NYC Winter Jazzfest, Day 1: January 6, 2012
If Medeski's solo piano set was aiming to search, Marco Benevento was aiming to give Sullivan Hall everything he had. Benevento was armed with a bevy of electronics and equipment to spontaneously compose washes of looped sound and effortless melodies. Most of his music was steeped in the electro-acoustic indie rock style typified by artists like Sufjan Stevens and St. Vincent, characterized by a head-nodding sense of rhythm and plenty of wistfulness in the melodies. Occupied with one "acoustic hand" on the piano and an "electric hand" on his machinery, most of his melodies were deft and clever, erring on pentatonic and arpeggiated themes.
Benevento's construction was satisfying in its diversity and graduated nature. Everything moved slowly and effectively, each part getting ample time to breathe. Upper register cascades were bathed in static and coupled with warbling synthesizers. Benevento's ultra-cool "Greenpoint" followed the dub tradition carefully, with each section able to drop in and out at any point with just a little bit of soul for good measure. At a certain point, the electronic phaser, the glitchy drum machine and the adjusted timbre of the piano melded together to obscure where one began and one ended, creating a singular sound that would be difficult to ever replicate.
Gilad Hekselman Quartet
The young Israeli guitarist has forged a name for himself amongst strong competitors on his instrument, including but not limited to guitarists like Julian Lage, Lage Lund and Jonathan Kreisberg. Hekselman shines through his peers with an almost playful folksiness combined with his extremely swift jazz concepts. His first piece bounced around a snaky melody in ¾ time like a carousel. Heksleman likes chicken-picked gypsy guitar stylings as much as he likes advanced chords and blazing melodies. His band of more-than-just-seasoned young jazz musicianssaxophonist Mark Turner, bassist Joe Martin and drummer Marcus Gilmorewas able to lend its unique support to each of his ideas.
Hekselman had a unique way of tempering his lines. He would shift weight to distinct notes and let others skitter and fall away like pencil shavings, making the aural image of connect-the-dots. He shifted the architecture of his lines in a downward motion in unexpected places and managed to be motivic without being predictable. Turner had a similar approach, as is typical for the linear-minded tenor man (though at a level that is not at all typical for most saxophonists his age). Turner's fondness for Warne Marsh always manages to come into play at some point and he even hinted at shades of Trane-style changes in a completely unexpected location in Hekselman's "The Bucket Kicker" The lightweight disposition of Hekselman's compositions allowed the tenor/guitar sound to soar while Martin's muscular and sustained bass tone matched up with Gilmore's muted colors and stuttering rim clacks.
In the same way Hekselman has formidable peers of his ilk, it's perhaps even more pronounced for Mahanthappa. But in the age of mathematically precise alto saxophonists like Steve Lehman and Loren Stillman, Mahanthappa exhibited an intense and pan-cultural sound that grabbed the audience by their ears and shook their heads around. Better still, what Mahanthappa's playing did for the brain, the rest of his band did for the body. His quartet configuration, consisting of bassist Rich Brown, guitarist Rez Abbasi and drummer Rudy Royston, presented groove in some of the most visceral and mind-boggling ways imaginable.
Mahanthappa's soloing was unbelievably efficient. Despite being extremely loquacious in his ideas, not a single note was superfluous. Whereas the other three members bent the time feel with polyrhythms or long phrases, Mahanthappa's playing sat directly on top of the time and didn't waver for a second. His sound had a gravelly crackle to it, which helped his linearity avoid sounding overly indulgent. His study of Carnatic music had made its mark on the inflections of tunes like "Killer" and "Playing with Stones," Mahanthappa and Abassi ornamenting melodies with carefully executed turns.