For a comprehensive and well-written account of the two-night jazz extravaganza, check out Ben Ratliff’s review for the New York Times. Nate Chinen, Ben Allison, Jacob Teichroew and Hank Shteamer also have some spot-on reflections.
The general theme of those reviews is that the festival was a huge success, attracting not only brilliant music but amazingly enthusiastic audiences. I couldn’t agree more — Saturday’s crowd was especially mind-blowing. The combination left me with more moments of jaw-dropping jazz-fan euphoria than any event that I have attended in a long time. To borrow a phrase from Vijay Iyer, tossed out at the end of his set at Le Poisson Rouge that featured one of the liveliest audiences of the evening: “And they told me jazz is dead…”
Yeah, not so much.
Click through for the play-by-play of my Friday night:
Friday night was a lot more low-key than Saturday, but it still featured some great shows. My itinerary started off with Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society, which featured his excellent writing and esoteric commentary between tunes. The sound was a little over-done — my favorite thing about Secret Society is that they have enough acoustic firepower not to need much amplification. Other than that, though, great set.
Next up was Ben Williams at Zinc Bar, a tiny club that wasn’t particularly well-suited for the massive hordes that swarmed it. Again, an inattentive sound man (who spent half of the set in the bathroom) put a damper on some excellent music, but Ben Williams more than made up for that with his virtuosic upright bass playing. This group was among the more straight-ahead that I heard, and they played that hard-bop-funky thing to a T.
I spent the rest of the evening at Kenny’s Castaways, the venue booked by Search and Restore. This was really where the most was happening on Friday — props to Adam and James for putting together a great lineup. I arrived for the end of Briggan Krauss’ Trio Coordinate, an atmospheric free-jazz outfit whose uplifting aesthetic pleasantly surprised me. Jeremy Udden’s Plainville was next, providing a folksy, pastoral take on improvisation.
The absolute winner of the evening, though, was the Matt Wilson Quartet. By the time his set got up and running, the place was getting packed. Wilson’s combination of unbridled exuberance and quirky virtuosity won me over right away. I found myself standing next to Ingrid Jensen and Jon Wikan, the standout jazz-power-couple from Secret Society’s earlier performance, who were totally eating it up. I’ll let Jensen have the last word, which I overheard at the end of Wilson’s final number (part free improv, part hair-metal impersonation): “I love Matt Wilson!” Better watch out there, Jon — the wife just might have a new favorite drummer…
By then it was 10:30 and I was already exhausted. This was one of the most challenging aspects of JazzFest: all the walking, standing and packing in like sardines to the various clubs took a toll on my mental capacity for digging the music. Fortunately, Wilson was so great that even my tired legs couldn’t distract me.
Were you one of the thousands in attendance at JazzFest on Friday night? If so, tell me what I missed!