Live Review: Winter Jazzfest NYC


It’s the 2015 Winter Jazzfest NYC. MAGNET’s Mitch Myers reports from the festival.

Now in its 11th year, the Winter Jazzfest in New York City has become an established fulcrum of offbeat musical activity, ideal for the consumer as well as industry insiders. It’s an impressive series of showcases—much akin to CMJ— crammed into 10 Greenwich Village venues and featuring more than 100 acts. With affordable day passes allowing attendees to wander from one club to another, the WJF encourages adventurous listening and discovery, highlighting avant-garde improvisation, amazing new compositions and high-concept projects.

Both the audience and the musicians ranged from younger neophytes to grizzled veterans, and Thursday night’s formal kickoff epitomized the generational diversity with just two shows. The Le Poisson Rouge venue highlighted a current crop of hipsters with Blue Note recording artists Robert Glasper, Kendrick Scott, Jose James and Derrick Hodge, while the nearby Disability Pride benefit concert showcased esteemed jazz elders including Benny Golson, Ron Carter, Jimmy Cobb and George Coleman.

Friday night’s schedule was an embarrassment of riches, but I stuck to the action at the Minetta Lane Theater with established artists including reedist/composer David Murray. Murray has recorded more than 150 albums under his own name, and had three different showcase slots including a Clarinet Summit with Don Byron, David Krakauer and Hammiet Bluiett, and a trio gig featuring Geri Allen on piano and Terri Lynne Carrington on drums. Following Murray, there was Trio 3 with Oliver Lake, Reggie Workman and Andrew Cyrille along with special-guest pianist Vijay Iyer. Even without Iyer, Trio 3’s collective experience was well over 150 years, and they did not disappoint.

Longtime “Downtown” musicians were also on hand, with Mark Ribot & The Young Philadelphians With Strings playing instrumental versions of classic Philly soul. Ribot’s band killed it, especially with the amazing rhythm section of bassist Jamaaladeen Tacuma and drummer Calvin Weston. Other downtown legends included Strange And Beautiful, which is a Lounge Lizards tribute ensemble featuring Lizard alumni Ribot, pianist Evan Lurie, trumpeter Steven Bernstein, saxophonists Michael Blake and Erik Lawrence and many more.

Saturday night’s schedule was more of the same—both in quantity and quality—including Rudresh Mahanthappa interpreting Charlie Parker, the Campbell Brothers performing a sacred steel version of John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme and the SFJAZZ Collective playing the music of Michael Jackson. Overall, there was just too much for any one person to see, but that was a good thing.

—photo by Steve Sussman