February 2009

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Jeff "Tain" Watts

Jeff "Tain" Watts

Winter Jazzfest

Le Poisson Rouge

New York City January 10, 2009

The big draw of Winter Jazzfest was drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts' midnight set at Le Poisson Rouge Jan. 10th in honor of Max Roach's birthday, with Terence Blanchard (trumpet), Branford Marsalis (tenor and soprano sax) and Christian McBride (bass)—the quartet heard on Watts' new release, simply titled Watts. Anticipation was high and the band knew it, so they flattened listeners against the wall with "Return of the Jitney Man". In this breakneck opener, the even faster "Dancin' 4 Chicken" and also the slower, fragmented blues choruses of "Brekky with Drekky" (a Michael Brecker homage), no one could ignore the electricity of Marsalis and Watts' interaction, honed over many years. There was, however, something of a creative gulley mid-set as the band seemed to succumb to allstar syndrome: more chops than musical interest. (Interestingly, bassist Eric Revis, Marsalis and Watts' longtime band mate, delivered a superior set across the street at Kenny's Castaways with the new group Tar Baby.) Blanchard played with depth and wit but seemed stuck for ideas in a couple of spots. When Lawrence Fields, a young pianist from St. Louis, came on board to reprise his album cameo on the soprano sax ballad "Owed...," the crowd energy dissipated further. But interest piqued again with the peculiar structure of "The Devil's Ring Tone," pushing Marsalis and Blanchard into a heady round of trading, and "Wry Köln," an older piece brimming with sonic surprise and AfroLatin influences.

By Any Means

By Any Means

Winter Jazzfest

Kenny's Castaways

New York City

January 10, 2009

As one of three venues hosting the epic Winter Jazzfest, Kenny's Castaways had its limitations—mainly a horrid piano barely fit for amateurs, let alone world-class jazzers. Some bands suffered for it, but thankfully, By Any Means, the trio of saxophonist Charles Gayle, bassist William Parker and drummer Rashied Ali, was not one of them. In fact, for all its frenetic, crosscutting interplay, the free jazz supergroup—ambassadors from New York's Vision Festival circle, in effect—wrung some of the cleanest sound of the night from the room. The set was split into two extended improvisations, but one could detect at least five different episodes folded within. Beginning in a fast, busy frame of mind, Parker skated gracefully across an implied tempo; Ali generated a less-is-more mass of sound he'd favor throughout and Gayle blew alto with great endurance and pronounced Ornette-ian turns of phrase. After 10 or so minutes the music grew sparser, with Parker's low, resonant tones coming into focus. Ali weighed in with a chatty solo, leading the band to reenter at an even faster tempo, with an explicit quarter-note pulse. Parker sawed manically with his bow, Ali jousted with Gayle in a round of trading and the first segment came to an abrupt but logical end. The second piece began slower, with a loopy swing feel highlighting Gayle at his bluesiest. Again the music grew more abstract, then accelerated, giving the entire set the contour of variations on a theme.

—David R. Adler

Don Cherry Tribute

Don Cherry Tribute

Symphony Space

New York City

January 16, 2009

The influential trumpeter was remembered in a concert with an octet led by Karl Berger, the pianist and vibraphonist most noted for founding the vital Creative Music Studio in 1972, the impact of which is still felt through the many musicians who worked there. The fact that there were no vibes on stage was unexpected, but the biggest surprise of all was how safely the music was approached. Cherry started his career in the groundbreaking Ornette Coleman Quartet and went on to incorporate non-Western traditions into his music, creating a multicultural aesthetic that not only influenced Afrocentrism in jazz but has been cited by dub, punk and rap artists. As they worked through seven of Cherry's compositions (and one by Berger that did show a hint of South African rhythm), they stripped the music down to not just mainstream jazz but a conservative repertory. Berger assembled a strong band, with Graham Haynes filling the trumpet role on cornet, saxophonist Peter Apfelbaum, guitarist Kenny Wessel, bassist Mark Helias, drummer Tani Tabbal and Bob Stewart on tuba, any one of whom would seem inclined to push the envelope. Berger's wife, the vocalist Ingrid Sertso—who like Berger and much of the band worked with Cherry during his life—offered invocation through lyrics she wrote to Cherry's music (some at his request), perhaps the most heartfelt element of the evening. It's a shame the current didn't run deeper.

Nicole Mitchell

Nicole Mitchell

The Stone

New York City

January 2-3, 2009


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