A review of NYC Winter Jazzfest, which was a delight for Northwest fans this year: Jim Black, Briggan Krauss, Chris Speed, Andrew D’Angelo and Hilary Gardner were all Jazzfest performers, and all started their careers in Seattle.
NEW YORK — NYC Winter Jazzfest, which wrapped up Sunday (Jan. 17), has long served as a handy checklist of what’s happening in jazz, from retro to mainstream to avant-garde, particularly as manifested in New York, the jazz capital of the world.
But an added attraction for a Northwest visitor this year was hearing musicians who started their careers in Seattle, such as drummer Jim Black; reed players Briggan Krauss, Chris Speed and Andrew D’Angelo; and vocalist Hilary Gardner.
Over the two days of self-described “marathon” concerts Friday and Saturday (Jan. 15-16), which presented more than 100 groups in 10 easily walkable Greenwich Village venues, the festival showcased major new work by the likes of Black and bassist Michael Formanek and performances by established stalwarts such as Roy Hargrove and up-and-comers like drummer Ches Smith.
A standout from the Northwest contingent was “The Constant,” a long-form new work performed at the intimate New School Jazz 5th Floor Theater by the zany, smiling, ever-iconoclastic Black, who re-imagined the piano trio as a percussive ensemble in which pianist Teddy Klausner dovetailed with Black like a tuned drum, while also spinning out impressive melodic lines.
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Gardner, who recently visited Seattle with her buoyant vocal trio Duchess, guested at the Greenwich House Music School with sparkling New Orleans clarinet master Evan Christopher on, among other tunes, a lovely edition of the haunting Artie Shaw hit “Moonray.”
Over at Le Poisson Rouge, alto sax man Krauss celebrated the 20th anniversary of the saucy quartet Sexmob, tickling dissonances and attacking aggressive unison melodies with baldheaded leader and slide trumpet player Steven Bernstein, who prowled the stage as he humorously prodded the group like a gangster conductor.
Speed, whose trio played Friday, popped up again as an sinuous soloist on one of the most thrilling performances of the weekend, by Formanek’s Ensemble Kolossus at the elegant Tishman Auditorium. Art writing for jazz big band can often get sludgy and ponderous, but Formanek invested his music with heft while maintaining the classic jazz virtues of fleetness and lift.
D’Angelo’s bright, golden alto saxophone tone pierced the air at the 5th-floor venue during a promising but not yet fully realized experimental set for electronics and two saxes led by Reid Anderson, better known as the bass player for the jazz-rock trio The Bad Plus.
A clear standout for the weekend was the set by Smith and his trio, which presented layered, steady-state, trance-like music for piano (Craig Taborn) violin (Mat Maneri) and drums (alternating with vibraphone) that shifted like clouds occasionally ignited by lightning. (Earshot Jazz presents Smith’s trio in Seattle on Feb. 16).
Another highlight was an all-star avant-garde quartet featuring Oliver Lake (alto saxophone), Graham Haynes (trumpet), Barry Altschul (drums) and Joe Fonda (bass) at the New School’s 12th Street Auditorium. Fonda was absolutely on fire, alternating between a thrumming vamp and walking bass pattern on the set’s last tune that pushed the crowd to ecstatic applause.
Winter Jazzfest ended just before Martin Luther King Jr. Day, so it felt altogether appropriate that bassist Ben Williams’ svelte, soulful band closed its packed-to-the-gills after-hours set at the legendary Village folk club The Bitter End with a tune that ended by underscoring a recording of the incantatory “let freedom ring” cadences of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Sweet.
The Bitter End set was in the 12-year pub-crawl spirit of Winter Jazzfest, but this year the festival graduated to a new level with a major expansion to larger venues and institutional partnerships with the New School and ECM Records, among others.
With the addition of venues like the 800-seat Tishman Auditorium and special events presented over five days, the festival increased its capacity by 30 percent, according to co-producer Brice Rosenbloom, and attendance grew from 5,000 last year to 7,000 this year.