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Revisiting Winter Jazzfest’s 10th Anniversary

Jazz till you drop

EYEBONE performs at NYU Law, NYC Winter Jazzfest 2014. From left: Teddy Klausner, Nels Cline and Jim Black
The Mary Halvorson Septet performs at Judson Church, NYC Winter Jazzfest 2014. Seen here, from left: Halvorson, John Hébert, Jacob Garchik, Ingrid Laubrock, Jon Irabagon and Jonathan Finlayson
Mostly Other People Do the Killing performs at NYU Law, NYC Winter Jazzfest 2014
Ravi Coltrane, Alan Hampton and Eric Harland (from left) perform at the Town Hall as part of NYC Winter Jazzfest 2014
In remembrance of Butch Morris, Henry Threadgill's "Ensemble Double-Up" performs at Judson Church, NYC Winter Jazzfest 2014. From left: David Virelles, Roman Filiu, Jose Davila, Craig Weinrib, Curtis Macdonald, Christopher Hoffman, Jason Moran and Threadg
Nate Wooley's Seven Storey Mountain performs at NYU Law, NYC Winter Jazzfest 2014
Robert Glasper (left) and Jason Moran at the Winter Jazzfest, Town Hall in NYC, Jan. 2014

Jazz festivals booking pop acts to stay solvent has been a cold, hard fact for a long time-so long that complaining about it in 2014 is trite and amateurish. Winter Jazzfest, the New York institution that celebrated its 10th anniversary in January with five nights of programming, points up a different turning of the tides, one that is more important to the actual art than marketing trends. Often, WJF 2014 suggested how far away from “jazz” young jazz-trained musicians are willing to go. Wending through its marathon on Jan. 10 and 11, the modernity and diversity were striking. Certainly, epiphanies were waiting for the sort of fans who pledge allegiance to mainstream jazz radio. To name two out of the 90-plus scheduled acts: Monk competition winner Melissa Aldana, sounding lithe yet strong in a strolling trio, and Gretchen Parlato, who proved herself once more as jazz’s most musicianly young singer burrowed into a powerhouse band. But the fest often carried on like an intellectual pop or general avant-garde event, with Berklee credits to back up the ideas instead of sheer hipness. Mark Guiliana’s Beat Music applied prodigious improvisation to dub. Tillery, with Parlato, Rebecca Martin and Becca Stevens, represented jazz only in the way that Joni Mitchell’s sophisticated folk does. Eyebone, with Nels Cline, Jim Black and Teddy Klausner, improvised freely using abrasive, idiomatic texture. Big Yuki played clever, hooky, cinematic instrumental rock struck through with electronic glitches. Abraxas tackled John Zorn’s klezmer charts with high-volume prog-rock zeal.

Despite its definitive-sounding name and its long-running function as a showcase for the Association of Performing Arts Presenters, Winter Jazzfest is not to be contrasted with Newport or Monterey. (And it has, in many ways, eclipsed its APAP associations.) With relatively modest resources and unapologetically forward-looking programming, it largely documents a scene-progressive jazz-trained players based in New York, unfettered by genre rules-and that scene’s forebears. It has its lodestars-for instance, Marc Ribot, heard this year in a gloriously loud and raucous set with his working band Ceramic Dog plus special guest guitarist Mary Halvorson; or Elliott Sharp, conducting his Orchestra Carbon through harmonic underbrush and blowing on his second ax, the tenor saxophone. It has its workhorses-Ribot’s drummer Ches Smith, for one, who always seemed to be onstage somewhere. And in its jazz-till-you-drop, two-night marathon component in the West Village, it has its own culture and strategies to be charted over the years.

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