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Winter Jazzfest, New York City, Day 1: January 7, 2011

Winter Jazzfest, New York City, Day 1: January 7, 2011
Daniel Lehner By

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Winter Jazzfest
New York, NY
January 7-8, 2011

Since the informal move of jazz to the cities in the 1930s, the lore and legend of jazz compositions have lain in streets and places. The most common ones were the clubs, where innovations in jazz were happening, and the windy, uptown streets of questionable safety where they were being forged ("52nd St. Theme," "Five Spot After Dark"). The modern jazz composer might not have use for such subject matter, but if there's a place for these matters in the present of future musical contexts, there may be songs about Bleecker St.

Of course, New York City's Winter Jazz Festival—which has expanded to five venues for its Saturday shows and amassed crowds of thousands—is not just a place for groups to experiment. It's also grounds to exhibit, recollect, celebrate and debut. Winter Jazzfest takes some of its architecture from the jazz festivals that precede it, such as George Wein's groundbreaking Newport Jazz Festival. But with the plurality of place and music (where you could be seated at a table at one venue and squatted under another at the next) and the sheer weight of a festival crammed into such a tiny space is a visual indicator that this festival has as much in common with SXSW (South by Southwest) as it does a typical summer lawn affair.

Amina Figarova

There's a famous tradition of American jazz musicians going overseas to play for welcoming audiences in Denmark and France. More often than not these days, the trend seems be shifting in reverse: jazz musicians from all around the world, influenced in one way or another by jazz on record or in person, are now flocking to New York. Azerbaijan-born and Rotterdam-resident pianist Amina Figarova was hailed by the announcer at Zinc Bar as the "newest pianist to the NYC scene." Figarova's band was a sextet informed by more than one era of jazz; the kind of sound that can only come through years of listening, and innovation through imitation.

Figarova's band had a warm, gentle color combination of flute, trumpet and tenor saxophone, the kind of post-The Jazz Messengers sound stylized by musicians like James Spaulding. The horn section showed a lot of historical precedent, but managed to innovate in the style they placed themselves in. Bart Platteau, using the flute as his primary instrument as opposed to a double, had more than enough bebop influence to go around. Trumpeter Ernie Hammes was at home with the Freddie Hubbard/Lee Morgan sound, but also channeled the quiet nuances of modern trumpeters like Terence Blanchard when he wasn't burning. Tenor saxophonist Marc Mommaas, a Netherlands native and New York resident, has formed a rhythmically and harmonically free style over the years, drawing heavily from Wayne Shorter's tenure in the Miles Davis Quintet of the mid-'60s, and found himself in a unique position to push the band to exciting places.



Figarova's precision uncovered new depth as time went by; her piano sound possessed a quiet pleasantness, tempered by a cool touch and bouncy but flowing right hand style that could not be underestimated, lest a listener be tripped up by her adroit sense of harmonic dissonance. Musically, her writing drew from the rumbles of Latin-influenced American jazz, pursued enthusiastically by drummer Chris " Buckshot" Strik, aka "Buckshot," and the funky, bass-heavy sound of 21st century soul proprietors like Robert Glasper.


Shane Endsley and the Music Band

Fans of trumpeter Shane Endsley might not be surprised at the seemingly tongue-in-cheek name of his band, but might be surprised at how appropriate that name really is. Endsley's solo project was music in plain English, songs categorized by strong melodies and concepts your grandmother could understand. While the music did not, in any way, lack sophistication or fire, there was a certain absence of all things pretentious that modern jazz sometime really needs.

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