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Winter Jazzfest 2019: Medeski Martin & Wood with Alarm Will Sound at Brooklyn Steel

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Winter Jazzfest ventured out to Bushwick's Brooklyn Steel on Wednesday night for a special evening with Medeski Martin and Wood and contemporary chamber orchestra Alarm Will Sound. For nearly 30 years, MMW have trailblazed a singular path through jazz, funk, and improvised music that's brought them to some of the biggest festival stages in the world. And for the past 15 years, Alarm Will Sound has developed out-of-the-box crossover projects with everyone from Aphex Twin to Björk. 

In 2014, AWS artistic director Alan Pierson approached MMW about the possibility of a new collaboration. The result was Omnisphere, recorded live in Denver in 2015 and released this past September on MMW's own imprint, Indirecto Records. In addition to new arrangements of tracks from MMWs 2004 release, End of the World Party (Just in Case), the album includes original compositions by longtime AWS members Caleb Burhans, Miles Brown and Payton MacDonald, as well as drummer Billy Martin's impressionistic "Coral Sea" (arranged by AWS trumpeter Jason Price).

The most memorable performance of the evening was Medeski's own composition, "Eye of Ra": a 20 minute journey through aleatory music, gamelan, free jazz, rock - basically, everything but the kitchen sink. At turns hushed and explosive, it was adventurous and challenging as anything I've ever heard, something I'd expect to hear at Roulette, or perhaps as an opener at the NY Phil. But, in music as with most things, everything is context, and at Brooklyn Steel the standing room only crowd of 2000-plus - including everyone from young hipsters to old Dead- and jazz-heads (and at least one world-famous composer) - greeted it with explosive cheers. 

The show ended two hours after it began (not including a 20 minute intermission) with Martin conducting and improvisatory encore that included several participatory outbursts from the audience. (You can watch a sideways video of the last 30 secs here.)

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More pics on the photo page. 


Winter Jazzfest 2019: "We Resist" at Le Poisson Rouge

by Steven Pisano

31725044687_0b385db1f6_k(All photos by Steven Pisano)

The Winter JazzFest is filling venues all week with a wide range of musical styles linked to "jazz", including old school, new school, and everything in between. One thing you can be sure of: You are going to hear some great music by some great musicians--even if you've never heard their names before.

On Sunday, Le Poisson Rouge played host to an ambitious program called "We Resist," presenting politically motivated music by Arturo O'Farrill and the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra (with special guests Antonio Sanchez, The Villalobos Brothers, and Akua Dixon); Marc Ribot; Toshi Reagon and musicians; and Samora Pinderhughes and musicians.

The evening kicked off with Pinderhughes performing his magnificent "Transformation Suite," which I first saw a couple of years ago at the BRIC JazzFest in Brooklyn. At that time, the piece was performed in the Artist Studio, the smallest space at BRIC, and with videos playing in the back corner and Pinderhughes half-hidden behind his piano, there was almost a detached, academic air to the work. It was beautiful music that engaged your intellect.

But at LPR, Pinderhughes and his group of excellent musicians and spoken word artists were aiming for something much more powerful, and the effect was a punch in the gut. The basic thrust of "Transformation Suite" is about racial injustice and about the brutality enacted against people of color in our country.

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"The Good Swimmer" at BAM Fisher

by Steven Pisano

"The Good Swimmer" at BAM Fisher(All photos by Steven Pisano)

Back in 2008, Heidi Rodewald was nominated for a Tony and won an Obie for her musical "Passing Strange," which was eventually turned into a film by Spike Lee. She has collaborated many times with singer/songwriter Stew. Writer Donna Di Novelli is known for her fascination with "found text" as the basis for her lyrics written for various music-theater projects.

Together, Rodewald and Novelli have written the new song cycle "The Good Swimmer," which is currently playing at BAM Fisher through Saturday as part of the 2018 Next Wave Festival. First seen as a sneak peek back in 2016 at the Prototype Festival, "The Good Swimmer" isn't a work of theater per se. There is a band on stage throughout (including Rodewald on electric bass) that includes electric guitars, drums, keyboards, cello, trumpet, and violin. On a scrim above the band, there are projections and videos, including images from old lifeguard manuals and the roiling ocean. Throughout, a group of seven lifeguards move around behind the band and occasionally gather into tableaus, without directly conveying the lyrics being sung.

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The Wombats at Terminal 5

by Katie ZepfMurphy (left) Knudsen (right)
On Tuesday night, indie vets 
The Wombats finished off their 2018 U.S. tour at Terminal 5. The British outfit features lead singer Matthew Murphy, drummer Dan Haggis, and bassist Tord Øverland Knudsen. Playing to a Halloween costumed crowd, all members dressed as cats for the occasion, with Murphy sporting a full catsuit, ears, and furry boots.

 

The colorful, upbeat set included songs from their newest album Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life (“Cheetah Tongue”) as well as older hits from their albums A Guide to Love, Loss & Depression, This Modern Glitch, and Glitterbug. The band’s fun, positive energy was reflected in every aspect of the show: from the colorful lights projected on stage, to the surprise dancers dressed as cheerleading wombats who appeared during a lively performance of “Let’s Dance to Joy Division”.

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