It’s been a couple weeks since the Jazz Composers Collective celebrated it’s 20th anniversary by presenting a week-long festival at Jazz Standard. The dust has settled, turkey has been consumed, and things are getting back to normal after a terrible storm, and I am finding a moment to reflect on this great week.
The storm of music that hit Jazz Standard November 6-11, featured eleven bands over six days, and included projects that got their start at JCC concerts nearly 20 years ago, as well as brand new music. With the opening of the week being election night, followed by a second storm, business was a little slow at first. But it picked up as the week went on, and by Thursday it was jam-packed with old and new fans.
Ben Allison opened the festival, a sort of JCC tradition: four years ago his band played as voters elected Obama to the Oval Office, and the good vibrations of his music was successful once again this term! Ben’s new band, which is as much a rock band as jazz group, was creative and inspired, featuring two guitarists - Steve Cardenas and Brandon Seabrook, whose styles are as different as the two political parties that were fighting it out that night. Allison Miller on drums and Rogerio Boccato on percussion sounded great together. Rogerio and I work together in a group led by Erik Charlston which features the music of Hermeto Pascoal (Come check us out at Dizzy’s Club on January 7th!).
Wednesday night was Frank Kimbrough’s “night,” and he brought to the stage a new band featuring Steve Wilson (sax), Jay Anderson (bass) and Louis Nash (drums). Frank explored new music, and also revisited compositions (with new twists) that premiered at Collective concerts years ago. The band sounded quite in sync, despite the fact the Louis Nash flew in from out of the country just in time to set up his cymbals and be handed a stack of lead sheets. Steve, on both alto and soprano, played with both intellect and expression.
Thursday night featured two bands let by trumpeter Ron Horton. Ron, in my opinion, exists way too far below the radar. He is a great composer and improviser, and a hell of a car mechanic. He plays beautifully on my recent release, The Creep. Ron’s first set featured his sextet, with Marty Erlich, Ron and myself on horns, and Ben, Frank, and Tim Horner in the rhythm section. The second set was a min--big band co-led with Horner, that included some great musicians, many of which, in my opinion, also deserve wider recognition, like Marc Mommaas, Nate Ecklund and John O’Gallagher. I was a little apprehensive about the set - there was a lot of music, lots of notes and cues, and I felt the music was underrehearsed. I was happily surprised, however, that it came together so beautifully.
Friday night featured two bands of mine and a set of Herbie Nichols music. It was a long day, with a rehearsal, three sound checks and three completely different sets, and I was exhausted by the end of it. But in a good way. The first set was my Double Quartet, featuring a string quartet. Nathalie Bonin came all the way from Montreal to play! We brought back to life some music from Rhyme and Reason, and also featured Suite Ivette, a new piece in three movements. The second set was my quartet, playing music from The Creep. The third set was the Herbie Nichols Project. We discovered new music that had been assumed MIA, after it had been supposedly lost in a flood many years ago. But this turned out to be a myth, as we were able to acquire photocopies of forty originals by Herbie Nichols that had never been recorded, and many, we assume, that had never played publicly. We are all so excited by the discovery of this new music, some of which is the best I have ever heard penned by this overlooked genius. We are planning to record very soon.
Saturday night was buzzing with excitement. Word of the Festival had certainly spread, and the joint was jumpin’. Michael Blake led off with his band, Elevated Quartet, which was loose, open and intimate. It reminded me in some ways of Trane’s classic quartet, with a little updated language. I had never heard drummer Ferenc Nemeth, and really enjoyed his playing. For the second set Ben Allison reunited his Medicine Wheel band, playing music from his recordings Medicine Wheel and Buzz. Enough time has passed to have made this a nostalgic experience. The third set was a new group, The Jim Hall Project, playing music by the great guitarist/composer. This is a very open, intimate group, with Ben Allison, Steve Cardenas and myself. Most fun I’ve had with my clothes on in a long time...
Sunday night, closing night, was also buzzing, and opened with Michael Blake’s sextet, featuring a lot of young, lesser-known musicians. Very creative. Many of them wore hats. The musicians were listening to each other, and took their time to develop ideas. The final set of the week was a the Herbie Nichols Project, playing a slightly different set then on Friday night. Herbie’s music is quirky, mostly joyful, and dark at times.
It took me a couple days to recuperate from the week. But like a strenuous workout at the gym, the pain is a good pain.