the usual, only better.  sounds like a commercial for a cable compmay, but it’s what this past month has been like for jazz, with reservations.


Greenwich Village, NYC, hosted the annual celebraton of the multi-fariousness that is jazz.  six venues all within walkng distance of each other. a good thing that geography as it was raw outside.  no fewer than 70 groups were showcased on the 11th & 12th each night wafting into the following morning.

despite the ravaging flu the rooms –Le Poisson Rouge, Sullivan Hall, the Bitter End, Zinc Bar, Bowery Electric and Culture Project Theater– were SRO.  due to the weather and that epidemic i was ensconced at Le Poisson Rouge where i caught four performances.  even though they tried to drive us out with the loudness of the music in between sets most of us remained, nay the crowds grew larger in this cellar on the site of the late Village Gate.

prior to the musical festivies the Jazz Jounalists Association held our annual lubricating meet’n'greet in the bar area warming us up (sic).  pianist/ composer/arranger Sy Johnson and i sat in a corner as the attending multitude passed before us kissing and hugging, spreading germs.  despite inoculations i caught it anyhow.

the  Amina Figarova ensemble, subbing for the absented Ibrahim Maalouf, opened.  the hard-edged group featured reedman Wayne Escoffery.  watch this multi-talented young man; good things to follow.

following the modern-latin-tinged pianist Figarova, vocalist Catherine “Cat” Russell belted her trad set.  i last saw her opening with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band at Newport this past summer.  as entertaining as the PHJB are Cat turned that band up a notch.  i doubted that few in my immediate area at Poisson Rouge –and judging from the ages of the audience at large — ever heard her.  this talented scion of a musical family –bassist/vocalist Carline Ray and pianist/bandleader Luis Russell– as Lester “Prez” Young might have said, tweaked some lobes this night.  those uninitiates heard some early rarely played jazz and blues.  the sound in the hall was piquant and Russell’s ca. ’20s lyrics found their way clearly out to us.  bright moments of joy and good feelings were the keynotes of her set.

Cat Russell @ Winter Jazzfest 2013 all photos ⓒ Enid Farber 2013

pianist/composer Monty Alexander brought his “Harlem-Kingston Express” band to Winter Jazzfest 2013.  his Grammy-nominated CD of the same title is, yes, refreshingly different.  it’s programmed that way.  it’s the blues in two languages, so to speak.  first we hear the funky, classic blue piano that is Alexander’s wont.  so Oscar Peterson it’s alomst scary.  then the rhythm section gets into that equally funkified Jamaican groove.  as in the case of Cat Russell, for the newbies unfamiliar with the multiple aspects of our music, it’s enlightenting.  to we jaded jazz junkies, it can become redundant.  as one seasoned professional seated nearby noted, “fun, but predictable.”  again every nuance of the percussion section was beautifully pronounced.  the set brought the house and Alexander had to placate them with an encore.  a great moment for him, i’m sure.


Monty Alexander @ Winter Jazzfest 2013

the last set i caught before heading out into the rain was by clarinetist Don Byron.  Byron, noted for his interpretations of jazz which preceded him –movie cartoon jazz, swing– brought his 21st Century band with him this time.  he has yet another side: i first caught him with the New England Conservatory Klezmer Ensemble.  not only did his frahlich clarinet jump out, he was the only person of color in that group, playing Yiddish music!  a first for me, a veteran of Catskill Mountains hotel entertainment.  Garrison Keillor on his “Prairie Home Companion” radio series made note of that as well  when the NECKE guested.  they also contained a Scandanvian-sounding name; you know Keiller riffed on that.  all that by way of saying that Byron does not, cannot and will not limit himsefl to any genre of jazz.  veteran bassist Cameron Brown was featured in his band at Poisson Rouge.

Don Byron @ Winter Jazzfest 2013

this preceding report is ony a pinky fingernail of what happened during the weekend of Winter Jazzfest 2013.  the New York Times covered other venues, as i’m sure other mags and newspapers did.  i refer you to them.  we all had our faves; these were mine.

text ⓒarnold jay smith                                                                             photos ⓒEnid Farber 2013

January 2013


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