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Winter Jazzfest Marathon - Saturday

by Dan Lehner and Pete Matthews

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Greg Osby and Lakecia Benjamin at Le Poisson Rouge

A warm Friday gave way to an even warmer Saturday - making Winter Jazzfest seem almost like Spring Jazzfest, encouraging causal wandering between venues and neighborhoods. Fortunately for attendees, there were plenty of reasons to get out of their comfort zones (literally and physically) to check out what each venue had to offer. 

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L-R: Matt Brewer, Steve Lehman, Damion Reid

Starting at Zinc Bar, saxophonist Steve Lehman’s trio with bassist Matt Brewer and drummer Damion Reid is well-known for its icy precision, darting between the cracks of rhythm and harmony. But the addition of pianist Craig Taborn opened up even further dimensions to Lehman’s aesthetic map. Taborn countered Lehman’s intensity with a certain softness, allowing Lehman’s microtonalities to become even more pronounced, and he even seemed emboldened by the piano’s presence to round out some of the hardcore edges. Nevertheless, velocity was still the name of the game in Lehman’s group, the group’s energy bounding and stopping on a dime, through Lehman’s originals and one particular burning version of Kurt Rosenwinkel’s “A Shifting Design.”

 

Helen Sung Winter Jazzfest 2020
Helen Sung and Kush Abadey

Over at The Dance, Helen Sung was trying out a new configuration as well with her “Sung With Words” project. Not only was this a new instance for the acclaimed pianist to work with vocals (in this case, the adept and nimble Christie Dashiell) but also to adapt pre-existing text - in this instance, the poetry of former NEA chair Dana Gioia. Giving the audience a preview of the poem first, Sung's adaptations were diverse and layered; interpolations of the text would sometimes be in full, Mingusian avant-blues song form, sometimes reduced to the hush of single notes and cymbal scrapes. The musical landscape was, on its own, intricate enough - Sung utilized saxophonist Steve Wilson not only as a solo voice, but as a harmonic technique, locking in with right hand piano lines in unexpected ways. Not to be left out of the fun, Sung even had Wilson and herself contribute lush background vocals for a tune, giving Dashiell's interpretations even more depth.

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Winter Jazzfest Marathon 2020 - Friday Recap

 

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Charles Altura, left; Jure Pukl, right

by Dan Lehner 

An unseasonable warm spell may have made for an odd environment for Winter Jazzfest this year, but encouraging people to not merely park themselves in one space always yields the best results. The landscape of WJF this year was sprawling but manageable (the festival no longer utilized the New School auditoriums but a series of relatively convenient galleries and performance spaces in NoHo and the villages) and there was plenty of reason to go wandering.

Jure Pukl kicked off an early set at The Dance (a new addition to the map) with a stimulating quintet set. Pukl’s music had a maximalist, go-for-broke inventive quality built around easy-to-latch-onto ideas, anchoring the ambition of its performers with a catchy ideas, preventing it from losing focus. A robust tenor player, Pukl made long ropes of dense harmonies through the range of his horn, but was also adroit at a melodic gentleness. The same can be said of his bandmates: vibraphonist Joel Ross did a tremendous job of coalescing exciting melodic ideas out of the knotty logic of Pukl’s music and guitarist Charles Altura nestled his wide swath of intervallic ideas within the scope of prettiness and taste.

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"The Love Suicides at Sonezaki" at the White Light Festival

by Steven Pisano

Sonezaki_Shinju-hatsu_toku042.final_copyright Hiroshi Sugimoto-Courtesy of Odawara Art Foundation(© Hiroshi Sugimoto/Courtesy of Odawara Art Foundation)

2019 marks the 10th anniversary season of Lincoln Center's White Light Festival, offering works from around the world in music, theater, and dance that explore art’s power to "reveal the many dimensions of our interior lives." The festival opened this past weekend and continues through November 24.

The initial presentation, The Love Suicides at Sonezaki, is a Bunraku play written by the esteemed Japanese dramatist Chikamatsu Monzaemon (1653-1725). A soy sauce company sales clerk named Tokubei and a prostitute named Ohatsu are in love, but many forces conspire to keep them apart. So, they decide that if they cannot be together in this world, they will commit suicide and be together in the next life. The show was such a big hit when it was first presented in 1703, that numerous young couples were known to commit suicide in the nearby forest, which caused the Tokugawa shogunate 20 years later to prohibit any further performances--a ban that lasted until 1955 (232 years later!).

This U.S. premiere was created by artistic director Hiroshi Sugimoto, one of the world's most celebrated photographers and architects, as well as a theater producer. The music was written by Seiji Tsurusawa, who is known as a Living National Treasure.

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"desi:NOW" at Lincoln Center Out of Doors

by Steven Pisano

20190804-DSC01614(All photos by Steven Pisano.)

A desi is "a person of Indian, Pakistani, or Bangladeshi birth or descent who lives abroad." You can include Sri Lanka too.

On Sunday night, in a program hosted by Reena Ninan from CBS News, Lincoln Center Out of Doors presented a survey of some contemporary South Asian performers in a program called "desi:NOW" in Damrosch Park.

New York is no stranger to "traditional" performances from the Indian subcontinent, from Kathak, Odissi, and Bharatanatyam dance to sitar and tabla music, but the presence of contemporary performers who often blend these traditional forms with more modern forms such as hip hop/urban dance and rap music are far less known.

The evening kicked off, literally, with Project Convergence, who combined Bharatanatyam dance and tap dancing. At some point in the past this may have seemed like a crazy idea, but it worked more effectively than you might think, and with American Ballet Theater experimenting last year with integrating similar forms into its repertoire (via Michelle Dorrance), the idea of fusing dance forms just seems to be a sign of the times.

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