West Bleecker Run Down
I went to Winter Jazz Fest this weekend. It was extremely well priced, and the talent level was extremely high. I saw 7 shows, and I average 1000 words a show, so I’m going to give a rundown of the stuff I saw, ESPN highlight style. Let there be a reminder that we’re entering the realm of opinion. No hate mail, please.
Julian Lage Quintet:
He is magnificent. I think that I’d like him a lot with a band that would make him behave himself, like Gary Burton’s. His tunes weren’t great, but they had been written two days prior. I like the idea of a band that is constantly writing new stuff.
A little bit Hollywood; it was the “Julian Lage Show” for sure. No one else in the band really made an impact. There was no reason for using cello and percussion(in lieu of drums) that I could see. I’m not shocked that he has a Grammy. He fits solidly in the “best guitarist out of Berklee these days” tradition.
Nels Cline Singers:
These guys were great. Scott Amendola and Trevor Dunn were spectacular. Nels is certainly a singular talent, and that’s coming from someone who by and large can’t stand electric music. Really good textural stuff, along with surprisingly nice grooves and interplay. I had never seen them play before.
Seeing Aaron Parks was nice, he’s not my cup of tea, but he always tries some interesting things and is very sensitive. Nice voicings too. Ben Wendel was stellar. He’s certainly coming up. I loved him. He was the only saxophonist that I saw who has a tone rooted in anything pre-Coltrane. Good to hear. Nice feel, great ideas. Nir Felder was also good, not quite as impressive as Ben, but still quite great.
Tunes didn’t kill me. Some weird Celtic influence stuff going on.
Couldn’t get in. Damn. Mark Turner with Marcus Gilmore would have been nice.
Rich Brown, making Canada proud! He was definitely the highlight of the show. Such presence on stage. Rudresh’s tunes are cool, but the highlight is definitely the groove and the interaction between the drummer and the bassist, not the improvising. Res had one great solo, and Rudresh was Rudresh. Mad props the Rudy Royston, who was practically reading the book. He has breadth like it’s nobody’s business. Fantastic.
Matt Wilson w/ Strings: Couldn’t get in. I may be destined to never see this quartet again, this is the third time that I have been denied…
I have no idea why so many people think this music is so interesting. Everyone on stage can do whatever they want on their instruments, but the writing is so boring… Vamps without too much complication, minimal improvisation, and a pedestrian stylistic language. I haven’t listened to everything on record, and I know Vijay is a monster pianist, but this show was boring for me. The venue was weird too, a dance club type thing, you couldn’t really hear the piano. I’m going to have to investigate, but I’m pretty sure that I don’t like this group at all. It bugs me, because a lot of musicians that I admire love this band so much. Also, everything Vijay writes about music is super compelling to me. Hopefully some research turns me around, but it’s feeling pretty bleak from where I’m sitting.
I initially just came to this venue early to get a good seat for Eigisti, but I was pleasantly surprised. Ally has some serious metric modulation chops, and uses them in a very convincing and musical way. She also feels good on any groove she plays, and she plays, and in four songs she covered slow shuffle, burning swing, hip hop, country snare and medium up. Jenny Scheinman is definitely someone to look out for. Jazz violin needs all the help it can get. Myra Melford is consistently excellent on piano. I’ve never not liked seeing her live.
Quite honestly, this show changed my view on current drummers. Although bolstered by appearances by Becca Stevens and Dayna Stephens, Eigisti is impressive but not compelling. Harish Ragavan played the gig like a champ, and Eric Harland is the finest drummer I’ve seen in recent memory. The last time I was that excited by a younger drummer was the first time I saw Dan Weiss.
He felt so good, so organic. He had ?ueslove’s feel with the metric ability of someone like Nate Smith. He has Tain-like chops. He listened to the whole band, and acted as a consummate accompanist. He used space, he played modulations with Ari Hoenig-like ease. The two things that got me though were his dynamic control and his phrasing. I love a lot of drummers, but most are very intellectual sounding when confronted with mixed meter madness. Every phrase was felt, not thought. Musically, everything made so much sense, lining up when it felt like it needed to, but having that looseness once in a while too. Nothing felt contrived or practiced. He was just feeling around.
I saw a lot of good drummers at this festival. Rudy Royston, Marcus Gilmore, Scott Amendola: this is the A List, but when put up beside Harland, they are all way below his level of musicianship, in my eyes. He’s a monster, at once fiery and sensitive, soulful and articulate.
-Every band on the first day had a guitarist. None of the bands on the second day did.
-There wasn’t a single band that didn’t have a song in an odd time signature.
-Rudresh and Steve Lehman(who I saw briefly, but not long enough to review it) had seats available for the whole show. I thought they were more popular than that. They certainly were two of the most technical shows around.
-Miguel Zenon and Mark Turner are really popular.
-There was not NEARLY enough grease on this festival for my tastes, although most of the musicians were pretty incredible.
So I hope that gives you an idea of what it was like to be there. There were about 50 shows that I didn’t see, of course, so maybe jazz was being changed next door and I wouldn’t know it. But for 45 dollars, I’ll take it any time.
TBP review is coming this weekend; I didn’t want to forget all of these WJF shows, so I postponed it. Couple of good shows coming up, and I’ll put a transcription up in the next week or so.
“I’m glad to hear you say [that you like David Murray]. Most people your age don’t know his name, or for some reason think he can’t play. Trust me, he’s a monster, and his voice is just beautiful.”
—Jeff Lederer on David Murray