Winter Jazzfest 2013, Day 2

Another improvisation-filled evening in the Village last night and now I'm back down to Earth. A few thoughts on the music I had the great privilege to check out:

Michael Formanek's Cheating Heart at Culture Project Theater:

Chris Speed, Michael Formanek, Jacob Sacks, and Dan Weiss—all-star group, which I remember seeing at some point over the summer (although I'm not sure if Dan Weiss was playing). Speed's tenor sound is distinguished by his firm, declarative core sound, which to my ears sounds like he keeps a pretty solid embouchure with an open throat to maintain, regardless of register. It's very distinctive, as I remember hearing very little subtone, which makes him sound even almost classical saxophone-like at times. The improvisations of the group moved together through different sonic modules, and it was very apparent to me that bold musical decisions were being made by each member of the band at times, like whether to repeat a central motif or figure as part of the composition's texture at a particular moment, or whether to disengage from that temporarily to move the music elsewhere. As I realized yesterday, the CPT never seemed to run out of space when compared to smaller venues like Zinc, but the music was consistently stellar.

Colin Stetson at the Bitter End:

I had seen a few of Stetson's videos on YouTube, but really wanted to hear and physically experience his layered improvisation-compositions in person since I first heard about him at Banff. He opened the set with "Judges," which led a couple of suited folks near me to leave after the end of the song ("This isn't my cup of tea"), but the rest of the crowd went wild. The compositions he played last night had a strikingly uncanny quality, which I think had something to do with the relatively familiar harmonic and melodic content of the compositions. Some of the chord progressions reminded me of 2 or 3-chord indie rock or folk songs, while the melodies—sometimes sung by Stetson in a high harmonic register—were hauntingly singable; however, the delivery, of course, came in a form that was unfamiliar for most. Still, he won over the audience with his charismatic, highly physical performance, and I remember someone beside me who mentioned at first not how unusual or unfamiliar the music was, but instead, simply that it sounded "so beautiful."

Rudresh Mahanthappa's Gamak at Le Poisson Rouge:

Playing so fast that the camera blurred.
Every time I hear Rudresh live, I feel great pity for his reed. The resonance that he's able to get out of his set-up is just incredible, and the band (Dan Weiss [he's everywhere!], Dave Fiuczynski, and Fran├žois Moutin) was completely with him as they worked through some high velocity, high intensity new music. I don't have much to say here, but that I'll probably be checking out the new record when it's out.

Kneebody at CPT:

Kneebody! Another high velocity, high intensity band, which I've been hoping to hear live since Banff, which brought the house down. At a few points, I was thinking to myself that Ben Wendel or Shane Endsley could practically play anything, harmonically speaking, over the brisk but danceable grooves the band was laying down, and still sound good—there was that kind of energy that made it impossible for them not to get the audience going. It's apparent to me what kind of music now I'd be more interested in checking out, i.e., music that's challenging to play (or as challenging as you want to make it), but that largely disregards genre or style boundaries in favor of experimenting w/r/t improvisational forms, conceits, and textural effects. 

Jason Lindner Breeding Ground at CPT:

This band was a complete, but completely pleasurable, surprise. Very strange at times—conducted string chorales, impassioned singing from bassist Panagiotis Andreou in a foreign style that I can't remotely identify (Middle Eastern?), violin solos that quoted both 'the lick' (up and down half steps!) and extended cycle of forth patterns, and some beautiful whistling by Jeff Taylor in unison with Lindner's piano. This may have been the highlight of my WJF experience, esp. the tune 'Breeding Ground,' which featured some ominous-sounding music and lyrics about what seemed to be birth, but could easily have been about plenty of other things. 

Merger at CPT:

Andrew D'Angelo, Kirk Knuffke, Ben Street, and Nasheet Waits playing with post-'60s avant-garde energy, but also with complete command of their instruments. D'Angelo's sound is absolutely searing—to my ears, perhaps less focused to a single laser than Rudresh, but with a pleasing roundedness that's also got an edge that carries easily. At this point in the night, I sniped a seat in the third row and got to hear Knuffke's trumpet up close, which was gorgeous and vibrant and expressive; at one point, it was solo trumpet, and I could have easily spent an hour listening to the warmth of his p - mp sound. Also, I'd say Knuffke would have gotten the award for best-dressed at WJF (from what I could see): black suit, orange button-down, and slick white shoes. 

After those bands, I slipped by the Bitter End to check out a bit of Oran Etkin, whose band featured Tyshawn Sorey, Linda Oh, Curtis Fowlkes, and a guitarist whose name I didn't catch, but I left pretty soon after that. As it turns out, as I was getting off the F train in Brooklyn around 3 a.m., Andrew D'Angelo was on the same train car getting off. I caught his eye for a moment and I was shocked by just how drained he looked, remembering how utterly invincible and vital his stage-presence seemed an hour before. 

It made sense to me immediately, though, that he had really left everything on the bandstand—he didn't hold anything back, emotionally and spiritually, and you could hear it in the music. Then I saw him turn and quickly leap up the stairs and make his way out, his glittery purple saxophone case slung over his shoulder.

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