Friday, March 04, 2011

Winter Jazzfest - Downbeat Magazine

Caught: Winter Jazzfest Proves New York Jazz Scene's Strength in Numbers

New York's Winter Jazzfest requires a physical stamina rarely asked of jazz fans. Drink minimums and hushed crowds give way to wrist bands and a sea of shoulders, each pair supporting a much-needed winter coat. For its seventh year, the festival presented 68 acts on five West Village stages (Le Poisson Rouge, Kenny's Castaways, Sullivan Hall, Zinc Bar and Bitter End) to more than 4,000 attendees on January 7 and 8.

Drummer Chico Hamilton, who was about to turn 90, helped kick off the festival at Le Poisson Rouge with a comparatively youthful septet. Amid countless jokes about his age, Hamilton displayed an effortless mastery of his kit, proving himself as relevant as the bandleaders one quarter his age. At the close of his set the crowd moved en masse across the street to witness Charles Gayle's fiery saxophone at Kenny's Castaways, his big tone filling the kitschy venue with squealing flights, while bassist Larry Roland and drummer Michael TA Thompson clattered with intensity alongside him. More subdued in decor but no less in sound was Zinc Bar which featured exquisite performances from Aaron Goldberg's trio and Marcus Strickland's quartet.

Saturday night expanded from three venues to five - selling out by 9 p.m. Le Poisson Rouge had one of the more disparate booking sequences. Charlie Hunter played his seven-string guitar to a talkative crowd, laying down intertwined blues riffs in his split-brained style. Following his straightforward set was Stained Radiance featuring Nels Cline's lurking guitar, looping through feedback and fire, providing the soundtrack to Norton Wisdom's rapidly transforming backlit paintings. Organist John Medeski had a rock 'n' roll-like following with various camera phones pointed his way throughout RedCred's set of wailing funk and klezmer soul-jazz. Later in the evening the Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey brought its pointillistic bravado to a diminished but enthusiastic crowd. The quartet made the most of the venue's sound system, turning on a dime while Chris Combs' slide guitar and Jeff Harshbarger's bowed bass-lines arrived in thunderous waves.

Kenny's Castaways hosted a couple of heavy tenor saxophones on its cluttered stage. Donny McCaslin's quartet, aided by Uri Caine's raspy Rhodes, blazed through a handful of breathless originals, sheet music fluttering in their wake. A few sets later powerhouse trio Athereal Bace hit the stage missing one of two drummers, but saxophonist Abraham Burton and drummer Nasheet Waits generated enough hurricane forces to rattle the walls on their own.

Sullivan Hall, the most remote of the venues, was where everyone was discreetly partying, with DJs premiering unreleased recordings between sets and nearly every other person in the room carrying an instrument case. The tuned-in crowd ran at capacity all night on sleepy Sullivan Street. Maurice Brown brought his powerful chops and effortless showmanship, while the Robert Glaser Experiment dealt in heavier grooves with the crowd sweating and swaying along.

At the Bitter End, the American Midwest-meets-Africa dance band Nomo crammed onto the tiny stage for a surging crowd, heating up the room with rapid-fire horn solos and polyrhythmic dance beats while Noah Preminger's saxophone eloquently ushered in Sunday morning as Frank Kimbrough wrestled with the house's wobbly tuned piano.

Downbeat - April 2011

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