Jazz; smoky lounges, sunglasses, and devil may care grins. It’s easy, while listening to Jazz, to sink into the damp and racing melodies of an upright bass. But the minute you start to sink, saxophones pipe in, warning of the dangers to be found in those plucking strings. To me, that’s what Jazz is. It’s a balancing act. Jazz says, “Hi, I’ve been there, and it felt GOOD, but it messed me up something terrible.” Words don’t allow us to express joy and sorrow at the same time. Jazz does.
The kickoff of the NYC Jazzfest took place last night at Le Poisson Rouge, loosely translated to mean the finished red fish. One has to think this was deliberate since their banner is one of fish bones. The kickoff was a compilation of artists showcasing their 2015 releases on Blue Note Records. For representation of their earlier works, check out Madlibs’ 2003 Shades of Blue, which sampled their archives heavily. In order of appearance:
Kendrick Scott Oracle
This was my favorite performance of the night. Kendrick performed on the drums, with Taylor Eigsti on piano, Matt Penman on bass, Mike Moreno on guitar and John Ellis on saxophone ( who also played the bass clarinet) . But let’s be honest, their names won’t make you listen to them. Their sound WAS JAZZ, and so were they. Kendrick, Mike and John all went to the same high school and played together there. The band itself, released a previous album Conviction under Concord Records. They played well together, very well. The music was fluid, beautiful and FUN. The beginning of their set met with some micing issues, apparently the mic on Kendricks’ floor tom was malfunctioning. But once that got taken care of, thank you Eigsti, the sound was phenomenal. At one point Kendrick used brushes and he was getting DOWN, then Moreno came in with a guitar drop that would make my mama blush, which if you see this man, makes you chuckle inside.
Hodge is the bass player, leader of the band, which led to two amplifies being attached to the bass, with a mic on the dome. I’d like to say it was off axis, but I’m sure it was super cardioid to capture sound from the second amp, which it was facing. Another micing issue came into play with the kick drum. It seemed like they only had one mic instead of two, so you were really overwhelmed with this clicky sound. Frederico Pena was playing a Korg Triton which can never be a bad thing, but Michael Aaberg was also on keys and the sounds they were blending just didn’t mesh well to me. Not in a discordant this is jazz kind of way but in a I can’t really hear when you’re dropping in with that sound kind of way. I think it was just too modern sounding for me, in a venue like this.
James’ performance was a mix of songs from his upcoming album Yesterday I had the Blues: The Music of Billie Holiday and his 2013 release No Beginning No End. (No Punctuation) Definitely the most vocally oriented performance, he was the only one who didn’t play an instrument. It touched more on the spiritual aspect of the art. There lies the appeal, for me, to Jose James. He’s young, vibrant, and embodies the image of a jazz musician bad ass. He was also the first performer to use the Steinway and the first vocalist to touch on slavery and hangings. Definitely, have to check him out in greater detail.
Robert Glasper Trio
Comprised of Glasper on keys, Vicente Archer on bass and Damon Reid on drums, this Trio has the potential to be an amazing team. They’re all amazingly talented and their solo performances made you boogy. They even had some really great moments of blended sound. They’re going to be performing the last week of February, at the Paramount, and I feel like by then they’ll have all the kinks worked out of their live performances. They recently recorded a record at Capitol Studios, to be released this Summer. This is probably the first time they’re performing those songs in a live setting. During the performance Glasper displayed his stellar ear training. Asking the engineer to raise levels, reduce feedback on a particular key from the Steinway, and at one point, he even asked for a decrease in signal being sent from the DI box, requesting more sound be added from a mic directly on the amp. All I could think was, he must really like that amp.
Overall, the experience was really great. The sound was an amazing fit for the space, except with Hodges’ performance, which literally made my entire body vibrate. The staff and guests were really friendly. A-typical for “artsy” Manhattan locales. The scenery was pleasing, artsy, but not so obscure you feel like a hay chewing dung farmer. Coat check was also only $3 dollars, score. However, HOWEVER, the bathroom situation is deplorable. It’s all low level red lighting with automatic faucets, that when starting, cause the pipes to bang and clatter inside the walls. I don’t even want to think about what the puddle on the floor next to the toilet was. With the amount of lighting in the bathroom how could you even be mad if someone missed. The music though, was not a miss. Awesome experience, and I recommend you get tickets to the remaining performances today and tomorrow.