Frisell/Carter/Motian; Winter Jazzfest; Gato Barbieri/Poncho Sanchez; George Coleman; Monty Alexander; Lee Konitz
Despite the increased space for this fifth edition of the fest, bodies remain rammed close, at least until 'round midnight. This makes it a wise notion to resist rushing between overlapping performances, maybe staying stationary to secure a vantage point. Otherwise, there'll be an eternal back-of-room existence, the curse of the craning neck. Beginning the long night at Kenny's, perched up in the rafters for a vulture's-eye- view, By Any Means are back together. This is an old-school free jazz combo featuring saxophonist Charles Gayle, bassist William Parker and drummer Rashied Ali. As so many bands are playing at Winterfest, most sets lie around the 45 minute mark, a factor which means that this trio are just beginning to become heated when it's close to finishing time. By Any Means generate a swirling energy-spiral that doesn't alter much throughout their set, initially lacking the mysterious force that's so necessary to its success. Following on, Sex Mob are frothing up in anticipation, loins girded to deliver their full load in condensed form, set to impress with their sharp slamming together of retro exotica and advanced squawking. Steve Bernstein's fivesome are masters of throwing avant concepts into a bubbling groove-pot, and even if he denies being the boss, the slide trumpeter is constantly upping the improvisatory tension by maniacally prompting his pawns, silencing, selecting, stereo-spreading or simply urging them to explode. Bernstein is an arch wit, so it's a shame that half of his quips are indistinct. Was he announcing to the assembled promoters that, hell, he'd even do kiddie shows, or was that peepshows? He's probably up for both. At least Bernstein's modally slippery horn-work is cutting through, as is the urgent escalation of altoman Briggan Krauss. Mention must also be made of the incredibly tight-sprung Kenny Wollesen on the skins'n'gongs.
The crowds are jammed in to (le) Poisson Rouge to see reedsman Don Byron's new Ivey-Divey Trio with pianist Jason Moran and drummer Eric Harland. They're making very quiet music, so concentration is frequently disrupted by a constant turning-over of the audience. This is Byron in his most traditional state, glorying in the nakedness of his flitting clarinet, and then powdering the room with his golden tenor billows. Harland is soon ousted in favour of Billy Hart, which makes for an engaging contrast. It's not clear how happy this makes Harland, as the younger sticksman never comes back, leaving Hart to complete the set. Remaining inside the Poisson, the evening's midnight special requires the purchase of a premium ticket. It's a pre-release unveiling of The Watts Project, an outfit (and album) that gives drummer Jeff 'Tain' Watts some time under the bandleader spotlight. This is a role that he's increasingly prioritising, after years of staggering sideman work. It's a supergroup of melded minds, a quartet who have had years of intertwined playing experience. Joining Watts are trumpeter Terence Blanchard, bassist Christian McBride and tenor saxophonist Prometheus Jenkins. The latter's somewhat ludicrous moniker should have alerted all that there's a pseudonym in the house, and here indeed is Branford Marsalis, who emphatically delineates the supergroup status. This is hopefully no detraction from Tain's composing abilities, but these four are so fused into each other's lifebloods that this after-hours meeting virtually takes on the feel of a jam session, albeit in a tightly stage-managed incarnation. As they each step forward, they're taking solos that are at the highest end of their capabilities. Technically dazzling, but also casually inspirational, seething with potency. The quartet feed ravenously off the communal joy, incrementally hiking up their power. Then, saxophonist Marcus Strickland steps up and the party vibe swoops to another level. Witness the return of jazz as dance music, as this long night rolls onward.