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Williamsburg Jazz Festival 2005

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For the third time, listeners took the hipster (and rapidly gentrifying) neighborhood by storm with a selection of jazz artists mostly culled from the local New York City scene. It was a casual atmosphere that reigned at this four-day event (Aug. 8th-11th) that showcased some up-and-coming jazz talent at the cozy Laila Lounge and at the larger, hipper Galapagos. At Laila, the audience seemed relaxed but more focused on the music. At Galapagos, on the other hand, there were a few people actually paying attention to the music, while the crowd seated at the tables and at the bar were more interested in nursing their cold beers and chatting up with friends.
The festival's lineup this year ranged from traditional to experimental with everything else in between, such as Travis Sullivan's Björkestra, which dedicates new arrangements for orchestra and vocals to the often strange catalogue of Icelandic singer/songwriter Björk or innovative downtown trumpeter Dave Douglas.
On Friday, Williamsburg's own Gerry Eastman Quartet opened with a very light, moody piece which slowly evolved into a more complex mode later on thanks to Joe Ford's saxophone riffs. They quickly moved onto a funk-bop groove that showcased the entire band, which featured Namiko Guatanabe (keys), Ford (soprano), Newman Baker (drums) and Jamira on vocals.
They also played more traditional-sounding tunes, such as the original walking-bass rich "Can't Be Without It and explored more experimental stuff on the following song, which had a lot of broken bass lines coupled by complicated keyboard sequences that served as backing for a Coltrane-inspired sax solo.

Cuban-born pianist Manny Valera followed with Latin-inspired hard-bopping jazz met by an ambiguous audience response - some were familiar with the sound, while others were apparently trying hard to follow the band, which featured Ben Street (bass), Seamus Blake (sax) and Ernesto Simpson (dms).

It was hard to understand what Mike McGinnis and OK OK were doing as they opened proceedings at Laila on Saturday - Kyoko Kitamura screamed extraneous vocals as she extracted other weird sounds off her laptop. Khabu Young followed that with weird guitar riffs, while McGinnis played reeds.

After, electric bassist Chris Tarry began with a funky, Return To Forever-inspired tune which the trumpet player took to a more Dizzy-esque direction. Guitarist Ben Monder showed incredible speed and technique, while Tarry kept things simple with his effective bass lines, which Dan Weiss followed by playing as subtly as possible.

During a break between sets at Laila on Saturday, I walked to the impossibly crowded Galapagos, where The Rick Parker Collective played a more sophisticated East Coast cool jazz. The band had a very new-bossa groove as they went along their set.

It is just a pity that we can't be in two places at the same time, so I could only catch glimpses of what was going at the separate stages. But what was seen and heard was satisfying. Here's hoping that next year's event turns out to be even better.

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