Undead Jazz Festival: Day 3, June 25, 2011

Daniel Lehner By

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Undead Jazz Festival
New York, New York
June 23-26, 2011

Most jazz festivals in their later incarnations look for fancier, more illustrious places to play than they did at inception. The third night of the Undead Jazz festival momentarily shifted that trend in reverse. After spending their first night where they originally began, in the hip, bustling, restaurant-and-bar laden streets of Greenwich Village, and the second night in the nicely furnished but remotely located Bell House in Gowanus, Brooklyn, the festival decided to allow the eclectic, DIY, loft jazz atmospherics of its music to be reflected in the venues themselves. Though Park Slope's Littlefield is naturally accustomed to hosting musicians, Homage Skate Park and the CrossFit South Brooklyn gym were unusual venue choices to say the least. To add to the aesthetic, the latter two sports/fitness areas showed little-to-no signs of any formal conversion into a music hall. Patrons sat in the gym on folding mats and weight benches under neutral fluorescent lighting, while in the skate park, audience members were seated on grind boxes and propped up on vert ramps, ominously lit by a single, spherical ceiling lamp and séance-like candles.

Saturday night also featured some of the more experimental and lesser known performers (which for this festival is saying something). While some of the names had the potential to perk up ears within the downtown jazz world, such as David S. Ware and Matt Wilson, the night was filled with names that aimed to stir up intrigue and introduce new faces (and new configurations by familiar faces). The chasm of eclecticism was wide and open; everything from neo-traditional gospel to glitchy, electronic improv to Jewish jazz-dub was represented.

Jeff Lederer's Sunwatcher

Albert Ayler was a beloved and too-quickly-departed member of the post-Coltrane clan of avant-garde free jazz saxophonists. Reedist Jeff Lederer's quartet allowed itself to be partially possessed by the ghost of Mr. Ayler at Littlefield, channeling the saxophonist's primal aggression, wistful passion and Salvation Army band march melodies. Rounded out by bassist Chris Lightcap, drummer Matt Wilson and pianist/keyboardist Jamie Saft, the group let the spirit of Ayler's music propel it into levels of unbridled enthusiasm.

Some of Sunwatcher's music, within the context of the rest of the festival, was among the most traditional. Many of the pieces, such "Albert's Son," were fueled by Matt Wilson's big, joyous swing feel and painted in big, sun-kissed colors by Saft. However, it wasn't just the tradition of swinging that gave the quartet an old-school sound, nor did that old-school sound make the music conservative. A lot of the music harkened back to the time when quartets with histories of bebop, such as John Coltrane's classic foursome, began to use their sounds to move outwards. Saft and Lightcap would hit and react like McCoy Tyner and Jimmy Garrison used to do. Some of Lederer's solos pursued a modal, "out in the context of in" approach, ascending high and then dive-bombing. There was also no mistaking each quartet soloist's ability to play in the context of history. Lightcap soloed with a simmering swing in his slowly descending lines and Saft, who had thus far represented himself as an electrical wizard the night previously and would prove himself to be a dub reggae aficionado later in the night, established himself as a pianist to watch out for, playing lush, languid blues solos and thick, fully constructed chords at the piano. His most surprising display of musicianship came when he reached inside the piano and, instead of playing disjointed plunks, etched out a melody that sounded like a jukebox.

It wasn't all polite swing and friendly chord voicings, obviously. Lederer exhibited his most potent Aylerian scream on tenor, alto and soprano saxophones, soloing like a cyclone over charging rhythms. Saft may have been capable of channeling Red Garland but he was also capable of melting his 50's style block chords into elephantine crashes in sound. The rhythm section swirled and pounced on lulls in Lederer's soloing, setting up the necessary call and response ethic. Sunwatcher is a group that embodies the spirit of the 60's, when jazz had its pick of present and past influences.

Min Xiao-Fen's Dim Sum

Dim Sum is the Asian-American answer to the Afro-Futurist movement of the 60's and 70's. In the spirit of that cultural and artistic movement concerned with blending African identity into modern and futuristic modes of expression, Min Xiao-Fen's duet with drummer/percussionist/electronic musician Satoshi Takeishi is a musical project thousands of years in the making, and merged traditional vocals and instrumentation with electronic methods of music making.


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