Undead Jazz Festival: Day 4, June 26, 2011

Daniel Lehner By

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Undead Jazz Festival
New York, New York
June 23-26, 2011
The last night of the Undead Jazz Festival, which had paraded its way from the chic, well-lit streets of the West Village down into the depths of restored Brooklyn habitations, gave its final hurrah with the most ambitious night yet: three venues, four stages, 17 acts and the most diverse cast of players yet. The bigger names were bigger, the smaller names were smaller and the sub-genres were even more obscured. Progressive string ensembles were stone's throws away from aggressive free jazz duos. Tuba-led reggae bands rubbed elbows with Jewish garage rock. If the Sunday night audience was weary after three days of sonic adventure, Search and Restore frankly didn't give a damn.


Small groups fronted by two horns have a lot to consider, including timbre, range, blend and facility. Although trumpet and trombone are far from unusual fare separately, together within the context of Bizingas' unique, brash and eclectic writing, the two-brass sound conjured up strains of Balkan music and New Orleans street bands with a touch of second-wave ska. Over the bass-less rhythm section of guitarist Jonathan Goldberger and drummer Ches Smith, Bizingas molded and kneaded its powerful brass sounds with the raw aesthetics of art rock to create a new sound entirely.

The quartet's performance flowed effortlessly, even when its choice of sonic palette and group duties were less than obvious. Different members shifted from support mode to melody mode at different times; the bass lines were sometimes provided by Goldberger's low-slung power chords, but occasionally by Drye's tuba-style oom-pah. Occasionally, the rhythm was given to the trombone and drums while the trumpet and guitar etched out a melody, and sometimes there was no defined time at all, as Goldberger's warbling guitar tones provided a watery surface over which the horns could skate. Smith got his opportunities to stretch out beyond his job as pulse maker, creating frenetic drum trickles and auxiliary noises on the vibraslap.

Drye and Knuffke excelled in creating a fire by using the friction of their individual styles. Knuffke's sound was fluid and flowed with a serpentine logic; Drye's sound was more pointillist and eclectic, using a bag of effects ranging from arrow-tipped ultra-staccato notes to fuzzy plunger tones. With the trombone playing slightly higher than usual and the trumpet playing slightly lower, Knuffke and Drye were able to find places where they fit together, whether it was ricocheting counterpoint or warm but unexpectedly angular horn lines. Bizingas embodied a lot of what's going on in modern jazz: a deconstructed quartet of talented musicians brought together by innovation and merry prankster energy.

The Claudia Quintet

The numeral nomenclature tacked onto the end of John Hollenbeck's project has a layered meaning. The name Claudia Quintet emulates both small group jazz ensembles (such as the Miles Davis Quintet) and contemporary classical ensembles (like the Kronos Quartet). Hollenbeck's ensemble is the flagship group in the "new music meets modern jazz" idiom, synthesizing intricate and spectral lines of musical dialogue with both harmonic and free improvisation. Saxophonist/clarinetist Chris Speed, accordionist Ted Reichman, bassist Drew Gress and vibraphonist Matt Moran all came together to leave an indelible mark at Public Assembly in Brooklyn.

The first thing those new to The Claudia Quintet would have realized, from its festival performance, is that its instrumentation was not chosen simply because it sounds cool. The combination of accordion/bass/vibes/clarinet/drums created a sound that was at once earthly and other times otherworldly. This was especially true of Speed and Reichman's interplay; the accordion's free reed aerophone mixed with the clarinet's plaintive timbre, creating a glittery array of sound. On "Be Happy," Moran, Speed and Reichman creating a singular, starry note field for Gress to churn out a stuttering, sinister bass solo, losing themselves individually in the process. Hollenbeck acted the part of a musician's drummer, not only creating irregular pulses and head-nodding beats, but also creating swampy, jagged effects on toys and occasionally even singing, to add to the color palette.


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