Undead Festival Roundup Day One
On day one, the festival took the form of Winter JazzFest’s younger sister, a Brooklyn 3 venue night of one set shows. The way it turned out, I spent the majority of the night at Kenny’s Castaways, just because I wasn’t in the mood to run around the block only to not get into other shows (turns out I was very wrong about this, there was no venue that was packed a la Winter JazzFest), and almost everything I wanted to see was at Kenny’s anyway.
I saw six shows that night, and I’ll do the same thing I did with Winter JazzFest and give my top thoughts on each show.
Greg Ward Trio
The first show was by Chicago alto player Greg Ward. The first time I saw Greg, I was at a session in Brooklyn where he upstaged the vast majority of the resident tenor players by playing lines three times as fast as everybody else (Dizzy and Bird used to call it crunching). He’s a technical wizard, with his lines coming off in an interesting way due to his acute sense of phrasing. He was also backed by two of the most in-demand section players around, Joe Sanders and Damion Reid. I like the way his pedigree looks as well, coming up in Chicago around many AACM heavyweights. I have no doubt you’ll be hearing a lot from Greg in the near future.
Nate Wooley Quintet
Next up was Nate Wooley, a Brooklyn-based trumpet player. He has a great band, with Josh Linton on Bass Clarinet, Matt Moran on vibraphone, Eivind Opsvik on bass, and Harris Einsenstadt on drums. Of course, it’s impossible for one not notice the Out to Lunch format, although the music didn’t necessarily suggest that date. One great thing about this band was the sense of humor, from the announcing to the compositions. Although the music was intense and complex, there was always the feeling that Matt Moran could play a chord that would push Josh into an ironic phrase or an unexpected turn.
Although the whole bad sounded great, the highlight was the bass and drums hookup. During the first tune, I couldn’t really hear what the bass and the drums were doing, and I assumed that Eivind was playing around with small and fast phrases. However, when I focused in on them, I realized that they were playing time extremely fast, extremely quietly, and swinging like hell. I always look for a strong beat when I listen to music, but when it sneaks up on me like that, it’s even better. I’ll definitely be checking out Harris’ record with Sam Rivers, Vista. You should definitely be checking out Eivind’s latest album with Tony Malaby, Kenny Wollesen, Brandon Seabrook, and Jacob Sacks.
Rob Mazurek’s Chicago Underground Duo
There was even more Chicago to follow with Rob Mazurek. An interesting player, he started as a dedicated hard bop trumpet player, and then slowly slipped into a world of sound art and electronics. He had fantastic chops and an interesting format, duo with Chad Taylor, who is mostly seen playing in the hard bop focused groups that Rob came out of. He had no problems taking the role of an avant-garde accompanist, however, creating a very interesting conversation with Rob.
The three best things about the show were
1. The interesting electronic effects. Mostly, electronics on horns piss me off. Rob, much like Bill Frisell or Craig Taiborn, knows how to use electronics in a way that makes me appreciate them more. He could have laid off on the drum tracks, however. The best rhythmic portions of the set were when Chad began playing a highly syncopated cycle of rhythms, as if he were making up mixed meter forms on the spot for Rob to play over.
2. Although Rob’s chops can’t really be denied, I actually liked his mute work the best of all. He used a harmon mute to accent his lines, creating dynamic shifts that were quite compelling. In my opinion, you don’t hear enough mutes these days, but you definitely don’t hear them like that.
3. Chad Taylor played one tune on thumb piano. That man can sure play the thumb piano. It was a foreign texture that he laid down, and I loved every second of it.
Ohad Talmor’s Newsreel
What should have been my favorite show of the evening was marred by a few technical difficulties. Ohad has quite the rhythm section, with Dan Weiss, Jacob Sacks and Miles Okazaki being bolstered by the quite good Matt Pavolka. Ohad was in the front line with Shane Endsley of the rather popular band Kneebody. I was interested to see him in this situation, just because the musical process is so different with these guys when contrasted to Kneebody.
Unfortunately, Jacob was playing on Rhodes, and I couldn’t hear Danny, even though Jacob and Miles said that he was playing very loud. Also, the band couldn’t hear itself, so the interaction wasn’t exactly what I expect from that lineup.
Of course there were some compelling solos, including two from Jacob that were fiery and angular as could be, although due to the sound issues, they lacked that telepathic connection to Danny that is usually present. Miles also took quite a solo, setting up a soundscape rather than a melodic line. His right hand has no rhythmic counterpart in Jazz guitar, at least not that I’ve seen.
The other thing I appreciated was the long form compositions that they were playing. People seem to either play too long on a song or on songs that they don’t care about these days. I like the idea of a long form improvisatory work harkening back to Duke, Mingus, and the classical traditions(among others, of course). Mixes it up a bit, and requires more focus from the performers.
Gerald Cleaver’s Black Host
I really liked the next show, which was Detroit native Gerald Cleaver. I loved his playing when I heard it on Craig Taborn’s gig at the Vanguard(nice guy, too), and if you ask around, you’ll usually find that people think the world of Gerald. I like his tastes. His gig was straight out of an AACM vein, but with an electric guitarist and an armada of cymbals to vary the textures that Gerald could create. He obviously enjoys some kind of rock influenced music, or else Brandon Seabrook wouldn’t have been on the gig. Brandon is someone for whom all Guitarists(and Banjoists) should be on the look out for, coming out of Frisell and Monder with a larger free music stroke, not completely unlike Nels Cline. It seems to me that his name is not well circulated out of New York, and that should change.
In the middle of his band was someone who I was not expecting, Cooper Moore. I had never heard the name before, but he is one of the deepest pianists I’ve heard since coming to New York. A strong beat, something from the middle of the sixties and the “new music” of that era. Completely free flowing, but with an overwhelming feeling of conviction, no matter what he was playing. Transcribing the notes would have been useless, as there were too many elbows and wrists involved, but his feeling and intent were things that could be absorbed and analyzed for quite some time.
I like that Cooper is about twice the age of everyone else in the band. I also like the fact that this AACM rock thing came from a guy who’s posted nothing but obscure Mingus on his facebook for three months.
This band played something like five times in the week, and I hope that it becomes commonplace. Definitely something to look out for.
It was 2:00am after a work day when I saw Jonathon’s band take the stand, so I can’t really say how it was. Shane Endsley, Damion, and Miles were in this band too. I only saw one tune, but I will say that I appreciate a guy who’s willing to go toe to toe with another trumpet player every night. Old school.
“If it doesn’t swing, it isn’t Jazz.” — Cecil Taylor, in the liner notes to the Cecil Taylor Quartet at Newport 1957. I wonder what he would say today…