Burlington Discover Jazz Festival: Burlington, VT, June 1-10, 2012
Vijay Iyer FlynnSpace June 5, 2012
It didn't take the full moon to illuminate the contrasts between Iyer's performance and that of Craig Taborn the night before. Though each man played roughly the same length of time, Iyer's was a far less open-ended approach, each selection performed for little more than five minutes, except for his original "Kolam," based on a ritual from his homeland.
There's much that is remarkable about the fluidity of his playing and the way he uses the full expanse of the keyboard as he plays: on tunes by Thelonious Monk and Andrew Hill, he generated enough ideas to provide substance for upwards of a half dozen additional original tunes by lesser composers than they (or Iyer for that matter).
But there's also an intellectual reserve in his musicianship that prevents too much deep emotion from surfacing. His between song-comments, discussing his vocation and the state of jazz in general, were at some points more eloquent than his piano work. He offered a number about out-of-body experiences on "Autoscopy," but Vijay Ayer probably didn't have one in front of the packed house. And while he no doubt transported more than a few in attendance, it wasn't so great an expanse as traveled by the sparser Taborn crowd the night before.
The Donny McCaslin Group FlynnSpace June 6, 2012
The precision of the Donny McCaslin Group hit a responsive chord with the expectant audience in FlynnSpace, almost from the moment the quartet started playing. And certainly there is much to admire in the carefully-wrought original material, like the tribute to Tower of Power, "Energy Generation," as well as the arrangements of the arguable high point of the set, a two-part medley homage to parenthood, "Henry"/"Tension," (the introduction to which was naturally charming in contrast to the ingratiating name-dropping in another intro).
Yet, at least in the first hour of two, there was something almost too careful about the way the saxophonist and his group played. Even when they were soloing, there was a sense of well-defined boundaries, and while each member of the group was certainly technically sounddrummer Nate Smith most of allno one took chances or surprised themselves, their comrades or the audience. The fact that the music isn't overly polished is a great advantage in this regard, as the McCaslin Group's carefully disguised predictability wouldn't be camouflaged were the sheen too bright on their sound.
Still, the quick stops and tight turns at transition seemed designed to create the illusion of spontaneity, rather than provide points from which to leap to uncharted improvisation.
Jazz Lab Burlington City Arts Center June 7-9, 2012
An abundance of educational events, most interactive, pepper the BDJF event schedule, all designed to broaden the horizons of even the most erudite music-lover. Workshops such as the one conducted by Craig Taborn were interspersed with "Meet the Artist" sessions conducted by the festival's critic-in-residence, Bob Blumenthal, who acted as moderator of dialogues between artist and audience.
Far and away the most intriguing event, however, is the Jazz Lab conducted by the owners and operations of The Tank Recording Studios in Burlington. Ben Collette and Rob O'Dea set up a full array of equipment on the second floor of the Burlington City Arts headquarters, aiming to collaborate with artists in the ambitious hopes of completing a fully recorded, mixed and mastered track for upload the same day. In 2012, they and the bands in question hit the goal resoundingly every day (which made it all the more disappointing that these sessions, open to the public, were so sparsely attended).
Local DJ and vocalist Craig Mitchell brought his band, Motor City, to Jazz Lab on June 7, with a brand new tune, composed since the release of an EP produced at The Tank. Well-prepared and practiced, the band got the basic track down within a half-dozen takes, as did Mitchell in his vocal efforts. Finishing touches such as handclaps meant to accentuate the rhythm of the song topped off the track, their inclusion indicative of the band's openness to spontaneity as well as their own good humor.
Accompanied by his band The Mood Stabilizers, Joshua Glass was much more craftsmanlike in his approach to recording, admitting during the late-afternoon Q&A session that he'd had all the parts of the track in his head when the song was complete in its composition. Constructing the track piece by piece required the meticulous additions of multiple guitars from producer Sean Witters, while Glass himself proved scrupulous in his attention to detail in the layered vocal tracks he so patiently laid down.