This past Thursday night I had the great opportunity to attend the 2nd annual Undead jazz festival in New York City. Presented by Search and Restore and the Boom Collective, the Undead jazz festival is a summer version of the annual Winter Jazz Fest. On Thursday, three clubs off of Bleecker St in Manhattan offered a constant rotation of original, creative and improvised music performances from 7pm to about 2am.
Instead of going into great detail about each performance I’ll only offer a few choice words. I didn’t take any notes while I was there other than a few updates while attempting to “live-tweet” the festival (yes, I have a twitter account). After a long, arduous 3 hour bus ride, here is what I saw upon my arrival…
First off, Marc Ribot playing solo guitar at Le Poisson Rouge, a relatively new venue at the former location of the legendary Village Gate. I’ve seen Ribot perform solo before but it always a treat to check out someone so masterfully wield your instrument of choice. Catching the first 20-25 minutes of his set, the music transitioned freely between rootsy Americana, free explorations, exploitations and examinations of jazz standards and loose, bluesy riffing. From there, I rushed around the corner to Sullivan Hall to catch the middle of a set by the trio Paradoxical Frogs featuring Kris Davis on piano, Ingrid Laubrock on saxophones and Tyshawn Sorey on drums. As I arrived, the group was working their way through a long form composition with extended sections for improvisation and textural pursuits. Tyshawn Sorey’s set up was a great surprise! Not seated at a traditional drum set, he painted a wide palette of colors with 4 small cymbals, a hi hat, floor tom and a snare drum set up like a bass drum pedal. The group’s music left plenty of time and space between each composed section. Abstract and beautiful.
From there I headed to the third venue for the Undead jazz fest’s Thursday line up, Kenny’s Castaways, to catch a set by David Fiuczynski’s Planet MicroJam. “Fuze,” as he is sometimes called, is a great guitarist but this music was not for me. I guess I neglected the word “jam” in the groups name. Therefore, I quickly made my way back to Le Poisson Rouge for a set by Tarbaby, a collective trio featuring Orrin Evans, Eric Revis and Nasheet Waits with guest saxophonist Oliver Lake. This groups set was the first show stopping moment I experienced at the fest. Tarbaby had the audience fully in their court by their last piece, which featured a raw, fiery swinging groove with collective hollers interjected by the rhythm section. Each member shined in each of their solo flights except for a strangely aggressive, not very melodic version of Ornette Coleman’s “Song X,” slowed down to the point of being a totally different tune.
Towards the end of Tarbaby’s set I met up with Nick Wight, a drummer with Philly roots who now lives in the New York area, who would join me for the rest of the evening’s music. After finishing up a beer we rushed over the Sullivan Hall and caught the very end of Gerald Clayton’s duet set with vibraphonist Chris Dingman. They closed with a great, interactive version of Fats Waller’s “Jitterbug Waltz.” Their interplay sounded like an updated version of Gary Burton and Chick Corea’s duets with a great emphasis on swing. Back to Le Poisson Rouge from there to catch an all-star band of sorts assembled by pianist/keyboardist John Escreet. Here’s where the schedule started to fall behind as the group had a lot of equipment to set up for their very electric performance. The group, featuring Wayne Krantz on guitar, David Binney on alto saxophone and keyboard and Marcus Gilmore on drums, played a prog rock, groove driven music that resembled recent recordings by Chris Potter’s Underground. This music however lacked the jazz school showiness of Potter’s music and stuck more to group dynamic, composition and slow growth to get its point across. A great band I would have loved to have heard more of but I needed to rush to what would be the highlight of the night, Andrew D’angelo’s Big Band at Sullivan Hall.
Already mid-flight, the group was firing through some surprisingly idiomatic, swinging big band writing only to quickly shift into a thorny slow-jam. The group featured a five-three-three horn set up with a viola replacing a second tenor saxophone supported by a mind-bogglingly great rhythm section of Ben Monder, Reid Anderson (on electric bass!) and Dan Weiss. Performing arrangements of some of Andrew’s small group tunes, mostly from the Skirl Records catalog, the group was amazingly engaging and exciting to watch and listen to. Andrew D’angelo’s charisma as a bandleader was on display in spades during the entire set. Songs included “Meg Nem Sa,” a rocking, forceful tune of pseudo-metal quality, “Big Butt,” a angular groove tune about his friends fondness for women’s derrieres and a beautiful prayer for Matt Wilson’s wife, “Felecia.”
The energy level of the big band’s performance warranted a little breather before the following band, Dave King Trucking Company, would take the stage. Outside, I got to meet and chat with Bill McHenry for a minute, showing off my fandom by sharing my admiration for both of his bands featuring Paul Motian. He was excited to tell me that his quartet with Motian will be releasing a new record this fall! Inside, the Dave King Trucking Company jumped into a set of rock inspired small group songs (with emphasis on the word song). Featuring two tenor saxophones, electric guitar, upright bass and drums, the group showcased, to my ears, Dave King’s admiration for straight up rock music melded with Keith Jarrett’s American quartet of the 1970s. Other than Dave King and Chris Speed the other members of the group were pretty unfamiliar to me. Chris Speed was a especially great on these songs, improvising long, compositional solos that built on the energy of each piece. Great music that was only spoiled by the sound man at Sullivan Hall’s love affair with volume and reverb.
Next was one last stop at Kenny’s Castaways for a refreshing closing set from a trio featuring Michael Blake on tenor saxophone, Ben Allison on bass and Rudy Royston on drums. The group performed an arrangement of a Carpenters song followed by a swinging standard tune of which I don’t know the name. Although a nice group, the sound at Kenny’s Castaways made things sound a little stiff and canned. Despite this, their set was an appropriate cleanser after the high energy sets at Sullivan Hall. Last, one more trip to Le Poisson Rouge was in order for the last set of the evening by Goldfinger, a trio of David Torn on guitar, Tim Berne playing alto saxophone and Ches Smith on drums and electronics. This was unlike anything else I heard all evening, testing limits of dynamics and sound with the vast use of processors and electronics used by Ches Smith and David Torn.
During my 6 hours at the Undead jazz fest I was tempted to buy a bunch of records. Here’s a list of everything I saw that is now on my shopping list for future purchases.
Ches Smith – Congs for Brums (Ches was awesome with David Torn)
Nels Cline – Veil (didn’t perform Thursday but Torn’s set reminded me of this recording which features Tim Berne)
If I’m feeling productive this week expect my thoughts on a jazz festival similar to Undead happening in Philly. I know it’s already happened in the past but maybe we need something to happen now.