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- Posted on Jan 14th 2010 5:00PM by Tad Hendrickson
Now in its sixth year, the festival has become something of an international jazz extravaganza. Fifty-five bands played during the course of two days in five different clubs in a two-block radius in the heart of New York's Greenwich Village. The price was a do-able $25 for one night and $30 for two. Knowing a good deal when they see it, 1,500 people showed up on Friday Jan. 8 and 2,500 made it out for Saturday, Jan. 9. Temperatures were well below freezing both days, so this meant some commitment on the part of fans.
What started as a jazz outgrowth of the Association of Performing Arts Presenters Conference, where lesser-known jazz artists performed with the idea of getting gigs with performing arts organizations all over the place, has become an event unto itself. Early on, local kids who liked music but not necessarily jazz, per se, started coming out to see these young-ish jazz bands play because they had friends in the band or because it gave them chance to see a ton of music for a relatively cheap price. It's refreshing to see, and gives one hope for jazz that if the music extends its hand with cheaper events, younger people will take it.
By the time Vijay Iyer's trio had finished playing its 11p.m. set at the flagship Le Poisson Rouge, Iyer [pictured] had announced that it was the best live audience ever (or something like that) and some guy had fainted mid-set because the room was so packed. Iyer is no unknown, having taking notices for best album of the year for his 'Historicity,' and this set was something of a victory lap for Iyer's band, as well as the festival, which just happened to have the recently dubbed hottest commodity in jazz. This was after high-profile live meeting between the heavily buzzed-about Jenny Scheinman on violin and the always newsworthy and interesting Jason Moran on piano.
The mighty Dr. Lonnie Smith packed them in at Sullivan Hall for his 9:30 set, which is no surprise. What was is that Gretchen Parlato's 7:30 in the same place had a line down the block as people waited in the cold to get in -- Parlato definitely deserves the attention for her intimate singsong vocals matched with a strong rhythmic phrasing as she and her piano trio tackled songs by Wayne Shorter ('ESP') and Herbie Hancock ('Butterfly') as well as the bossa nova standard 'Doralice.'
One band that hit me hard after I was underwhelmed by its CD was the JD Allen Trio. I need to go back to the recent 'Shine' for another listen because Allen's 9:15 set at Kenny's Castaways was a hard-charging-bop set that conjured late-'50s Coltrane and Sonny Rollins' 'Night at the Village Vanguard' from 1957. I liked the sax-bass-drums setup live because the sound seemed so direct, bracing, fiery and of the moment -- the band fed off the audience's raucous energy, giving it back in explosive volleys.
Actually, there was a nice run at Kenny's, where bassist Linda Oh preceded and Mike Reed's People Places and Things followed Allen's set. I heard good things about these two, and both bands lived up to expectations. Part of the reason I caught these three sets was that I wasn't able to make it into the Claudia Quintet, whom I've never seen but have loved its albums. The Bitter End, just a block from Kenny's, was packed to the gills, and while I'm sad to have missed the Claudia set and some others, as well, because rooms were at capacity (I didn't even bother with the small Zinc Bar), I'm happy to see these bands playing to capacity rooms. In this respect, it was a lot like SXSW or CMJ where you are not guaranteed entry to shows. So the heavily buzzed-about sets filled up fast, and you either waited in line or went early. The cold made the waiting part more difficult, and I wonder how many people camped out in a room to avoid this, at least for stretches at a time, but people did move around.
I probably could have seen more music than I did if I was a better clock-watcher and mapped out a plan ahead of time. But festivals seem to work best for me if I go with the flow and see where it takes me: bump into a friend and bounce with them to another show you hadn't planned on seeing; or you get locked out of a set and move onto something nearby. Suddenly, you find that you are loving it. Those are some the most satisfying "aha" moments for me. Taking music at face value without preconceptions. I didn't know who Ambrose Akinmusire and still don't know much, but he had a smoking set that recalled Freddie Hubbard when his quintet followed the William Parker Quartet. Now I need to go find out more. Perhaps he'll be next year's Vijay Iyer.
Here's what our friends at All About Jazz have been up to:
Gwilym Simcock: It's All Just Music
Eric Harland: Searching the Patterns in Life
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