Top Five Moments At Winter JazzFest 2010

Because I’m just now exiting the worst weeks of a ruptured Achilles tendon debacle that’s kept me cooped up too long, I had a yen to absorb a big chunk of the action at this year’s Bleeker Street bash. But still being on the mend, I faded a bit earlier than I had hoped. Damn, it ain’t easy getting yr cast kicked around all night (which is why I missed Jamie Saft & Bill McHenry tearing shit up [above]).

One thing was easy:  enjoying the energy boost that such an event gives the local scene.  Musicians, their ticket-buying audiences, and a sizable throng of arts mavens swoop down on the Village annually, bringing their vitality  and opinions with ‘em. Because it’s concentrated geographically, and because the sets are abbreviated, all the action has an inviting immediacy. Plus: the melange of stylistic approaches keeps things from becoming tedious. It’s a long way from Jenny & Jason‘s chamber folk to Rudder’s dubtronica. Running into old friends, meeting new pals, scrutinizing adventurous music – to a degree the New York club scene is somewhat like this anyway, but thanks to this year’s growth spurt (with the five venues involved on Saturday night, it seemed a long way from the four tiny rooms of the Knit, where the Fest first debuted a few years ago), the whirl was part of the fun. Here are five highlights.

Marcus Gilmore’s Fluid Drama:

Vijay Iyer‘s trio is a deeply cohesive unit, no doubt. A band can’t reach their level of eloquence without and all-hands-on-deck attitude, and a yen to consistently blur foreground and background. When they made their kinetic rhythms swing on “Historicity” and “Big Brother,” it reiterated their profound coordination. I was standing on the side of drummer Marcus Gilmore, and the agility he brought to table was full of some next-level thrills. Yep, the band’s signature sound is that of a physical crackle, but the abundance of grace that dude dispenses is key to the chemistry, making everything mercurial and mysterious.

Tiny Resistors’ Collective Oomph:

Had seen Todd Sickafoose‘s mid-sized ensemble a couple other times, and reviewed their impressive disc. But I’d never witnessed ‘em get the kind of liftoff that they had at the Bitter End as Saturday turned into Sunday. The leader was humping his bass and goading his group, and they were reacting.  Guitarist Steve Cardenas was openly chuckling at the frenzied forward motion trombonist Alan Ferber was bringing to one tune – and that brass roar was an apt metaphor for the ardor at hand throughout the set. Best part: they kept all of the composer’s intricacies intact.

Mike Reed’s Front Line:

All I know about the Chicago bandleader was that he’s made three nifty records that got the NYC community buzzing a bit. This was the first time he had brought his articulate freebop to town. On the stand, it was a best of both worlds kind of thing, where the songs’ structures were always in place, while still being constantly pushed and shoved. His People, Places, and Things group boasts a tandem saxophone team of altoist Greg Ward and tenor  player Tim Haldeman. From Sonny & Newk‘s nexus to Billy Drummond‘s Dubai to John Hebert‘s Byzatine Monkey, to my ever-lovin’ Matt Wilson Quartet, I’ve always loved a two-horn romp, so the way Reed’s reeds bobbed and weaved felt great. Ward and Haldeman stepped on each other, too, because they know polyphony is a kick. The set’s zenith came during one short moment where the pair were flailing around askew, and in an instant – cue or no cue? – swooped right back into alignment to strike a blow for consolidation. Sweet.

Gregg August’s Bowing:

J.D. Allen has worked hard at establishing his trio’s natural feel. Locals club-goers kind of take that for granted these days. There’s a symbiosis to the interplay that’s become established between the saxophonist, drummer Rudy Royston, and bassist Gregg August. It brings an equilibrium to the hard swing that’s their calling card. And it amplifies small moments. When I walked into their Saturday set at Kenny’s Castaways, August was in the middle of an impassioned bowing episode, really digging in on a texture and timbre motif a la Fred Hopkins three decades ago around the corner at Lush Life (I know, I know I’m showing my age). It literally only lasted a minute or so, but it altered the piece at hand, and prompted the others to react. Hat’s off to the bassist for the work. Hat’s off to Allen for keeping that stuff in his vocabulary.


Hurricane Claudia:

You couldn’t fit another person in the Bitter End when John Hollenbeck launched the set by his Claudia Quintet. It was wall to wall. That might be because the percussionist is riding accolades for his Eternal Interlude CD, a 2009 critics’-consensus disc. It couldn’t have been because folks knew that their usually somewhat strict pieces were about to explode, could it? Here’s another band that needs to be recorded live next time. Their discs on Cuneiform are brainy and attractive. But their gig was brawny and wise. Hollenbeck began by helping vibraphonist Matt Moran establish a pattern that could have been pulled from a Steve Reich session or an African ballafone party. The kinetics spilled forth from there. Someone gave the hot foot to these guys, and from Chris Speed‘s reeds to Ted Reichman‘s accordion to the SuperGlue that kept them all so tight, it was a whirlwind.

Here’s what Ben (Johnny Paycheck fiend) Ratliff had to say about the weekend.

Here’s a string of Tweets from concerned citizens.

Enjoy a goodbye kiss from Amanda Monaco after the jump.

Tweet along with me, won’t you?

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