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Winter Jazzfest, New York City, Day 2: January 8, 2011

Winter Jazzfest, New York City, Day 2: January 8, 2011
Daniel Lehner By

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Day 1 | Day 2

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


Kirk Knuffke Quartet

Trumpeter Kirk Knuffke certainly has an enthusiasm for the "hot" jazz of the 1920's, even if it isn't straight from the source. Knuffke's quartet—co-fronted by trombonist Brian Drye, and backed by bassist Mark Helias and drummer Jeff Davis—demonstrated the rollicking playfulness of Louis Armstrong's early groups, and Knuffke's robust trumpet tone, coupled with the Drye's expressive, occasionally wah-wah'ed playing, certainly lent credit to the New Orleans masters. However, his quartet is, in actuality, a third reiteration of the group's raw, improvised brass sound; the second being the work of soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy, to whom Knuffke paid tribute during last summer's Undead Jazz Festival. Knuffke's quartet is part of a post-Lacy generation that embraces the wryness and musical theatrics of the New Orleans sound, much like its contemporaries, Mostly Other People Do the Killing.

At its Kenny's Castaways show, the quartet also delved into a good deal of intricate writing and delightful anachronisms. Knuffke showed phenomenal technique, capable of switching into modern language at the drop of a hat. Drye's playing became raucous and harmonically adventurous, but never lost that Duke Ellington-ian spirit. Helias and Davis were more than happy to oblige the horns their slightly manic swing but, when providing a hip-hop based backbeat, the paradox was appreciated. Knuffke's band knew exactly where it came from in the lineage of history, and honored that connection even further by creating exciting, honest music in the creative process.


Jamie Baum Septet

Jamie Baum is one the few New York-based musicians who makes a name and a career primarily as a flautist. Whereas other reed players usually have the instrument as a member of their arsenal, Baum performs with hers as a primary axe. At her Bitter End performance, Baum's septet was flanked by some of New York's finest musicians, including guitarist Brad Shepik and pianist Kevin Hays. Hays was one of the many musicians throughout the festival playing Fender Rhodes and, though at the time it may have seemed like a equipment and/or venue based choice, the prevalence of the Rhodes as an artistic choice at the Winter Jazz Festival could not be understated.

Baum's music was mostly based around groove and rhythmic exposition. Her set opener had a playful feel that evoked images of running, unfolding like the opening of a film score. Baum's music liked to hold a center and deviate where necessary—the melody appearing and staying constant, but with the harmony changing underneath. A tune would be set in a complicated time signature like 10/8, but the soloists, particularly trumpet player Taylor Haskins, would maintain their melodic integrity. Baum's compositions also drew from personal experiences and programmatic writing. "The Monkeys of Gorkana" was meant to evoke a spooky feeling of extremely dark and treacherous woods and used turbulent horn lines and spooky ostinatos to convey the appropriate feeling of dread.

Bad Touch

Arriving at the Bad Touch's Kenny's Castaways set during the second half of its performance, the group had already worked itself into a controlled frenzy. Guitarist Nate Radley and organist Gary Versace were providing a pulsating, hard-driving rock feel underneath alto saxophonist Loren Stillman, along with the persistent support of drummer Ted Poor. The groove of the three rhythm section players was dominant and fighting for superiority, but it was the timbre of the group that lent it its depth; the echo of the organ and the ping of the electric guitar joining with the resonance of Stillman's alto to create a robust, almost alien sound.

Stillman played all over the horn, bending his solo flourishes upwards with a fluttery tone. Radley and Versace—who, in other contexts, have both shown a sense of melodic subtlety—exhibited a sense of fire and reckless abandon. Versace, who in certain instances sounded as if he was playing accordion voicings on the keyboard (he's known for his accordion work with artists like Maria Schneider, moved constantly upwards atop Poor's stuttering drum beats. It was a deliberately intense, deliberately ferocious brand of music that could be labeled "grad school badassery."


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