Our NYC trip last week included two shows from the 2018 Winter Jazz Festival and a related delight at the Jazz Gallery.
The Fest shows were on Friday the 11th and started with Michael Formanek’s Very Practical Trio with Tim Berne and Mary Halvorson at “LPR” (which literate people may remember as “La Poisson Rouge”). I will say it was easy to get a wrist-band pass to all events of the evening, but we were honked off that it turned out a line of pass-holders had to wait for a line of pass-buyers at the bottom of the stairs. No matter, there was ample room if you got there early and a saintly floor monitor got us a couple chairs so we could sit at the back wall. Now, the Very Practical Trio has not recorded anything for label ECM, but these three active and explorative hearts and minds always pull you in once they get in sync on stage. Seemed a bit acerbic at times. Off to a large EU tour. I await debut later this year with eager ears.
We had a leisurely-but-alert schedule to get to the next show (the lumpy BBQ joint we visited will not be part of the food entry here): Makaya McCraven at the Bowery Ballroom. The Chicago drummer/writer/sorcerer group’s release Universal Beings made my NPR Jazz Critics Poll and they were flat even more enveloping live. Multi-part pieces you can follow even as they surprise you, reflective passage and fierce, even a bit angry solos that belong together. Seems the next step of the AACM tradition to me. Special nod to guitarist Jeff Parker — a ferocious, poised soul deep in the Chicago tradition.
On to the main event that drew us to the big city this weekend — Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society in a kind retro-neuvo show at the Jazz Gallery. I’ve been a member of the Secret Society ever since I came to know him online and be the only professional critic to hear his graduate-performance at NECM (one of the few way up there in the Pantheon of music moments — watching Fela Kuti give D a little kiss is another).
As always, a fun-complex-thoughtful romp all the way where the selected parts talked to each other (we left before the extended final number, which we had heard earlier at Newport) and there were chills and thrills that jazz these days struggles to grasp (Charles Mingus would know what to do with this political situation).
But I want to underscore the charm of the audience at Jazz Gallery: alert, knowledgeable, attentive, emotionally plugged in. The epitome of why I despise venues that let people eat meals while the performers amount to background soundtrack. (Good idea to sell beer and wine, though, Jazz Gallery.)
This is a special show. Sort of in a clubhouse. The password is easy: “committed fan”.