This past weekend, Greenwich Village was busting at the seams with jazz musicians, fans and lovers. The occasion was the Winter JazzFest, a whirlwind event that spans 60 performances in five venues over two nights with 4,000 jazz attendees bustling from show to show. This year’s festival was especially packed with a noticeable amount of young people packing the venues and a charged feeling of excitement. Revive joined in the festivities with a marathon all-star lineup at Sullivan Hall. The event sold out and featured some truly incredible moments. In case you missed the show, we here are The Revivalist are here to re-cap the night for you. Stay tuned for video of the night as well !
Opening up the jampacked night was the collaboration project (U)nity, the brainchild of Cuban pianist Axel Tosca and drummer Amaury Acosta. By the time (U)nity started their first tune, Sullivan Hall was already filling up. Tosca’s lively piano riffs combined with the Latin flavored beats provided by Acosta and percussionist Pedro Martinez sent the crowd into a frenzy that lasted the entire night (which was until about 4am mind you). The sold-out crowd struggled to push forward to get closer to the energy produced by both the musicians and the lively Latin vocals of Tosca, Acosta, and a guest performance by Tosca’s mother.
Latin jazz has a certain way of spreading a good mood, and (U)nity definitely uses that to spread their message of uniting the world’s people. It’s a feel good situation seeing them play; good people, dynamic music, great times. No one could have asked for a better way to start off the evening.
Orrin Evans Captain Black Big Band
The Orrin Evans Captain Black Big Band follows a structure in which you really can’t go wrong. Take seasoned veterans of the music scene and pair them with the most talented up and coming musicians on the scene now. Evans, a talented and experienced jazz pianist brings his own expertise to the table along with other veterans and legends of jazz including bassist Mike Boone and trombonist Frank Lacy. Spanning from about age 23 upwards, the Big Band had no qualms about bringing the heat to Sullivan. As much as it is a learning experience for the musicians, it’s an invigorating performance for the audience. Each musician feeds off of each other, and that feeling is infectious. When the band is excited, it spills out into the crowd and that’s something Orrin Evans and the Captain Black Big Band have no problem achieving.
Igmar Thomas & The Cypher
Definitely not a stranger to the Winter Jazzfest or the Revive Da Live family, is none other than trumpeter, Igmar Thomas & The Cypher. Igmar’s band consisted of Marcus Strickland on tenor sax and holding down the rhythm section were, Justin Brown on drums, David Bryant on keys and Burniss Earl Travis II on bass. Making the most out of their set, Igmar and crew wasted little time talking between selections and got right down to the business of keeping the music flowing. Igmar and Marcus both shared the spotlight and at times played in tandem and off of each other, while at times stepping back and giving each other space to improvise. During the set, Igmar added a few special effects with his horn to funk things up and the drum beats and baselines at times had my head nodding so hard I thought I was at a great hip-hop show. It occurred to me at this show that more hip-hop artists should seek to play with live bands. But that’s a side note. Keeping in line with that vibe, we were treated to a freestyle by MC and our DJ for the evening, Raydar Ellis, during one of Igmar’s final selections. While the progressive influences were definitely apparent in Igmar’s set, what also shined through is the respect that Igmar Thomas and the Cypher have for jazz music.
The Curtis Brothers, comprised of Zaccai Curtis on Keys, and Luques Curtis on bass, accompanied by John Davis on Drums, and Rey De Jesus on percussions brought another variation of jazz to the Revive stage. The Curtis Brothers demonstrated Afro-Latin jazz at its best, chock full of syncopation and blurried and furious rhythms. An added dynamic to the ensemble was the vocal ornamentation of Giovanni Almonte, who’s soft and drifting voice enveloped the undulating polyrhythms, and wrapped around them tightly. Zaccai’s strong and sensual chords and staccato tinkling were sometimes repetitive and furious, and other times far into the distance, while Luques manipulated the precisely timed bass chords hypnotically.
The emotively reaching and introspective lyrics, and the array of tones and moods that were sometimes ferocious and eager and other times patient and longing, were a critical representation of the connectedness between the African and Latin cultural idioms envisioned in the context of the new jazz movement.
People were in for a treat when Derrick Hodge hit the stage with his group, as he previewed music from his up and coming debut album. If his set was any indicator, he has really committed himself to exploring a wide rage of musical styles. The opener original sounded like something Hugh Masekela would have done in the 80s, but then broke down at times with rhythmical stretches that ventured into Hip Hop territory and became something cerebral all together. The almost mystical nature of this song was highlighted with shrills from Keyon Harrold on trumpet, and strides on the drums from Chris Dave that would drive the shift into jam mode to keep the freshness of the music going. Even though it echoed the experiments of something like Stanley Clarke’s Journey To Forever, it was music rooted in the modern era of jazz.
Even the second song which seems like an innocent ode to Vince Guaraldi’s Peanuts days took on a more mournful dimension as a sad ballad in memory of someone. But the show ended on a bright note with a final song that had a swinging hip hop bass line that Hodge laid down, and eventually busted out into retro funk with Marcus Strickland sneaking on stage to rock out like Maceo Parker would with James Brown. Hodge seems to be exploring his interests and influences on this first go around, and while it would be easy to make comparisons to these artists it overlooks the fact that he is taking these sounds into different directions. The bassist is looking to take people on a journey through his own tastes, and it looks to be quite a journey by any indicator.
Maurice Brown Effect
Possibly one of the most ferocious trumpeters today, Maurice Brown gathered some of his closest confidants; Chelsea Baratz (sax), Solomon Dorsey (bass), Chris Rob (keys), and Joe Blaxx (kit) into what he calls the Maurice Brown Effect.Maurice is keen on rapid crescendos and explosive trumpet bursts. He plays like a boxer, waiting for the split second opportunity for staccato jabs, or for the occasional and superhuman full force punch, undoubtedly packing a knock out every time.
Maurice knows he’s an impressive trumpeter, and his flair is part of the band’s collective personality. The group intuitively weaves a catch net to keep Maurice from flying away. For a front man so continuously up-tempo and high energy, his counterpart soloist of the night, Chelsea Baratz, with a much more subdued and clean saxophone technique is an obvious and workable partner. That with Chris Rob’s playful and easy breezy performance on keys, Solomon’s effortless and smooth bass maneuvering, and Joe, rooting the rest of them as the beat purveyor, is no doubt the collective of a very dynamic group of strong instrumental personalities.
The Robert Glasper Experiment
The highly anticipated Robert Glasper and the Experiment was a large exercise in spontaneity, and kept the audience fixated on the set to ponder what directions would the music go in next. Glasper led his all start quartet of Derrick Hodge, Casey Benjamin and Chris Dave through what appeared to be one long song. While Benjamin every so often chanted the famous words ‘a love supreme’ on his vocoder, the untitled song was purely Glasper’s own work of art as it weaved through very dark and moody territory. The very hypnotic music animated by Glasper’s almost raindrop like touch on the piano at times would spin into various different directions. Sometimes it would pay homage to J Dilla with hard driven drumming from Chris Dave, and sometimes things would just spread out to an almost Ahmad Jamal effect of how space and time was used by the group. If one listened close enough they could have picked up Hodge’s rift off of the bass line to Bob James’ Nautilus that has become a staple in Hip Hop, or other little touches like the blips and effects that would sneak into he set. But dissecting everything really does very little justice to the final product of the night, which was something that had to be heard to be believed. Prompting perhaps the only encore of the evening, the group took to the stage a second time after an audience chant to launch into a high tempo number that sparked a fast paced piano solo from Glasper. Only the word experiment could describe this experience, but like a mad scientist Glasper managed to bring his creation, and the audience, to life.
Kenneth Whalum III
On the heels of his new release To Those Who Believe, Kenneth Whalum and his very young, very bright band (Jamire Williams, drums, Lawrence Fields, keys, and Ben Williams, bass), played a great, concentrated set of songs at the Revive Showcase at Sullivan Hall, the next to last group to go on. By this time, 2:30 am, the crowd had thinned, and no one could deny any longer that they were sleepy and it was late, even by jazz standards. Nevertheless, the crowd was engaged in Whalum’s music—in the frenetic opener, the ballad that followed, and the final piece. Whalum has received a great deal of attention for his music and collaborations, as well as his young age, and deservedly so—he plays with both fire and tenderness. His album is meant to be an inspiration, a clarion call to believers of all sorts, and with Saturday’s performance, it’s clear that he’s on his way, with a huge following behind him.
Rounding out the long incredible night was the drum stylings of Kendrick Scott and his band Oracle with special guest Marcus Strickland. Although it was late, Scott’s band bounced off the energy of the previous performers to create a contemporary yet cerebral set. Scott, who has played extensively with Herbie Hancock and Terrence Blanchard, has a strong melodic style in his compositions that is not often heard from drummers and a earthiness to his playing that feels natural and organic. Whenever he changes the groove, it flows effortlessly and provides both the leadership and support to make the entire band sound impressive. Although it was late, the die-hard fans soaked up the last moments of the festival with Scott. Jazz was feeling particularly alive that night and it was clear we were all going to bed happy.