Undead Music Festival, Greenwich Village Edition: New York, NY, May 9, 2012

Daniel Lehner By

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Undead Music Festival
Greenwich Village Edition
Kenny's Castways, Sullivan Hall and Le Poisson Rouge
New York, NY

May 9th, 2012

Despite its constant and ambitious expansion into other geographic and spatial situations, the Undead Music Festival (formally the Undead Jazz Festival, a change that says more than a bit about the nature of the music and music scene) has retained the tradition of keeping its first night at the Greenwich Village trifecta of Kenny's Castaways, Le Poisson Rouge and Sullivan Hall. The festival moved its date up considerably from its usual time—and perhaps as a result of the end-of-school obligations of the majority of Undead's fan base, the turnout seemed more meager than usual. Still, those who came out were enthusiastic to watch and absorb the new acts and returning favorites, well into the evening.

Secret Architecture

Formed in Boston and honed in New York's Caffe Vivaldi on a regular basis for the past year, Secret Architecture made its first break into the New York festival run at Kenny's Castaways. The young, trans-national band proved itself to be a strong new addition in the pantheon of (mostly) acoustic jazz bands influenced by indie rock and chiefly interested in operating as a unit. Much of their music had a mysterious but optimistic quality in which lilting, almost cabaret-style rhythms gave way to energetic rock sections. Secret Architecture's playful seriousness seemed to draw from two directions: the historicist melodies of Ornette Coleman and the mature, knowledgeable fusion of bands like Radiohead. Their music put a new twist on the tried-but-increasingly-clichéd notion of "episodic," wherein they would end with a similar but different melody from where they started, ending with more of an ellipsis or a question mark than a period.

Being Berklee graduates, it's a given that the individual musicians would all fit the pre-requisite of "killin,' " but what's more important is that they're unique. Scottish saxophonist Fraser Campbell is probably one of the few young saxophonists to truly adapt the language of Charles Lloyd, a style that combines enriched bebop lines with skittering arpeggios and long, sinewy threads of passionate sound. Julian Smith's bass lines and solos achieved both virtuosic verbosity and hard-edged punchiness with dazzling technique and a potent, woody sound. Drummer Zach Mangan not only played a super-funky samba, but he also made jazz and pop collide in instances where he mixed a swinging ride with a thumping bass kick, and keyboardist Wade Ridenhour impressively developed gradually more fluid ideas over the 3/8 chord cycles of their penultimate tune.

Jamie Saft's New Zion Trio

Jamie Saft's band did not begin its set with any pretensions. Right from the get-go, the trio dropped right into dub reggae mechanics, with bassist John Maron and drummer Craig Santiago locked into an airtight, failsafe one-drop groove. Saft's trio drew bits and pieces from jazz and Jewish music, but wasn't overly eager to insert them willy-nilly. Instead, he preferred his occasional harmonic fluctuations to flit in and out of his majestic piano waves as he split his time between echoed piano and Rhodes, playing both with similar linguistic qualities, but attuning his playing to the difference in sonic quality. He also indulged in some space-commander type sound control, matching up nicely with Santiago echo chamber grooves. Saft, known for his work with John Zorn, did inject a bit of Masada-style Hebraic tonalities, but only as a tension-building device, which was slowly-but-triumphantly brought to a huge resolution to close New Zion Trio's set.

Nate Wooley Quintet

Last year, Nate Wooley, bassist Eivind Opsvik and drummer Harris Eisenstadt took the same Kenny's Castaways stage under Eisenstadt's name (along with Chris Dingman on vibraphone and Matt Bauder on tenor sax). However, this configuration, with Matt Moran on vibes this time and Josh Sinton on bass clarinet, championed Wooley's particular compositional and improvisational outlook. Whereas in Eisenstadt's group, Wooley was the more agitated, sonically textured counterpart to Bauder's streamlined sound, Wooley and Sinton were more evenly paired, even allowing Wooley to be the more Apollonian one. On Wooley's "Make Your Friend Feel Low" for example, Wooley's solo was unabashedly linguistic in terms of bebop vocabulary a la Lee Morgan or Woody Shaw, whereas Sinton took a more Eric Dolphy-esque route (and not just due to the same instrument—he also managed to capture some of Dolphy's patented, twisted take on typical bop phrasing). On Wooley's "Plow" however, the two were more in tandem, Sinton's lower textures buoying Wooley's fluttering.

Wooley's compositions and selections had a unique take on all things compositional. His rendition of Randy Newman's "Old Man on the Farm" set both the melodies and the solos stuttering and thumping amidst torrents of drums and bass, Wooley serene and unaffected by the atmosphere around him. Wooley's "Plow" set each quintet member on their own assignment, converging small, pointillist melodies together simultaneously. "Executive Suites," like "Plow," was arranged in something of rondo form, its disassembled, time-shifting head coming back during the course of the performance. Like his other compositions, it showcased some of Wooley's wryer side; the tune had a "hustle and bustle" feel straight out of a Merry Melodies cartoon that culminated into Eisenstadt, Opsvik and Moran into a fast, horse-riding swing.

Tony Malaby's Paloma Recio

The themes and source material in saxophonist Tony Malaby's Paloma Recio were like the sculptures already resting in stone walls of sound. The quartet of guitarist Ben Monder, bassist Drew Gress and drummer Flin Van Hemmen continuously cast thick walls of aggressive but even-tempered energy out into the open, and forged their written and improvised melodies from there. The established materials weaved themselves in and out of each other, creating a mandala of alternating melody/noise cells. Malaby's writing and the band's exposition crossed more than a few recognizable genres, starting the set with a Flamenco intro and evolving into the head-banging, call-and-response of a groove-metal band.

The mystery and controlled mayhem in Paloma Recio's sound was partially due to its unique cast. As both a rhythm section player and melodic instrumentalist, Monder flitted from cloudy chord textures into punctuated riffs and hits. Gress supported and reacted to his band mates with plucked and arco lines, matching up with different members for brief periods of time, and Van Hemmen had a surprisingly relaxed approach to Malaby's passionate and occasionally intimidating music, favoring color and concise organization of sound over pure volume. Malaby's sound has been his ace-in-the-hole for years, and this performance was no exception. His burnished, wavering, vocalistic tenor sound allowed him to make profound statements with the fewest notes possible.

Chris Dingman's Waking Dreams

As a composer, vibraphonist Chris Dingman has a lot to say musically. His set at Sullivan Hall, joined by Fabian Almazan on piano, Loren Stillman on alto sax, Ike Sturm on bass and Jared Schonig on drums, etched out involved musical stories, passing parts between band members. Almazan took hold of much of the band's quiet, more floral material, drawing up beautiful textures torn by mournful remembrances. Dingman's solos expressed similar sentiments, though his spectral instrument made each dissonant tone go down smoother. The music was, as the band name suggests, quite dreamlike, but also complex and energetic. The tune "Waking Dreams" was set in a multi-faceted 5/4 rhythm with a melody that expanded upon itself, Stillman's solo finding itself a tonal focal point and expanded in and out from there. Waking Dreams was a refreshing reminder of what it means to be "percussive"; the vibes, drum set and piano (with its hammered strings) all fall in technicality under the heading of percussion and Dingman's music linked up these commonalities together to create a whole ocean of textural possibilities for both groove and grammar.

Gerald Cleaver's Black Host

All things in free jazz that take a ghostly nomenclature seem to reference Albert Ayler, and while Cleaver's band did take a few cues from Ayler's music, the assembly of pianist Cooper-Moore, guitarist Brandon Seabrook, bassist Pascal Niggenkemper and alto saxophonist Darius Jones created new and frighteningly beautiful and powerfully traded statements of sound. Cleaver's written material flows from long tones that hover and stick together amidst the fray. Most of the melodic content was airy and nimble, allowing for gradual fluidity, not unlike some of Morton Feldman's compositions—however at one point in particular, a modern jazz dirge seemed to appear out of nowhere. True to Cleaver's prolific experience as a drummer, bits and pieces of other genres lurked underneath, one piece channeling a bit of indie soul towards the end.

Black Host was a mostly democratic band, but Cleaver kept a chieftain's role as a groove-keeper, supporting the breadth of each number with a constant pocket. Seabrook had the greatest number of sound options with a whole array of pedals and radio sounds, but Niggenkemper got in on the extended technique action, using a floodlight frame to create screeching banshee wails. Jones also brought a sense of electronic presence, his humming and beeping alto sound often more like a laptop glitch processor than a reed instrument. Moore brought a huge historical presence with touches of Andrew Hill and McCoy Tyner and gave the whole ensemble a safety net of familiar but powerful texture to fall into.

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