Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Montreal Jazz Festival 2011, Day One

The world’s most unpretentious jazz festival got off to an auspicious start yesterday. As with jazz festivals around the globe, the Montreal Jazz Festival encompasses many other styles of music as well. The local media raved about flamenco guitarist Paco de Lucia’s performance last night, while word on the street was that tickets for the singer from that famous 70s metal band, and that has-been 80s funk guy, were hot. But as usual, the real action was in the smaller rooms. New York was well-represented: David Binney, pianist Dan Tepfer playing a duo with Lee Konitz, and Marc Ribot’s Ceramic Dog numbered among the literally hundreds of acts on the festival bill, which continues through July 4. And the habitants‘ groups proved just as interesting as the innumerable acts from out of town.

Our Saturday got off to an early start at one of the many makeshift beer tents with a smoking, genre-busting set by Montreal sextet Hot Pepper Dixieland (a spinoff of Le Dixieband, with a different drummer and clarinetist). Playing a mix of the well-known and the lesser-known, not just blissed-out dancefloor shuffles (although they did some of those too), they mixed in a hot 20s early swing vibe along with elements of ragtime. And they started out as brooding and minor-key as this kind of stuff gets before picking up the pace with a spiky, vividly rustic St. James Infirmary, a balmy My Blue Heaven and finally a surprisingly bracing, ominously minor-key tinged When the Saints Go Marching In.

Later in the afternoon, there was a “battle of the bands” on the esplanade, pairing off two marching units: Swing Tonique Jazz Band on the west side versus Streetnix on the east. Ostensibly a contest to see who could drown out the other, each entertained a separate crowd: volume-wise, the more New Orleans-flavored Swing Tonique had the upper hand versus Streetnix, who mined a more European vibe (including a bouncy, amped-up version of La Vie en Rose). Eventually, Streetnix launched into Caravan and resolutely stomped their way up to the middle of the plaza where Swing Tonique joined them, and then graciously gave their quieter compatriots a chance to cut loose. The entire crew closed with an energetic blues, with solos all around: by then, the crowd had completely encircled them, pretty much everyone sticking around despite the intermittent torrents of rain that would continue into the night.

Our original game plan was to catch jazz pianist John Roney next, but that was derailed by a pitcher of beer and some enormous mounds of fries over on Rue St.-Denis. Having watched Lorraine Muller a.k.a. the Fabulous Lolo – former frontwoman of popular Canadian ska bands the Kingpins and Lo & the Magnetics – play a tantalizing soundcheck earlier in the day, it was great to catch a full set of her band’s totally retro 60s ska and rocksteady. Two of our crew immediately suffered intense drummer envy: this guy had the one-drop down cold, and had a sneaky, rattling fill ready for wherever it was least expected. For that matter, the whole rhythm section, including bass, guitar, organ and piano, was pretty mighty, a solid launching pad for the band’s killer three-piece horn section, which Lolo joined a few times, playing baritone sax. They reinvented Hawaii 5-0 as a syncopated noir rocksteady theme and later on took a stab at the Steven Stills moldie oldie Love the One You’re With (did Ken Boothe or somebody from that era cover it, maybe?). Montreal reggae crooner Danny Rebel, a big hit with the crowd, duetted with Lolo on a straight-up ska tune and a balmy rocksteady ballad lowlit by the guitarist’s reverb-drenched twang. The rest of the set switched cleverly back and forth between bouncy and slinky. A band this good deserves a global following.

Last stop of the night was the Balmoral, a shi-shi bar around the corner where bassist Jean-Felix Mailloux was playing an intriguing set of original compositions in a duo with Guillaume Bourque on clarinet and bass clarinet. Mailloux’ background in gypsy jazz was obvious, but his influences extend to both klezmer and third stream sounds. One of the bass/bass clarinet numbers was a clinic in the kind of interesting things that can be done with a minor mode and a simple three-note descending progression; another paced along with moody tango ambience; another plaintively alluded to Erik Satie. Mailloux alternated between melody, pulse and pure rhythm, tapping out the beat on the body of the bass as Bourque circled with an intensity that ranged from murky to acerbic.

And despite the rain, the festival atmosphere was shockingly convivial (at least from a New Yorker’s perspective). A high school girl working security sheepishly asked one of us to open up a purse (cans, bottles and dogs are verboten) instead of giving us New York Central Park rent-a-pig attitude; beer vendors wandered throughout the crowd, as if at a hockey game. Although there was a tourist element, the occasional gaggle of fratboys or douchettes in tiaras and heels lingering on the fringes, this was overwhelmingly a laid-back, polyglot local crowd, not a lot of English being spoken other than the occasional song lyric. It’s hard to imagine a better way to kick off a vacation than this.

June 26, 2011 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, ska music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Some Observations on Winter Jazzfest 2011

As Search and Restore’s emcee explained Friday night at Kenny’s Castaways, the concept of Winter Jazzfest is to introduce new players, or older players tackling newer ideas. What he didn’t mention is that Winter Jazzfest is a spinoff of APAP, a.k.a. the annual booking agents’ convention, which until the past year didn’t even schedule jazz among its CMJ-style array of relatively brief sets showcasing an extraordinary amount of talent across the city. In a good year, APAP might draw 1500 people, most of them from larger community arts venues across the country. The Census Bureau has made a big deal about how their 2010 data shows an increase in attendance at jazz shows. Friday night’s crowd – young, scruffy, hungry, and overwhelmingly local – offered potent validation of that claim. We’ve said it before, we’ll say it again: great art has tremendous commercial appeal.

Drummer Mike Pride’s From Bacteria to Boys, whose run at Coco 66 in Greenpoint is one of New York’s more memorable residencies of recent years, explored how much fun there is in playing around the outer edges of funk. Artfully blending color and drive, Pride led his group – Darius Jones on alto, Peter Bitenc on bass and Alexis Marcelo on Rhodes – through a captivating, witty and too-brief set. All but one of their numbers (their catchy opening track, Surcharge, by a Berlin friend of the band named Uli) were originals. Themes were alluded to more than stated outright, Jones having a great time skirting the melody and then going way out into the boposphere on his own while Bitenc ran terse, hypnotic figures and Marcelo sent rippling washes out against the current.

“We’re professional travelers. In between we play music,” laughed pianist Amina Figarova, who delivered a thoughtfully expansive set at Zinc Bar with most of her longtime sextet: Bart Platteau on flutes; Marc Mommaas on tenor; Ernie Hammes on trumpet; Jay Anderson subbing on bass and Chris “Buckshot” Strik incisive and playful behind the drums. To paraphrase Mae West, Figarova is a woman what takes her time. Deliberately and matter-of-factly, she developed her solos with a slow and inexorably crescendoing approach which still left considerable room for surprise. And yet, a sudden solar flare or martial roll from her left hand didn’t catch her band unawares: they have a supple, intuitive chemistry that comes with rigorous touring. The most captivating songs in the set were the most bustling: the vivid airport scramble Flight No., and a cleverly shapeshifting version of the deceptively simple, unselfconsciously assertive Look at That!

As the evening wore on, it became clearer and clearer that the clubs were on a tight schedule: concertgoers accustomed to small clubs going over time as the night wears on were surprised to see acts actually take the stage before their scheduled time. Anat Cohen regaled a rapt, absolutely wall-to-wall crowd at le Poisson Rouge with a program that mixed crescendoing, ecstatic gypsy/klezmer clarinet, Jason Lindner’s lean latin piano lines and balmy sax ballads. And later, 90-year-old drummer Chico Hamilton and his band reaffirmed that if you have swing and use it, you never lose it.

Back at Kenny’s Castaways, it was nice to be able to simply see Jen Shyu as she swayed and held the room with her understated intensity: the last time she played Lincoln Center, she sold out the hall. She’s one of the few newer artists who actually lives up to all the hype that surrounds her: she can belt and wail to the rafters if she feels like it, but this was a clinic in subtlety and purposefulness. The high point of the entire evening, at least from this limited perspective, was a slowly unwinding, hypnotic arrangement of a Taiwanese slave song. Shifting from English, to French, to Spanish and then to Chinese vernacular, Shyu underscored the universality of humankind’s struggle against brutality, against overwhelming odds. Bassist John Hebert ran mesmerizingly noirish circles lit up in places by David Binney’s alto sax or Dan Weiss’  effectively understated drumming, Shyu contributing wary, starkly pensive Rhodes piano from time to time. Their last piece bounced along on a catchy tritone bass groove, Shyu’s vocalese sometimes dwindling to a whisper, bringing the band down under the radar to the point where the suspense was visceral. It would have been great fun to stick around the Village for more, but there was another mission to accomplish: like CMJ, APAP requires a lot of running around. Which was too bad. The ease of access to such a transcendent quantity of music is addictive: if you do this next year, make a two-night commitment out of it and experience it to the fullest.

January 12, 2011 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment