Moscow City Jazz Festival 2008
December 4-5, 2008
Swiss trumpeter Erik Truffaz, a moderately well-known figure on the international tour circuit, surely counts Russia as a favorite gigging destination. This concert, in a popular pub-cum-music-club called 16 Tons, saw him welcomed by a highly enthusiastic young crowda far cry from the standard demographic at most similar events in the UK. Despite lengthy delays in reaching the city after landing at the airport, Truffaz and his quartet played with similar vigor, whipping up euphoric grooves based on relatively simple melodic and harmonic ideas. His effective cross-section of jazz and popular music is the main source of his mainstream appeal, although the live show was nevertheless largely sans gimmicks save for the drummer's momentary dabbling with electronic randomness. Obvious references can be made to the late work of Miles Davis, so it's not particularly original, but the band was enjoyable to watch and Truffaz can certainly look forward to many happy returns to city and country.
The Bad Plus with Wendy Lewis
Music by Stravinsky, Ornette Coleman and the three band members was on the bill in a typically distinctive set from The Bad Plus. Two things let them down. First, the sound engineer: Ethan Iverson's piano was far too low for the instrumental tunes, meaning it struggled for leverage against drummer Dave King's trademark scampering rhythms and skittery beats. A bigger, balanced sound to match the players' personalities was needed. The band's inclusion of indie rock singer Wendy Lewis for recent tours and the upcoming album has raised many eyebrows, and justifiably so. Her presence, although it clearly dominated the sound check, did not lend matching gravity to the overall performancewith a limited vocal range and negligible on-stage charisma, it felt like she was getting in the way more often than not, distracting from the fine creative work of Iverson, King and bassist Reid Anderson. The group's desire to explore new territory is understandableeven after a series of highly acclaimed trio recordsbut one couldn't help thinking they might have made a better choice of vocalist.