| Day 2
2012 NYC Winter Jazzfest, Day 1
New York, NY
January 6, 2012
No one could argue that jazz didn't have a tumultuous 2011. For the better, bassist/vocalist Esperanza Spalding
for Best New Artist marked the first time a jazz musician was awarded that honor, and veteran tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins
was honored for his lifelong (and continuing) achievement at the Kennedy Center. For the worse, the winter was a gloomy season, having lost living, active legends like drummer Paul Motian
, saxophonist Sam Rivers
and trombonist/arranger Bob Brookmeyer
. On a more interesting note, jazz may have even begun undergoing a socio-political reclamation as trumpeter Nicholas Payton
and others have challenged the word "jazz" itself and are seeking to bring the African-American context of the music to prominence (We may yet see the emergence of Winter BAMfest, depending on the path of the conversation).
But after the cadre of young musicians step up to fill the gaps of the elders and aim to pick themselves up off the laurels of a few mainstream accolades, it will become clear again that jazz (or BAM or Stretch or improvised music or creative music...) will march headstrong into 2012, and there's no better way to get things started than with BOOM Collective and Search and Restore's Winter Jazzfest. Set up as usual with five venues, over 30 artists per night, no corporate sponsorships and no restraints, Winter Jazzfest fired the starting gun for the New Year with a starry arrangement of bands both new and old, from every thread of the improvising music continuum. New Mellow Edwards
Trombonist Curtis Hasselbring
's New Mellow Edwards ensemble made a quiet but strong showing as a quartet at 2010's Undead Jazz Festival. However, as a septet, Hasselbring's unpredictable and diverse writing dressed itself in a whole new cloak of possibilities. Comprised of Hasselbring, guitarist Mary Halvorson
, Claudia Quintet-ers Chris Speed
(tenor sax/clarinet) and Matt Moran
(vibraphone), bassist Trevor Dunn
and the twin-drum-set configuration of Ches Smith
and Satoshi Takeishi
, Hasselbring's set at Le Poisson Rouge used a pastiche of musical tributes to create fictional, decoded narratives about real-life shortwave radio stations, deduced by Hasselbring to be espionage transmissions (a commissioned work entitled "Number Stations")
The most important quality to be found in Hasselbring's music was the use of coloration. Smith and Takeishi were the first of two twin-drummer bands playing at the festival, but the seemingly unusual combination makes sense, considering how far along drummers have come in the jazz world. One drummer was allowed to create underlying pulse while the other peppered the sound with his own sense of color. On one song, Halvorson's spiky bundles of lines matched Dunn's scratchy bridge textures and on another, contrasted with Moran's ethereal bursts of sound. Moran's bowed vibes airlifted Speed's reedy tenor sound, which later meshed with Hasselbring's warm trombone tone.
Hasselbring's writing for "Number Stations" approached levels of both supreme quirk and optimistic sweetness. Pieces like "Create Anchor Babies" spun thick harmonies in continuous rondo form into a samba beat, repeating melodies and trading solos in a delightfully claustrophobic expression of the Jobim spirit. Some tunes sounded like grunge hits chopped up into rhythmic pieces, others sounded like honest cowboy ballads. Stories were woven into the fabrics of songs by way of Chris Speed's unique internalization of bebop vocabulary and Dunn's compositionally sound bass soloing. Everything was both melded and easily parsed, which is, to many fans, the spirit of jazz in the first place. John Medeski Solo
A solo piano set is never an easy way to keep an audience's attention and showcase musical prowess, especially not when an artist like John Medeski is chiefly known for being a keyboardist/organist with the consistently popular Medeski Martin & Wood
. However, his showcase at Le Poisson Rouge was remarkable in its vast departure from the groovy intelligence of MMW and into the realm of something more serious. Medeski's set wove in and out of lush jazz chords and soulful hymns, ever-presently permeated with splashes of spiky dissonances.
Medeski clearly had a strong fascination with the pure sounds
a piano could make. After Monk/Tatum style runs of note clusters, he would create moving volleys between thumping tones with his left hand and cold, water droplets with his right. He lured his audience into repetitive structures of sound that shifted ever so slightly, even in the most extreme registers of the piano. Left-hand ideas would submit to right-hand ideas and then rebel against them later. In the muddy depths of the instrument, Medeski accustomed his listeners to the extremity and let the echoed overtones of sound ring out. His subversions of sweeter pop melodies were often abrupt but not childish, only really tugging the rug from beneath the crowd, not pulling it out from under them.
What nobody could have expected, however, was his abandonment of the piano altogether in favor of a long, wooden flute. Medeski procured the long, indigenous-style flute from the side of the stage and began to whistle out joyous fife dances, sliding his finger across the length of it to adjust what was, upon later musing, one pitch with several other overtones attached. Then Medeski returned to the piano, but not without leaving the audience pleasantly reminded that having the word "solo" attached does not mean what might be assumed. Robbins/Jermyn/Noriega/Smith/Hollenbeck
Festivals like these are as much living workshops as they are showcases. The band, comprised of alto saxophonists Pete Robbins
and Oscar Noriega
, bassist Simon Jermyn
and drummers Ches Smith
and John Hollenbeck
, may have a name later, but at Winter Jazzfest it was an exploration of the possibilities of a two-alto/two-drummer/one-bass group. The quintet functioned as jazz for the Aphex Twin set: a jungle-grooved, dub-bass heavy soundscape punctuated by ferocity, operating in both live and looped time.