by Dan Lehner
Editors Note: Both Dan and I were originally supposed to cover this year's Winter Jazzzfest, but your's truly got COVID on Wednesday, so I've been self-isolating all weekend. I'm still hoping to make it out to Wednesday (1/17) night's Ryuichi Sakomoto tribute at Roulette with DJ Spooky, Yuka C. Honda; tickets available here.
In 2004, Winter Jazzfest’s first roster counted a total of 20 bands claiming the three floors of the Knitting Factory’s old Manhattan location on Leonard Street, occurring as a one-night-only event. Twenty years later, the festival now boasts 700 artists over 9 days over several miles of both Manhattan and Brooklyn real estate, with two evening-length marathons and a kaleidoscope of one-night presentations and talks that span subgenres, historical tributes, artist-in-residence curations - and all the work by artists young and old that’s worthy of showcase under the broad banner of “jazz”. For financial and spatial reasons, it behooves festival-goers to be selective about where they spend their time, but Friday's Manhattan Marathon gave audiences a chance to slice through a concentration of clubs in the East and West Villages to sample some of the best new sounds to check out in 2024.
Kicking off a three-set 70th birthday celebration at Bowery Ballroom, veteran guitarist Marc Ribot was ripping through melodies at a searing intensity with his “New Trio”, featuring bassist Hilliard Greene, long-time collaborator Chad Taylor on drums and special guest James Brandon Lewis on saxophone. Though separated by about 30 years in age, Ribot and Lewis’s compatibility was extremely obvious; both men favored the radical simplicity of melodies more related to folk music (which is to say, touching on gospel, blues, Woody Guthrie and punk rock) than contemporary harmonic constructions. Songs were free in form and time but with dynamic contours; a Led Zeppelin-ish rock tune would burst into free jazz flames before settling into spoken word. Taylor worked as both catcher and instigator, moving from restless jazz to stadium rock as the music necessitated, and Greene complemented Ribot’s musicality with both Mingusian bowed bass and rock n’ roll bombs he literally bent the bass forward to drop. (After I left, Ribot played in a duo with fellow guitarist Mary Halvorson, followed by a set with his longtime band Ceramic Dog.)