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IAJE Day 1

I can’t say I wasn’t warned.

With the best of intentions, I had mapped out my IAJE schedule in advance, leaving oases of dead time with which to write this stuff.

Dead time. That’s what you call the days after IAJE. Panel to press room to performance to lobby and back. It’s impossible not to run into someone you know. Or want to meet.

So, hey, Jane Bunnett. How’ve you been, eh? Oliver Lake, when are you coming back to play our festival? Alyce? You’re Alyce Claerbault from the Internet Ellington list. So wonderful to meet you.

Living in flyover country, I don’t get the advantage of the chance encounters that must be second nature to New Yorkers. So, this is what it’s like to be on this scene every day?

And this is before we even get to the music during IAJE week, which, to be fair, must be more concentrated and rich than it is during an average New York week.

So, I understand that the NYC Winter Jazzfest at the Knitting Factory, where I headed after a quick registration on Wednesday night, is a once-a-year thing, and scheduling it for IAJE week was no coincidence. I recall that in the days before family and day job obligations kept me from quarterly pilgrimages to New York, every week at the Knitting Factory was a jazzfest. Still, this was the IAJE experience in microcosm: a concentrated immersion in music, schmoozing and stair climbing.

At the Knit, you can do all three simultaneously. In the downstairs ear: Liberty Ellman. Upstairs ear: Rudresh Mahanthappa. In front of me is Aldo from Montreal who wants to talk to Mino Cinelu. Behind me is a guy telling me to move it.

I choose upstairs, and it’s a good choice. Craig Taborn pulls Mahanthappa’s algebraic music in a very different direction than does his usual pianist, Vijay Iyer (he also, as I learned, plays piano cross-legged). Francois Moutin, forelock snapping and fresh from a trio gig with his brother, Louis and pianist Antoine Hervé, was a clockwork whirlwind. And Tyshawn Sorey’s punch-and-roll drumming sends the music in every direction at once. Ferociously single-minded stuff.

Lionel Loueke’s trio shared Mahanthappa’s fondness for complex rhythmic cycles, handled impressively by bassist Massimo Biolcatti and drummer (Lower Broadway Frank) Ferenc Nemeth. But his gently rippling guitar blew little ribbons of his humming and vocalizing over a transfixed audience. The set had the gentility and generosity of a lullaby.

Including brief check-ins with Joel Harrison’s End Time (two guitars, rhythm and Dave Binney), Gutbucket (No Wave shades of 1979!) and Slavic Soul Party, I didn’t hear a single bar of 4/4 swing or walking bass all night, and that was fine with me.

So was the last set led by trumpeter Maurice Brown. It had the easy charm of his adopted New Orleans and the muscle of his native Chicago. It hadn’t the mathematical precision of Mahanthappa’s or Herve’s sets, or the liquidity of Loueke’s. But harkening back to jazz origin as entertainment music, it was supremely enjoyable.

I’d tell you more but Rachel Z is asking me about her March gig in my hometown and, wow! That’s Randy Weston standing there. I was warned about this, but I gotta go.

Some things I noticed on the first day at IAJE:

    1. No electric basses. I wouldn’t see one until Peter Apfelbaum’s New York Heiroglyphics performance on Friday.

    2. No 4/4 ching-ching-a-ching swing. It took until late Friday evening to hear even one bar of it. Had I stayed closer to the convention programming instead of heading downtown every night, I probably couldn’t have made this statement. Still, those who chart the history of jazz by changes in rhythm take note: There is no prevailing rhythmic feel these days. Straight eight comes close, but anything goes. Good.

    3. Young people are going to events. All right, you expect to see them at the Knit, but I saw younger people (by my definition, people under 35) crowding clubs in the Village all week. It couldn’t be just for the scene. Some of them had to like the music, and a lot of them were visibly moved. Again, good.

    4. Older people dominate the convention (by my definition, people 50 and over). I suppose that’s to be expected, as is the impression that most (but by no means all) are Caucasian. Not that there’s anything wrong with it, but it’s hard to deny.

    5. The face of jazz in New York is increasingly European. Playing the upright bass is one of the jobs that apparently has been outsourced to non-native born players. Again, not that there’s anything wrong with it. Bass lines in most of the music I’ve heard here are amazingly athletic; these guys don’t walk. They leap, jump and run. European players have long been sought for their accuracy. Perhaps it’s in greater demand now than ever.

I guess it’s a sign no matter that some may try to claim jazz as a local, regional or American patrimony, it belongs to the world now. And the world is at IAJE.

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