So this is the Horn of Plenty. It’s the first night of the NYC Winter Jazzfest and one thing’s for certain: I can’t write in the dark. In its sixth year, the festival features a line-up of fifty smartly selected bands performing at five venues in the West Village.
Kicking it off at (Le) Poisson Rouge, Darcy James Argue conducted his eighteen piece big band Secret Society. The up-tempo opener, “Transit,” churned waves of horn stabs while trumpetist Ingrid Jensen soloed with the looseness of a competitive kayaker. Doc Severinsen comes to mind at first, but Mr. Argues assures us he’s a Thinking Man With Creative Integrity. He dedicates one song to Zeno, of “Zeno’s Paradox” fame. Then “Aeromagnetic” goes out to Blackwater (Xe) CEO Erik Prince with a wink, the ultimate fuzzed-out bad guy theme song for the ultra-mercenary. And his band’s called “Secret Society,” so he’s not playing “Gonna Fly Now” to hype the crowd. He affects a young Michel Legrand with UNKLE and the Killers on his iPhone and an HD filled with Italian movies. The compositions are thought out and the band has chops, but Argue keeps the rope a bit tight. Hopefully, he’ll stop the Mr. Roboto hand signals, pick up an instrument and jam with the band.
Jamie Leonhart sings warm jazz-pop that evokes music boxes and old-timey romance, with a Feist-y edge. Her voice is clear and inviting, and she has confidence and poise that draws you in. Her new album, The Truth About Suffering, will up the ante on your wintertime shack-up playlist. When she knocks out a stellar “Willow Weep for Me,” her band is flowing and the couples in the audience are leaning into each other. She paints a mood recalling Hanne Hukkelburg’s 2004 LP, Little Things, but with a fuller, jazzy polish. The pop scene is ripe for her style, let’s hope 2010’s her year.
The crowd at (Le) Poisson Rouge skews pretty young and mixed, with a reassuring amount of classic Village characters that know a good live show. One group debates when they last hung with Jimi Hendrix and whether a fourteen year old can play jazz with soul (“You can eat a plantain when it’s young, in the middle, or old. Different flavors at different times,” my man opined between sips of good scotch. He made sure to complement a young sister’s Afro). I don’t think the choice of music I DJ impressed them: these cats were up on electronic avant-garde with total recall on liner notes. Their upcoming pick is Iannis Xanakis’ compositions at Judson Church and the Drawing Center, FYI.
Piano virtuoso Eric Lewis, aka ELEW, plays “rock-jazz” from a scissor stance, sweating on the keys like Jerry Lee Lewis in a fevered trance. To claim rock and roll while playing piano solo means you have something to prove, but ELEW kept the crowd close with a set of covers ranging from the Stones’ “Paint It Black” to Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and Coldplay’s “Class.” His athletic stance means he’s deftly mashing down on the keys, filling any space between the melody with micro-notes, melting down to primordial slop, then finishing off tender and sweet. Solo pianists on a mission can be self-indulgent, and I wonder how rock and roll his own compositions would come across. Kids dug him, though, and his site has pics of him with about every celebrity over 30.
Nicholas Payton implies raunch with his SeXXXtet and new LP “Bitches” on Conchord Records. But the vibe is more Donald Byrd and Roy Ayers - he keeps the New Orleans brassiness in the mix with the grown-and-sexy groove and earthy lyrics. Check out his Into the Blue LP on the excellent Nonesuch label.
The real treat of the night was the one-two punch of Bobby Previte’s New Bump Quartet and Mark Guiliana’s Beat Music over at Kenny’s Castaways (brought to you by the folks at Search and Restore). Previte is an excellent bandleader and a charismatic drummer, and the band churned out slinky On the Corner-type fusion with gusto. The vibraphonist made up for his shirtless vest and leather pants with reverbed solos that had me looking for the guitarist. He synch’ed up solidly with the electric bassist, giving room for the balloon-necked saxophonist to work some wonderful lines. Previte, forged in the many genres of the Downtown scene, radiates charm, wit, and flair.
Mark Guiliana is also a drumming band leader, but featuring three guitarists on some dubby psychedelia. This guy is just killer on drums, kicking you in the gut and working the cymbals like no one else. That he’s backed up Me’Shell NdegeOcello and Avishai Cohen says a lot. Check out his solos on YouTube, you’ll make indigestion faces. By the time Eric Doogan shredded on the closer “The Thing Song” (an ode to the 1994 Knicks - Mase! Oak! Starks! Ewing! - with Jason Taylor as announcer), I was checking my pockets for CD money. No dice, and I really didn’t need that last Guinness.