Jazz Feed

Jose Llana in Lincoln Center's "American Songbook" Series

by Steven Pisano

46912453522_0177f1eaa5_o(All photos by Steven Pisano.)

The "American Songbook" series presented by Lincoln Center for over 20 years has been a reliably top-notch showcase for showing off the strengths of American songwriting. Some of the artists are singer-songwriters; others are interpreters of other people's songs. On Friday night in the Appel Room, the Filipino-American singer Jose Llana took the stage singing a range of songs from Stevie Wonder and Billy Joel, to Stephen Sondheim and William Finn.

Llana is best known in Broadway circles for two defining roles--in 2015, as the King in Lincoln Center Theater's Tony award-winning production of The King and I, succeeding the original star Ken Watanabe, playing opposite Kelli O'Hara; and for his portrayal of Ferdinand Marcos in the Public Theater's 2013 production of Here Lies Love written by David Byrne and Fatboy Slim. Along the way, he also had roles on Broadway in Rent, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, and the revival of Flower Drum Song, amongst other roles.

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Winter Jazzfest Marathon 2019

by Dan Lehner and Pete Matthews

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Winter finally reared its adversarial head for last weekend’s Winter Jazzfest, which was incredibly celebrating its 15th year. The bitter cold may have deterred some would-be last minute attendees, but the bulk still huddled in increasingly lengthening lines to hear some of the world’s best and freshest jazz and creative music. The oldest, most platonic form of WJF, the marathon - now taking on an almost literal dimension - had attendees running up-and-across town to catch whatever they could get into.

Friday night kicked off with local jazz radio stalwart WBGO's 40th birthday party at SOB's. After an opening set by up-and-coming singer Alina Engibaryan, guitar virtuoso Kurt Rosenwinkel took the stage with his quartet (Taylor Eigsti on piano, Ugonna Okegwo on bass and Jason Brown on drums.) Rosenwinkel stayed onstage to play alongside "DJ Brother Mister" (aka, Christian McBride), who indulged his fetish for old school funk by spinning records while simultaneously strumming an electric bass. The crowd readily obliged McBride's invitation to get up and dance. 

"Don't let me catch you standing there looking at me," McBride shouted. "It's a dance party!"

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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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