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New Century, Same Genius: Ornette Coleman at JVC

Robert Glasper

The Knit was humming with nonstop activity for more than seven consecutive hours in all three spaces as the second annual NYC Winter Jazzfest rolled on from 6 p.m. till past 1 a.m., giving downtown music regulars and out-of-towners attending the annual Association of Performing Arts Presenters (APAP) conference quite an earful of alternative sounds.

Guitarist Goran Ivanovic opened the proceedings in the Mainspace with his compelling hybrid of Balkan jazz blended with gypsy and klezmer sensibilities. A classically trained guitarist from Chicago, Ivanovic strummed his nylon stringed instrument with flamenco bravura while also forging tight, intricate unison lines with saxophonist Doug Rosenberg as bassist Matthew Ulery and drummer Michael Caskey set a furious pace. At times their odd-metered, blazing breakdowns recalled Ivo Paposov’s Bulgarian Wedding Band with strains of Middle Eastern flavor seeping into the mix. At its most serene, this unorthodox world music group resembled and instrumental version of the late-’60s acoustic group Pentangle, which brought a jazzy kind of verve to traditional British folk ballads while also blending in world music elements.

Marc Ribot’s Spiritual Unity band with bassist Henry Grimes, trumpeter Roy Campbell and drummer Chad Taylor followed in the Mainspace with a raucous tribute to Albert Ayler, performing slightly twisted renditions of “Bells,” “Saints” and “The Truth Goes Marching In.” Pianist Dave Burrell whipped up some subversive sounds of his own down in the Tap Bar, straddling the inside-outside aesthetic with deep-toned bassist Mike Formanek and drummer Guillermo E. Brown. A sideman during the ’60s to the likes of Archie Shepp, Marion Brown and Beaver Harris and a more recent collaborator with David Murray, Burrell embodies the free-jazz aesthetic while his percussive, syncopated style also refers to older schools of jazz. A highlight of his dynamic set was a playful rendition of a Jelly Roll Morton tune, which he delivered with robust, two-handed flair.

In the Old Office, the most intimate of the Knit’s three performance space, tenor titan J.D. Allen kicked things off in kinetic fashion with his muscular, free-swinging rhythm tandem of Eric Revis on acoustic bass and Gerald Cleaver on drums. Blowing with white-hot intensity and virtuosic command of his instrument in all registers, Allen soared with abandon on top of the rhythmic whirlwind generated by Cleaver and Revis. This supercharged trio was followed in the Old Office by the phenomenal Columbian harpist Edmar Castaneda, whose technically astounding approach to the instrument normally associated with classical music has been registering with scenesters over the past year. Covering independent, heavily grooving bass lines with his left hand while chording and also running counterpoint melodies and dazzling triplet figures with his right hand (a kind of Charlie Hunter or Joe Passian approach to the harp), Castenada performed a buoyant, Latin-tinged set with his unorthodox trio of trombonist Marshall Gilkes and drummer Dave Silliman, who performed on a hybrid kit that had him switching from cajon to the traps set with skillful aplomb. Since arriving in the States last year, Castenada has been championed by Paquito D’Rivera, who has employed the harpist for some high profile gigs. But the full scope of Castanada’s gift is revealed in this sparse trio setting, in which he simultaneously covers three functions in the band.

Pianist Jason Lindner unveiled his raw, genre-stretching Jlectrik ensemble to an enthusiastic, packed room in the Old Office. Fueled by Jonathan Blake’s slamming backbeats and hip James Brown-inspired time displacement on the kit, Lindner’s provocative electric ensemble was anchored by the heavy groove-oriented lines of the versatile but criminally underrecognized electric bassist Reggie Washington (a stalwart for years with Steve Coleman’s metrically challenging Five Elements band). Blake and Washington provided a loose-tight interlocking rhythm feel that recalled Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters on the classic Thrust. Playing a heavily effected Fender Rhodes electric piano, Lindner created spiky sounds on top of the groove alongside the stinging electric guitar work of Oz Noy and the wah-wah inflected trumpet playing of Avishai Cohen. This debut of Jlectric was one of the big surprises at this NYC Winter Jazzfest. With the talented composer-arranger Lindner shaping the playing field for this subversive crew of electric improvisers, Jlectric could emerge as a potent force on the progressive fusion scene.

In the Mainspace, John Medeski turned in a riveting solo-piano set that was alternately informed by the spirits of James Booker, Thelonious Monk, Cecil Taylor, Meade Lux Lewis and Frederic Chopin. Opening with a rollicking two-fisted nod to the New Orleans school of piano playing, as personified by Booker and Professor Longhair, Medeski segued organically from barrelhouse boogie into a volcanic burst of turbulent, Cecilesque free playing. Out of that dense rumber, he nimbly shifted into Monk’s “Evidence” and followed with further abstraction on “Where’s Sly?” from Medeski, Martin & Wood’s groundbreaking 1993 recording, “It’s a Jungle in Here”. A pleasant surprise during Medeski’s stylistically diverse set was his relaxed, swinging interpretation of Harold Arlen’s “From Out of This World.” He closed on an upbeat note by taking it to church with gospel-drenched flourishes, putting the capper on a dynamic solo set.

Vijay Iyer and alto sax firebrand Rudresh Mahanthappa showcased their remarkable chemistry in the Mainspace with Raw Materials, an ongoing duo that they’ve been developing for the past 10 years. The two kindred spirits were joined during their set by Iyer’s frequent collaborator poet Mike Ladd, accompanied by cellist Okkyung Lee, re-creating material from their provocative performance piece “Still Life With Commentator.”

Other notable sets during this well-paced evening of music were pianist Robert Glasper with his regular trio of bassist Vicente Archer and drummer Damion Reid, guitarist Rez Abbasi with his potent Indian-flavored Snake Charmer group (which also featured Mahanthappa on alto sax, Marc Mommaas on tenor sax, Ben Stivers on organ and Elliot Humberto Kavee on drums) and Dafnis Prieto with his Absolute Quintet, featuring Yosvany Terry on saxophones and chekere, Christian Howes on violin, Dana Leong on cello, Jason Lindner on organ and keyboards and Cuban native Prieto on drums.

Bassist-singer-provocateur Meshell Ndegeocello brought the Knit marathon to a rousing climax, playing into the wee hours with her Miles-inspired funk-fusion outfit, Spirit Music Jamia, which featured J.D. Allen’s robust tenor sax work alongside Oliver Lake’s alto sax, Brandon Ross’s guitar, Michael Cain’s keyboards, Mark Kelly’s bass and the two-drum tandem of Terreon Gully and Damion Reid. While initially signed as a pop artist to Madonna’s label, Maverick, Ndegeocello has emerged as a first-rate improviser with one foot solidly in the jazz camp. It will be interesting to see if she continues to develop along this more adventurous instrumental path or if this is just a temporary detour in her career. Stay tuned.

Originally Published