 11, offers an eclectic mix of symposiums on technology, innovation, entrepreneurship, advertising, government, video, and other topics. If you are looking to connect with other like-minded people in myriad creative disciplines, Northside definitely has something for you.
Of course, there is an equally wide range of music, which kicked off at McCarren Park on Thursday night with Jay Som, Kamasi Washington, and Dirty Projectors. The audience in the park was smaller than last year's opener when Brian Wilson brought his Pet Sounds tour through the borough. But that was a special one-off.
Kamasi Washington's continuously inventive and forceful music is already on a level that brings to mind John Coltrane or Wynton Marsalis. His tenor sax doesn't have the unique signature that many other jazz greats have had, whereby you can hear a short phrase and know right away who's playing. But then, the most notable aspect of Kamasi Washington's music is that he eschews the soloist limelight.
Instead, Washington comes to play with a large retinue of musicians he's played with for years - including his father Ricky - and it is this extended jazz family that so consistently performs at a cosmic level. When he steps back into the shadows to let another musician or singer take the light, it isn't just continuing the jazz tradition of letting others take their turn. Kamasi steps aside out of complete deference, as if he himself were the guest. Then, when Washington finally does step back up front, the entire group comes together in a way that is so extraordinary, when I looked around in the audience there were people just smiling everywhere, filled with irrepressible joy. On top of all of that delicious horn music, there were songs performed by powerhouse Patrice Quinn, whose voice can probably reach another planet.
After all that light and joy, it was somewhat of a 180-degree turn when local indie legends Dirty Projectors took the stage as the headliner. The group's personnel and sound has morphed many times over the last 15 years, and now seems mostly a solo project for David Longstreth. Media outlets reviewing the band's most recent recording, (titled, er...Dirty Projectors), rag on ad nauseum about Longstreth's break-up with former singer and girlfriend, Amber Coffman. And there are songs on the album that are clearly post-breakup, but they are not nasty or seeking revenge. In fact, Longstreth had a hand in producing Coffman's own recent solo release.
The stage lighting was on the dark side for most of the set, and the band members either stayed in one place, or exited the stage if they weren't performing. Longstreth hid in a well of darkness behind where the spotlight had been set up for him, and he alternated between guitar, keyboard, and singing, moving slowly back and forth like he was sleep-walking.
The songs were a strange, bewildering mix of edgy indie pop hooks and obscure, twisted, cacophonous noise, as if you took Michael Jackson, Thurston Moore, Frank Zappa, and Bjork and threw them in a blender. One minute you're tapping your toes and bopping your head. The next minute you're looking for an Advil. Nevertheless, it's hard not to be won over by songs like "Cool Your Heart," "Little Bubble," "Keep Your Name," and "Up in Hudson."
McCarren Park will continue to offer a full slate every night through Sunday, in addition to showcases at a dozen or so clubs around Williamsburg. Check out the the full schedule here.
More photos can be found here.