Jan 15, 2013

On the Scene: Liz Maher at Winter Jazz Fest 2013

Reviewed by Liz Maher exclusively for Stupefaction

Winter Jazz Fest 2013 (WJF) offered 70 bands performing in 6 venues within a few blocks' range to form a mega-storm of jazz upon NYC's West Village from 1/11 thru 1/12. The bands played between 45-60 minute sets depending on what they felt like doing. You have to plan and make choices at WJF: Like between Arcade Fire's Colin Stetson or The Cookers and the Oran Etkin Quintet or sleep.

Friday was a big night with among others Monty Alexander at (Le) Poisson Rouge (LPR), Jaime Brown's Transcendence with J.D. Allen and Chris Sholar of Zinc Bar, Marcus Strickland Twi-Life and a Dorothy Ashby Tribute featuring Brandee Younger at Sullivan Hall, Jacob Garchik and The Heavens at Bowery Electric, Krystie Warren and the Faculty, E=MC2 at Bitter End, and The Fringe at Culture Project Theater. Unfortunately, I was sidelined Friday by a bad reaction to anesthesia and had to imagine whilst listening to JazzBee as I drifted in and out of cruel consciousness.

On Saturday I queued at 6 PM to pick my tix and then headed over to LPR to catch The Big Picture, featuring David Krakauer and The Cookers and hopefully, Gregory Porter. WJF sold out both nights; so next year buy your tickets ahead of time and arrive around 5:30, or if you intend to go to the tiny Zinc Bar, arrive at 4:30 and eat something other than the straw in the two drink minimum. (Continued after the jump.)

Red Fish had a good vibe and was crowded with a diverse assortment of enthusiastic jazz aficionados, from NYU students to very grey-haired bankruptcy lawyers seeking mystical transformation. I am truly sorry about the girl whose foot I stepped on with my 6" heels, but what did you expect sitting on the floor in front of the stage? The MC warned you, and it's a fire hazard. You will probably be stepped on again.

Krakauer (right) w/Sara Caswell at LPR
Clarinetist, David Krakauer is renowned for innovations in Eastern European Jewish "Klezmer Madness" music, as well as classical music and jazz innovation. His Big Picture, featuring Sara Caswell on violin, Greg Cohen (bass), Adam Rogers (guitar), Michael Sarin (drums) and Rob Schwimmer on piano, strives to show the connection between music and film. Set against two screens streaming random sepia-toned film clips, Krakauer and company blew soulfully through reinterpretations of music from The Piano, Sophia's Choice, Chariots of Fire, Woody Allen's Love and Death and "Body and Soul" from Radio Days. Krakauer lovingly croons over Lenny Bruce and Woody Allen anecdotes, at one point recalling Lenny Bruce's qoute, "Chesterfields are goyish and Camels Jewish." It all ended with a Bock/Harnick Fiddler On The Roof call to "tradition" and a crazy clarinet riff solo by Krakauer. This easily matched the energy the LPR beatz turn nightly on hip hop samples of Gwen Stefani's "If I Were A Wealthy Girl," (same musical theater reference) and pleased the jazz aficionados - the true and the oblivious, alike. The Big Picture might have been a bit lost in the night of sample jams at WJF, but it was still a sweet set even if the snobs were all at John Zorn's the Stone that night for a Senegalese-Malian blind-deaf all-tuba jam band.

The Cookers' "Capra Black"
Next up was The Cookers. Overflowing with talent, the band operates as a musical commune, making it all work by flowing from solo to solo, showcasing each member with an occasional jam of two to all members. Sun Ra and Ornette Coleman (when Ornette sits out) were called to mind. Despite the enormity of their individual talents, their focus is music only, with trumpeter David Weiss uttering the only words of the set, "We don't have too much time, so we'll get right to the music" introductions and an ending thank you.

Opening with tenor sax, Billy Harper's "Capra Black", the band dazzles. Harper is stylishly dressed in dots on dots and keying through his B-notes before smoothly handing over the stage to trumpeters Eddie Henderson and David Weiss. Alto sax player, Craig Handy, dressed in blood red, grooves along to his bandmates' music until he gets his turn to shine, and he does waving low E-notes throughout LPR. This is big sound, not a hair band, despite the haberdashery. Even more understated, but equally skilled, are the performances of George Cables on piano, Victor Lewis on drums, and Cecil McBee on bass. McBee plucks more than strums, but it's all good...actually dammed good.

The Cookers by A.M. Bolle
Artist A.M. Bolle drew a jazzy portrait of The Cookers (see above), but it was time to move on.

Tony Malaby Tuba Trio at Culture Project Theater - with Malaby on tenor sax, Dan Peck on tuba, and John Hollenbeck on percussion - created a serious and intimate setting with cozy seating. Not too serious really, when I first walked in, I thought they were channeling the Residents with the huge tubas encompassing their torsos and the mutes resembling eyeballs, well, not exactly. Hollenbrock was really impressive here, framing out the wind and brass and sometimes opting for an electric keyboard. I couldn't see behind Peck's tuba with stuff stuffed in it, but Hollenbrock may have played drums and keyboards simultaneously. Jazz drummers have great technique that you really come to appreciate at shows like this. Running late, couldn't stay for Kneebody.

Ghost Train Orchestra at The Bitter End

Onto Brian Carpenter's Ghost Train Orchestra where the 9-piece proves jazz does not pack light. Ghost Train put out a fun, energized show with a crazy-assed, beer swilling banjo player who might as well have had red hair, too. Influenced by Captain Beefheart among others, their music is filled with uplifting blasts of 1920's Chicago and Harlem stomps and New Orleans parade-ish music their website refers to as "voodoo music." A random bluesy-ness steadily moves along throughout their music, enriching its texture. Ghost Train is like the tramp art of music-eccentric, anti-sophisticated Americana, and it makes you feel as good and as infectious as Gypsy brass band riot music. Nostalgic references aside, Ghost Train doesn't stand still in time getting dusty but pushes on like an off-shoot species doomed by the harsh-Guetta reality of popular culture. Carpenter flails his arms, adds vocals, and plays trumpet and harmonica, and the band includes the lovely Mazz Swift in sequins on violin and some vocals (more mood and tonal than range-filled), Andy Laster on alto, Dennis Lichtman and Petr Cancura on clarinet, Curtis Hasselbring on trombone, Ron Caswell on tuba (who looked like he had the flu, wrapped up in a hoodie), Rob Garcia on drums, and the wild banjo player, Brandon Seabrook. They all hum, too. Their quirky music is of the type that makes you wear suspenders and repeats in your head until you break down and buy it on iTunes.

So remember - buy tickets in advance and get there early for WJF '14. In the meantime, WBGO 88.3 and the WBGO JazzBee spin music from all 70 acts plus.

***Special thanks to WJF's Micaela Mamade for her help and assistance on this***

No comments:

Related Posts with Thumbnails