Frisell/Carter/Motian; Winter Jazzfest; Gato Barbieri/Poncho Sanchez; George Coleman; Monty Alexander; Lee Konitz
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.
Gato Barbieri/Poncho Sanchez
January 17, 2009