[Dixielandjazz] The Irony of Jazz

Stephen G Barbone barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Sun Jun 26 06:39:20 PDT 2011

This article points out several things all of us on the DJML are well  
aware of. Smaller audiences, and modern jazz experiments in high  
volume and formless clangor, etc.

However, I urge you top read this entire article and then be blown  
away by the obvious truth of the last paragraph. No maybes about it.

Steve Barbone

Jazz Bands, Very Loud, Find Smaller Crowd


The Undead Jazzfest, in its second year, started on Thursday at half- 
capacity and double volume.

The crowds at Le Poisson Rouge sat on the floor, with plenty of room,  
while the core members of Tarbaby — the pianist Orrin Evans, the  
bassist Eric Revis and the drummer Nasheet Waits — screamed  
cathartically at the end of every melodic-rhythmic cycle, and while  
the electric guitarists Marc Ribot, with his band Ceramic Dog, and  
David Torn, with his own trio, proceeded through their spooky,  
confrontational sets.

At Sullivan Hall, they were standing comfortably, leaning against  
things, while the drummer Dave King, of the Bad Plus, unleashed a  
vigorous new band, the Dave King Trucking Company, with two saxophones  
and the brave, unorthodox, weirdly compelling electric guitarist Erik  
Fratzke; and while Andrew D’Angelo’s proggy big band blasted  
overlapping, swirling, full-throated lines from every section.

Overwhelmed by thousands of names and minor stylistic differences, New  
Yorkers will often ask a reasonable question: where should I go see  
live jazz if I want to know what’s happening? In those terms, if you  
haven’t been checking in on what’s been sprouting in Brooklyn at  
Littlefield, Korzo and I-Beam, and what continues to develop in  
Manhattan atCornelia Street Café, the Stone or 55 Bar, then Undead,  
running through Sunday, is your one-stop megamart. The best thing this  
festival can do — seems to want to do — is to lead you to spend some  
nonfestival nights at the little places.

Undead has become more ambitious: more than 50 bands across four  
nights in Manhattan and Brooklyn; the spreading must be the reason for  
the sparser crowds. But it is geared toward standing spaces, isn’t  
very well branded and seems to have little interest in becoming  
venerable, or more important than the music itself. (Some musicians  
have complained about low pay, which is an issue in progress.)

It doesn’t seem to be drawing mainstream audiences because it isn’t  
really trying to. It seems to be about something outside of itself.

Last year, Undead was a two-night stand in clubs in the same strip of  
central Greenwich Village. Now it’s four days in three neighborhoods:  
the Bleecker-and-Sullivan Street nexus, as well as Gowanus and  
Williamsburg in Brooklyn. Thursday was Manhattan night: Le Poisson  
Rouge, Sullivan Hall and Kenny’s Castaways.

Tarbaby played the set to go home remembering. Like the festival  
itself, the group is volatile, unstable, its feet in various places at  
once: three musicians with various collaborators, depending on the day  
and occasion. The guest on Thursday was the alto saxophonist Oliver  
Lake, of the World Saxophone Quartet, who is a generation older than  
the rest of the band; he played darting, acrid phrases, under no  
obligation to take part in the whole of any tune.

This was collective and aggressive improvising, but there were places  
for individual solos, and when the musicians felt like it, deep rhythm- 
section swing.

Paradoxical Frog, a trio with the saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock, pianist  
Kris Davis and drummer Tyshawn Sorey, made a radical inversion of that  
formula: they played a lot of tightly written material and made it  
sound free.

It’s not easygoing music; there were a lot of silences and  
counterintuitions in the music, from the accurate clangor of Ms.  
Davis’s keyboard touch to the upside-down mechanics of Mr. Sorey’s kit  
— tiny cymbals, a snare as bass drum, a tom-tom where the snare should  

Somewhere in the middle of the evening, the pianist Gerald Clayton was  
supposed to play with his trio; a late-breaking change of plans turned  
that into a duet, instead, with the vibraphonist Chris Dingman. Two  
young musicians with the training, tools and reflexes to play whatever  
they want, they closed their set with a short and beautiful version of  
Fats Waller’s “Jitterbug Waltz.” Amid the general vibe of disruption —  
how weird can your jazz get? — it was a useful reminder of the  
obvious: that jazz can have still restraint and polish in consensual  
repertory with beautiful chord changes and still be worth something,  
maybe even a lot.

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