Undead Jazz Festival: Day 1, June 23, 2011
Undead Jazz Festival
New York, New York
June 23-26, 2011
If 2010's Undead Jazz Festival were the first installment in a series of zombie films, then the first day of the 2011 season was a sequel picking up where our protagonists (or anti-heroes, depending on how you look at it) left off. Before the festival moved down to Brooklyn, it had some unfinished business in Greenwich Village's Kenny's Castaways, Sullivan Hall and Le Poisson Rouge. Organizers Adam Schatz and Brice Rosenbloom, leaders of their undead army, re-convened in familiar territory to further their modus operandi of shattering jazz expectations and relentlessly introducing new artists. Once the gleeful creative destruction was finished, Schatz and Rosenbloom raised their fingers and pointed in the direction of Gowanus, Brooklyn, where the army would raise hell at The Bell House on Friday night.
All zombie movie metaphors aside, the festival had very legitimate reasons for shifting its attention toward Brooklyn. The aforementioned borough has become the home of unrelenting creativity over the years. In addition to being the residence of many a young, new jazz artist, Brooklyn also houses breeding grounds for this music to grow and prosper, such as Josh Roseman's 58 North 6th St. studio, and genre-bending venues like Southpaw and Zebulon. The West Village has been, and most likely will always be, a home to jazz both new and old, but at this point it may be too steeped in the old guard way of operating to reinvigorate an art form that needs a drastic boost. Considering the current flock of young, intellectual, artistically-minded people residing in and moving to Brooklyn, the Undead Jazz Festival may yet be able to latch on to what it needs most: a younger audience. The Search and Restore organization may yet be able to drive down the average age of jazz goers by latching on to the youth of Brooklyn and feeding off their energy (okay, so maybe that wasn't the end of the zombie movie metaphors).
- Satoko Fujii's ma-do
- Harris Eisenstadt's Canada Day
- Paradoxical Frog
- Andrew D'Angelo Big Band
- Dave King's Trucking Company
Whereas some jazz artists emphasize "the space between the notes" as a time/phrasing idea, Japanese pianist Satoko Fujii's band was one that emphasized the space between the actual sounds themselves. Joined by husband Natsuki Tamura on trumpet, Norikatsu Koreyasu on bass and Akira Horikoshi on drums, the four musicians emphasized extended technique not just as a means of pushing "legitimate" sounds outward, but as an artistic expression in and of itself. The band kicked off their set with a weeping, scratchy bowed bass intro by Koreyasu that turned slightly classical before joining Fujii's left hand in a relentless rhythmic tattoo. Not to let the concept die so quickly, Tamura, in a remarkable imitation of the bass, came in with a breathy, creaky trumpet intro that flowed into melodicism. Fujii's soloing was a noteworthy combination of lines and bombastic clusters. While the soloing was mostly atonal, the colors she employed were bright, finding clarity in arranging sequences of single notes in little tribal groups before setting them to war with Cecil Taylor-like crashes of rhythmic intensity.
Fujii's band was a true group of storytellers. They achieved their clarity by setting up defined sections and a dichotomy between composition and pure freedom. The band would move into slightly disassociated regions of hip-hop/modern groove music and then break down into freer styles before bringing it back again. Sometimes the two forces would happen simultaneously, at which point Fujii would sew the differences together with ominous left hand pulses. The quartet united around specific rhythms, the kind of thematic development that gave Tamura's sonically and harmonically adventurous melodies and Horikoshi's vibrant, drum-and-bass style beats a place to come back to. The band was also not afraid to get violent and sometimes exceedingly mournful with their sounds, integrating tones like the beating of Fujii's piano strings with a drum stick. However, what kept the intrigue of the band was their unity. The places they took their music may be cruel and unrelenting, but they all went there together.
Drummer/composer Harris Eisenstadt's Canada Day is one of those great songwriting bands, the type of outfit that played endlessly fascinating melodies with intricate part-writing. The group employs Chris Dingman on vibraphone, an instrument that doesn't seem to have enough presence at festivals like these, as well as trumpeter Nate Wooley, saxophonist Matt Bauder and bassist Eivind Opsvik. The band managed to create profundity out of effortlessness: nothing was overly virtuosic, nothing was completely inaccessible, but everything was worth listening to.
Canada Day played a two-part piece entitled "The Ombudsman," which, according to Eisenstadt, is a trusted intermediary between two opposing factions. While the group obviously wasn't musically litigating against each other (quite the contrary, Eisenstadt and Opsvik had an airtight lock between them), the compositions set up defined dialogues amongst the group, sometimes split between trumpet/sax and bass/vibes/drums moving in interlocking rhythms. The first part moved along with a quiet confidence, Dingman's laconic and carefully crafted accompaniment playing no more than he needed to and Opsvik's rich, swaggering bass line lending its support. Opsvik started off the second part with a self-dialogue, rhythmically alternating between high and low notes. The horns, which had previously been used to add support, came out in front with an inviting melody. Eisenstadt's pieces had a folk-like quality to it, encouraging the band to solo and extrapolate from a limited use of chords.
Canada Day's horns were a great dichotomy. Nate Wooley's solos were brash without losing control, often moving into furious screeching and fluttering. Even within the context of being melodic, Wooley soloed with a restless time-feel and an ambitious harmonic sense. Bauder was a great counterweight for the group. His solos always pursued thematic melodies at the expense of fast runs (which he indulged in also), complete with a beautiful, vocal tenor tone that complimented his solo concept.