Winter Jazzfest 2015 at Judson Memorial Hall: day one with Jason Miles, Ingrid Jensen, Russ Johnson
The first weekend of the New Year brought the first winter freeze. While that warm beverage from the neighborhood café or national chain certainly gets the circulation going, the NYC Winter Jazzfest really hits the spot. Hot chocolate is a nice fix but good music lasts.
Now in its 11th year, Jazzfest takes place at ten venues in Manhattan. First acts go on between 6-7 pm with the last finishing in the early morning. Weekend or one-night passes are good at all venues, including Judson Memorial Church. The Judson removed seating for the event, allowing listeners to linger in the back or sit on the floor wrapped in their coats and scarves. This priceless community space, one of the few along Washington Square that doesn’t have their real estate-devouring-neighbor NYU’s name tattooed on their entrance, serves as a pretty concert hall with decent acoustics. That said, the microphones were terrible, and made it difficult to hear the introductions.
Both groups at Friday’s early-evening sets paid tribute to past greats. First, Jason Miles and Ingrid Jensen offered a preview of their upcoming release Kind of New. Keyboardist Miles collaborated with Miles Davis on Tutu/Amandla/Doo-Bop, and Davis’s Kind of Blue is an iconic recording. Kind of New too has an airy feel. Trumpeter Jensen’s extended solos were smooth and gorgeous. They, along with saxophonist Jay Rodriguez, bassist Jerry Brooks and drummer Mike Clark created a lush, inviting sound; several people got up and danced. It will be worth hearing what the rest of Kind of New sounds like.
What was interesting about Russ Johnson’s Still Out to Lunch! wasn’t how much it did or didn’t sound like Eric Dolphy’s 1964 Out to Lunch! Instead, the dissonant and humorous chords could be mistaken for those of Hungarian composer Béla Bartók, who liked mixing up instruments and putting them back together. Here, the effect was similar with several distinctly different melodies coming from Johnson, pianist Myra Melford, saxophonist Roy Nathanson, bassist Brad Jones and drummer George Schuller, who create a singular sound that works. Their set closed with an arrangement of the traditional Song for the Ram’s Horn Nathanson found in The Library of Congress.
Far from tribute bands, Jason Miles and Ingrid Jensen and Russ Johnson provided new approaches to sounds that should not belong exclusively to their creators. Otherwise, there would be no new music to listen to.
Photos: Ken Arcara