11 January 2010

Review: Winter Jazz Fest

Quickie review of an awesome Saturday night of music. Winter Jazz Fest was a two-day festival spanning 4 or 5 clubs in a 2-3 block radius in the Village. They did a supremely good job booking the festival, plucking tons of amazing musicians, mostly local to play. There were a bunch of my old favorites and some that I've been meaning to see but just hadn't gotten around to see yet. And the frickin' thing sold out! Amazing. I just went Saturday, here's my rundown in chronological order:

Jenny Scheinman/Jason Moran @ Le Poisson Rouge
Did you know that I love Jenny Scheinman? You didn't? Well, I do. There are many reasons for such feeling and many levels to that love. She's one of the few musicians who can play a weekly gig and have every week be completely different. I mean completely -- she can play Django-jazz one week, do a folksy country vocal duet the next, lead a big band with heavy hitters like Bill Frisell or Jason Moran the next and do free-form improv with a bunch of great local dudes. And it's all great. Some is better than others depending on your tastes and mood, but it's a tremendous combination of breadth and quality. I can think of only one or two other musicians who come close. Anyway, that's a long way of saying that each time you see Jenny, it's just one part of a continuum -- it'll stand alone just fine, but in the context of everything takes on heightened excellence. Saturday was no different. Just a duo, Jenny lead the way with mostly her material, playing beautiful, mournful violin while Jason Moran played the flourishing muse behind her, filling in the gaps, pushing just a bit, but mostly just embellishing wonderfully. My only minor complaint was that it was more of a sit-down kind of set and it was a packed SRO affair.

Claudia Quintet @ Bitter End
It wouldn't be a good festival if you didn't feel like you were missing something with each choice you made, but I'm confident I made the right one by heading over to the smaller and cozier Bitter End for the next three bands there. First was the Claudia Quintet, a group I knew of but didn't really know at all. What a revelation! Accordion, sax/clarinet, vibraphone, bass, piano and drums the mix was catchy, eclectic and a lot of fun. You might count those instruments and get to 6 like I did. They had one guy (Gary Versace) sitting in, but not knowing in advance, you'd have had a really, really hard time guessing who the "guest" was. The playing was seamless. If you don't love the vibes, you have no soul and the CQ was deep with the vibraphonics, mixing a groovy jazz with hypnotic undertones. A great find and Trevor Dunn -- the best bass player you've never seen -- on the stand-up keeping it all in line. Loved it!

Rudder @ Bitter End
Rudder is one of those bands I knew I loved even before I heard a single note. Featuring the all-world rhythm section of Keith Carlock on drums and Tim Lefebvre on bass, I knew there was no way this wasn't going to blow me away, but I just didn't know yet. Well, wonder no longer, Saturday night's highlight set was watching these guys blaze new universe from the galaxies of funk, jazz and rock. Carlock and Lefebvre are the backbone to Wayne Krantz's K3 -- and they showed some new levels of playing while maintaining all the deep, brain-crushing "what the fuck just happened?" hits that Krantz fans have become dangerously addicted to in the last 10 years. Loved 'em!

Todd Sickafoose's Tiny Resistors @ Bitter End
Dunn > Lefebvre > Sickafoose is a serious triple play of seriously underrated bass playing. I'd put those 3 up against any 3 you got. Sickafoose had one sick band put together including Jenny Scheinman (who has a Madonna-arena-show level of wardrobe changes in her), Steve Cardenas, Rudy Royston, John Ellis and more. In all, there were two guitars, a violin, drums, sax, trombone and of course the bass. Todd lead a band the way all bands should be lead, give the player some excellent material and hang back and let them go with it. Each piece was superlative and each featured some jaw-dropping moments folded into some truly awesome songs. The highlight had to be a solo that Jenny took (biased, I know) with the rest of the band strutting and swaying behind her violin. She built it, slowly but with purpose, easing through multiple themes before exploding in a fit of raging bow work. It was really as good as I've seen her and the band matched her measure for measure. The set also featured perhaps the best trombone solo I've seen in maybe forever. Great shit, don't sleep on Sickafoose in any form, he's brilliant. Loved it!

Bitches Brew Revisited @ Le Poisson Rouge
Now fully lubricated and into Sunday, my 36th birthday, it was time to take it back to LPR for something a little different. The set was essentially a partial recreation/inspired-by/revisitation of Miles Davis' Bitches Brew, which recently celebrated its 40th birthday itself. The band was pretty all-star all around, with Marco Benevento on the not-too-hot/not-too-cold Rhodes, DJ Logic on the tables, James Blood Ulmer on guitar, Cindy Blackman on tres funky drums, Graham Hayes playing the role of the man in front and many more. If you dig the album (you do, don't you?), you would have dug this. A nice balance of true-to-the-album and true-to-the-spirit-of-the-album.

Marco Benevento Trio @ Le Poisson Rouge
The room had kinda emptied to about half full or less by the time the Bitches Brew thing was done. Next up was the Marco trio which is nothing less than ubiquitous these days. Unfortunately, no Andrew Barr which had been the thing most worth seeing the trio to me. Frankly, the love I've had for this group has ebbed to a "really, I'm over it" kind of vibe. Was there something wrong with the Duo that no one told me about? Seems like that was a waste of an endless stream of possibilities (and you don't get many of those in a lifetime). There, I've said it. Loved it... but not any more.

Global Noize @ Sullivan Hall
I'm sure you can be a fully functioning jazz festival without early morning options, but it always helps. Now running more on whiskey and good-people-vibes than musical appreciation, made it over to Sullivan Hall for da jamz. This was kind of like a Bride-of-Frankenstein version of the old Project Logic and would have fit in quite nicely at the old Wetlands. Casey Benjamin on sax, funky-as-fuck Ron Johnson on bass, DJ Logic and a bunch of people I couldn't see because everything was kinda hazy through my whiskey goggles. Love the city where music goes til 3... at least.

Looking forward to this next year cause that was an smashing success. $25 for all that? 2010's starting off on the right foot!