Friday, January 24, 2014

Review- Winter Jazzfest 2014, New York City, January 7th-11th, 2014


Winter Jazzfest 2014,  New York City,  January 7th-11th, 2014, Various Venues

By E. Joyce Glasgow,

Kudos to the organizers of Winter Jazzfest, N.Y.C., 2014 for their success in producing such an impressive and ambitious program for their tenth anniversary year. 
The annual, weekend, two-night marathon, grew to over ninety jazz bands being presented at an expanded number of venues in Greenwich Village, plus three additional nights of celebratory concerts, two in honor of Blue Note Record’s seventy-fifth anniversary.
There were so many wonderful and eclectic groups playing, I wished I could have cloned myself, so that I wouldn’t miss a thing. I’m including a small handful of videos, below, that I have chosen to give the readers of this page a good cross section of the kind of variety and talent available to be heard at this year’s festival. Check back here to see my photos from this year, which I will upload soon.
Venues are important to me, because the physical atmosphere and sound can make or break my enjoyment of a concert. Two of this year’s new venues were great choices for showcasing the weekend marathon performances, because they provided atmospheres more conducive for quiet, serious listening, more formal and relaxing than some of the noisy bar venues. The NYU Law School Lounge is a beautiful, grand room, on Washington Square, with beamed ceiling, decorative plaster molding, dramatic Persian rugs, hardwood floor, good acoustics and comfortable wing backed and arm chairs scattered around the perimeter, for those of us who needed to rest our weary bones after a lot of standing at the other, almost chair-less venues. The sound and lighting were very well done at the NYU Lounge. I decided to spend most of the first night of the marathon here, enjoying some amazing groups, with interesting and adventurous musical projects. The noted musicians performing here are all well-loved, versatile, New York jazz regulars, known for composing and stepping into new musical territory. The line-up for this stage was very complimentary. All with distinctively different projects, they flowed through the evening with a more cerebral yet accessible focus. The music was intelligent and thoughtful. The groups included the Ben Wendel Quartet; the Ches Smith trio, featuring one of my favorite jazz pianists, Craig Taborn; Nate Wooley’s Seven Story Mountain, an intriguing thirteen piece ensemble, featuring two vibraphones, electronics, two drummers, violin, trumpets and trombones; and Chris Lightcap and Bigmouth.
Another great new music venue for the festival is Subculture, on Bleecker Street.  This is a new performance space, set up for serious listening, with excellent sound and lighting, theatre seating and an unobtrusive, quiet bar window off to the side. The owner said his motivation for opening was what he felt was a lack of good music listening rooms in downtown Manhattan. This venue is a good place to enjoy music in an intimate, comfortable setting and is a great addition to the New York music scene. I heard Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society, an eighteen-piece orchestra, here (see video below). Composer/conductor, Argue’s compositions are evocative, atmospheric and distinctive and he’s bringing a fresh, exciting approach to composing for big band. Argue received a Grammy nomination for Best Large Jazz Ensemble for his first CD, Infernal Machines (2009) and now again for his second, Brooklyn Babylon, released in 2013.  A performance highlight was an original waltz he penned in memory of musician, Leon Helm. I really like his composition, Transit, which you can hear in the video below.
I loved hearing the No BS Brass Band, an eleven-member brass group from Richmond, Virginia. (See video below). Their set in the Bowery Electric basement room was raucous and fun and their intensity, physicality and inclusive party spirit energized the over-packed house into a mass, amoeba-like swaying dance frenzy.
Alto Saxophonist, Big Chief Donald Harrison brought a taste of Mardi Gras Indian energy to Le Poisson Rouge with his funky New Orleans septet, Congo Nation (see video below).

A delightful new discovery for me, and one of my personal favorites at the festival, was the sixteen-piece ensemble, Mother Falcon, from Austin, Texas, who played at Le Poisson Rouge (See video below).  This talented and passionate group of young musicians plays with skill, appealing earnestness and wild, sweet, youthful bravado. Their original compositions and arrangements of cover tunes are pleasing, clever and new. I especially like their tunes, Marigold, Marfa and Dirty Summer, which you can hear in the video below. Their instrumentation includes a wide variety of instruments straddling the classical, rock, folk and jazz worlds, including cellos, violins, mandolin, guitars, piano, saxophones, trumpets, bassoon, clarinet, flute, double bass, pedal steel guitar, glockenspiel, percussion and drums.
I only have a few complaints about the festival, but don't think much can be done about it. Some of the venues are smaller bars and it is so crowded that sometimes it is impossible to get in to hear some of the performers. Loud talking by patrons during the music in these bar atmospheres can diminish the listening experience too. Most of the bar venues won't allow you to sit in the few chairs they do have unless you are going to be there long enough to fulfill a two drink minimum, which means you are committed for awhile to stay at that venue. With ninety bands to hear, I want the freedom to spontaneously go from one place to another at a moment's notice. In some places, the only seating is on the floor. If you are not a floor sitter, for any reason, then two nights of mostly standing can be exhausting.
Musically, the festival is such an exciting and stimulating event though, that it is worth all the wrangling, pressed flesh, long walking between venues in downpours and testing of one's patience, to get somewhere to experience those magical, musical moments that are very satisfying and worth the effort.

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