Small moves can create big pictures. There were several full sets I dug at Winterfest, but within them are many more curt passages or pithy exchanges that are still bubbling through my mind today. And they are…
BUTCH MORRIS FRISBEES HIS CARDS
The veteran improviser was leading JD Allen’s VISIONFUGITIVE! through an array of conductions, and things were going well. Rapt attention from his charges; inventive motifs that employed continuity and juxtaposition in equal measure. But part of the Jazzfest process is perform for perspective arts programmers, so in a nifty moment of wiseacre pragmatics, he flung out some cheat sheets regarding his innovative hand-signal system, and took time to verbally break down the way he gesturally interacts with his team. The set’s music was one of the most fun I’ve seen from him. That baton is really a magic wand, right?
GARY VERSACE TURNS PERCUSSIONIST
The band Bad Touch is comprised of saxophonist Loren Stillman, guitarist Nate Radley, organist Gary Versace and drummer Ted Poor. They play intricate pieces that nod to funk beats, wink to rock rhythms, and genuflect to the nuances of steady dynamic shifts. Precision is at their core. Well, it didn’t take long for their intra-band connections to start crackling, but one particular passage by the keyboardist proved his skills as an agent provocateur. As the group was mildly disassembling a groove, Versace bent over the instrument with a madman look on his face. Instantly he turned drummer, chopping the action with staccato chords that turned up the heat and opened a new pathway for his mates to slip away on.
NASHEET WAITS EVOKES STEVE REICH
When drummers Eric McPherson and Nasheet Waits connect with saxophonist Abraham Burton, they call themselves Aethereal Base, which to some degree is about “changing atmospheres and textures.” Don’t know what you call it when McPherson’s MIA, but Nasheet had very little problem becoming Burton’s lone locomotive at Kenny’s Castaways late Saturday. The saxophonist reached the conclusion of a roaring exchange with his partner, and Waits began to develop a cymbal-less drum solo that worked a “simple” African pattern into a deeply detailed drama that blended repetition and substitution. At one point his hands were moving quicker than a dude running a Times Square shell game. Glorious.
JOHN HEBERT DOES THE CHA CHA
Matt Wilson was using every part of his drum set when I walked into The Bitter End towards the end of the entire weekend. Saxophonist Noah Preminger had begun his set with Ornette’s “Toy Dance,” and Wilson had a harmolodic flurry of splash cymbals, tom-toms, snare, and high-hat bringing the noise. But the way bassist John Hebert was whirling and bouncing and swinging with his instrument is what stuck in my head. Up on one heel, down with a bit of a leap; the bassist bobs and weaves as he created his lines, which were short yet liquid phrases that spilled into one another to assist with the group’s momentum. Yep, he did some dancing of his own.
ORRIN EVANS TURNS CHEERLEADER
The pianist’s Captain Black Big Band said farewell to some of Philly’s recently fallen, and tipped the hat to the kind of large ensembles that like to swagger while they swing. At a wall-to-wall Sullivan Hall, they landed punch after punch – four trombones throwing lots of whomp into the cascading lines of the leader’s arrangements. Or was the up-front charisma of Evans himself that boosted the energy. Leaning forward to exclaim a great solo, standing up to bark out his exuberance, swaying and skipping when the music got to be wild enough to impress even him, he was one of the most physically demonstrative leaders of the weekend.
Also Vivid: Jeff Lederer‘s opening tenor salvo with Bigmouth’s set; if you’ve only got 50 minutes, kill ’em from the start. Avishai Cohen‘s trumpet blast at the tail end of his sister’s LPR set; a fierce assault that had no prob showing its sweet side. The grace of Jacky Terrasson’s bassist Ben Williams; during one of the pianist’s Jarrett-esque tearjerkers, Williams brought loads of slippery beauty to the table. Charles Gayle‘s fire; I wasn’t even watching the saxophonist’s trio (couldn’t make it close enough to the stage), but even while rolling through yadda-yadda-yadda conversations with pals in the back, the band reached out and shook me three or four times. That’s power.