Winter Jazzfest 2013, Day 1 + Mid-Jan. Dispatch

Nasheet Waits, Vijay Iyer, Mark Helias, and Logan Richardson: EQUALITY
I went to Winter Jazzfest for the first time last year and was pleasantly introduced to musicians I had never heard before, including Chris Morrissey, whose set at the Bitter End I thought was especially compelling—so much so that I ended up picking up his record afterwards, The Morning World. Although rainy, cold, and later misty last night, plenty of people came out to see music for this year's WJF. A few brief thoughts about what I saw:

Lee Konitz/Dan Tepfer + Harlem String Quartet at Zinc: 

They could have billed this as Harlem String Quartet (via D.T.) + Lee Konitz! As I understand it, Tepfer was feeding the quartet notes (or note choices?) to the musicians via MIDI keyboard, who then received the input on tablets on each of their stands. They hadn't tried the experiment until yesterday afternoon, Tepfer mentioned, but after a slightly rocky start, the music started to go places, I thought. It seemed to me that the music stayed in a sort of 'drone' vibe for a while, with the string quartet sounding a bit hesitant and Lee spending a decent amount of time feeling out the harmonic landscape, as it were. I'm not sure whether the musicians in the quartet were given any rhythmic input, but it seemed to me that they were given note choices and then provided the melodic and rhythmic direction themselves, which really started to work when Tepfer took a more involved role in giving the music more rhythmic form. It was great to hear Lee Konitz in person, of course, but it seemed to me that Lee never really got quite to the same level of comfort as he does with players on other live records I've heard, which would have let him stretch out more. Also, an errant spotlight went off twice, which understandably seemed to tick off Lee in the middle of his improvisation. The first time, Lee looked confused; the second time, Lee seemed pretty irritated, but since they were playing a blues, he let out a vocal, descending blues line in response, which was just perfect.

Krystle Warren and the Faculty at The Bitter End:

I walked into Bitter End after grabbing a bite to eat and heard this band playing, which had a really definite energy and danceable vibe happening. I could imagine myself checking more of this music.

Don Byron Quartet at LPR:

I was absolutely floored when I heard the band come in on the first tune: a freewheeling uptempo improvisation over "Indiana." Rudy Royston on drums, Aruan Ortiz on piano, and Cameron Brown on bass. I'd never checked out Don Byron before, but the fluidity (especially w/r/t to moving between octaves) of his playing and his endurance were really impressive. Plenty of exciting, spontaneous moments in this set, which I believe were mostly or all Don Byron compositions, each with distinctive conceits and improvisatory architecture. I felt like I could hear the band working with the foundation of each tune and gradually build on it over the course of 10-15 minutes. Really great.

The Fringe at Culture Project Theater:

The Fringe (George Garzone, John Lockwood, Bob Gullotti) play all the time in Cambridge, but I went not only to hear them, but also to grab a seat before EQUALITY went on—last year, I remember trying to see Mark Turner at Zinc, but as I later realized, Zinc is a far smaller venue than CPT. John's been my ensemble coach since last semester and will be again this semester, and the same relaxed but intense feeling he brings to rehearsal is also in his approach onstage. Garzone on "Soul Eyes" was especially noteworthy, as well as Garzone honking on a low Bb repeatedly at the height of another improvisation, which was not only perfect in context, but started to sound like a major alarm was going off somewhere. 


Nasheet arrived around a quarter after when the band was supposed to hit (coming from another gig), but when they did, the music was exactly what you'd expect: urgent, searching, and intense. I know that's a pretty lame way of describing what the music sounded like, but that's basically all I can say. The Logan-Walter Smith III sound connection was something else I noticed: the slow pulsing vibrato and the very sculpted, physically shaped sound—I wonder who else would fall in with that modern jazz saxophone aesthetic. 

Tonight I'll be seeing even more music. I've got this tentative line-up: Tigran, Donny McCaslin, Colin Stetson, Rudresh Mahanthappa's Gamak, Kneebody, Jason Lindner Breeding Ground, and Merger (Andrew D'Angelo, Kirk Knuffke, Ben Street, Nasheet Waits). Also, possibly Oran Etkin's quartet, if I'm feeling up for it at 1:45 a.m. Any suggestions?

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Proof that Strand > COOP, if you ever needed it
In other news, I've been reading and shedding, as I originally hoped to do over break. I finally cashed in my (wait for it) $10.48 COOP member rebate check from the Harvard COOP, a Barnes & Noble-owned bookstore in Harvard Square that for a long time had a monopoly over student textbook sales until Amazon, Neebo, et al. came along. I went to Strand and picked up some books I'm really looking forward to reading, eventually, for $7.08. Take that, COOP! I only discovered Frank Conroy in the fall, when my creative writing professor hipped the class to Stop-Time, which he described as being pretty much one of the most important memoirs and pieces of creative nonfiction in the past 50 years. Plus, John McPhee's Coming Into the Country, another major creative nonfiction work. 

NEC starts up again next week, so I'll be heading up to Boston for a few days to make it for Jason Moran ensemble rehearsals, but I should be posting some more transcriptions (Rich Perry!) soon. Also, I have an exciting announcement to make, so stay tuned for that, too.

Lastly, I just wanted to mention a correction: a few months back, I mentioned that Sadik Hassim was the pianist who played Bird's "Now's the Time" intro, but as my good friend Elijah Shiffer pointed out to me last night, it was actually Dizzy playing piano on that session.