Kicking off the June jazz season, The Undead Festival takes place in the Village this weekend, and like its kissin’ cousin, the Winter JazzFest, it’s a hive of activity that brings 35 acts to stages of (le) Poisson Rouge, Sullivan Hall, and Kenny’s Castaways. Best to make a few must-see choices before you hit the storm. Here’s the Voice blab.
1. Fight the Big Bull
The Virginia big band likes to retreat to clamor when melodies and textural gambits falter, but as their newish All Is Gladness in the Kingdom (Clean Feed) illustrates, they’re becoming more and more eloquent with the spray of sound that they create with such obvious spirit. And dipping into the pop nugget realm, they pull out a nifty spin through The Band’s “Jemima Surrender.”
2. Ideal Bread
The repetitious themes of Steve Lacy‘s music have long had an enchanting quality. Each go-round of the melody lets improvisers dig a bit deeper and set up a somewhat circular dynamic of ideas. Saxophonist Josh Sinton knows the power of Lacy’s puzzles; his quartet is a repertory group, leaping into the master’s book, and reminding listeners that in several cases Lacy himself led blowing bands (the front line of Steve Potts, Irene Aebi, and the soprano saxophonist himself was always ready to let the solos spill forth). On Transmit (Cuneiform) Sinton’s bari mixes with Kurt Knuffke‘s trumpet to do the same – this is curious quartet. The tunes can be conundrums, but they have a fascinating sense of entertainment.
3. John Hollenbeck’s Large Ensemble
The wily drummer’s big band is one of the versatile outfits around, but doesn’t play often enough. Those who caught Hollenbeck at the (le) Poisson Rouge at the end of last year got a great sampling of the group’s clout and eloquence. But he presented three distinct ensembles that night, and I for one could have used more of the precision and creativity that’s found on Eternal Interlude (Sunnyside). This set should boast both.
4. Steve Coleman & Five Elements
In the mid-80s, the alto saxophonist was considered a renegade; these days he’s being positioned as a guru. Lots of upcoming players are smitten with his gripping rhythmic agenda and the hyper maneuvers of his post-bop soloing vocabulary. On the new Harvesting Semblances and Affinities (Pi), the pieces are both skittish and sleek, and the band’s approach to articulation borders on zealous. Their live shows are few and far between, but watching Coleman lead his associates through his maze can be a powerful experience.
5. Dave King/Tim Berne/Craig Taborn
Three sage improvisers fully taken with the poetry of working in the moment. The Bad Plus drummer is a cross between Keith Moon exclamation and Andrew Cyrille invention. The stalwart alto saxophonist is always on his toes when it comes to sketching his way through a soundscape, and the clever keybster brings an array of acoustelectric textures to table while advancing a deep rhythmic agenda. Making it up as you go is an art form.