Text by Jeremy Siskind
During the 2012 Winter Jazzfest, the Zinc Bar was woefully unable to accommodate the multitudes hoping to hear such topflight artists as Miguel Zenon, Gregoire Maret, and Lionel Loueke. A long line consistently wound onto West 3rd Street and unraveled into Thompson Street, where the bar’s bouncers insistently reminded standers-by that “there are four other venues that have music!”
Inside, the majority of listeners stood in a sweaty bar area while poor weather-beaten waitresses attempted to push by and serve the seated guests. A large percentage of the audience couldn’t glimpse the stage, and many retreated to the back of the bar and began conversing in murmurs that occasionally competed with the softer parts of a show. Fire codes were likely ignored. Standers greedily eyed the seated like a carnivorous cat salivating over the silhouette of an antelope. My friend and I actually drew a diagram of the seating area and formulated a battle plan to storm the room loosely based on Sherman’s march through the South. Despite the logistical challenges and shortcomings, some memorable shows took place at the Zinc Bar.
Miguel Zenon Quartet
By this point, fans of jazz are likely familiar with Miguel Zenon’s fiery alto playing, his intricate arrangements, and his scintillating time feel. His show confirmed and expanded upon these traits while showcasing an unsung rhythm section, Hans Glawischnig and Henry Cole on the drums. Impressively, the band had a number of extraordinarily complex charts completely memorized, including the highlight of the performance, a vamp at the end of the opening tune, “Silencio,” with stuttering and surprising interjections that were an absolute thrill (you can watch the passage from another performance here:
Great credit also is due to the wonderful Luis Perdomo who untangled his lengthy solos masterfully; sometimes linear, sometimes percussive, Perdomo was unyieldingly inventive and new. The set’s finale featured drummer Cole, a dynamic, wild, and physical force who appears destined to play an essential role in the future of the instrument.
Gilad Hekselman Quartet
Israeli-born guitarist Gilad Hekselman comes with a lot of buzz and accomplished sidemen, headlined by saxophone great Mark Turner, as well as bassist Joe Martin and drummer Marcus Gilmore. The set featured some very difficult music with tortuous chromatic melodies and changing meters that the rhythm section handled with impressive ease. Hekselman’s playing thrived on understatement and the set was generally quiet and contained, intellectual and logical.
Guitarist and vocalist Lionel Loueke rose to jazz stardom almost instantaneously, and it’s no wonder. He plays with a fluidity that feels inevitable, he phrases in a way that seems conversational, and he boasts an electric guitar tone that’s rich and inviting. His harmonic vocabulary is very sophisticated and yet his music has the feeling of folk music, almost as though it comes directly from the soul of a person or, better yet, from the soul of a culture. Loueke’s trio of Michael Olatuja and Mark Guiliana sounded as one man breathing together and bleeding together, in part because of the sonic similarity of Loueke and Olatuja’s instruments. Consummate artistry and beauty were to be found here.
(Sorry about the bad video quality, hopefully the music speaks for itself)
Will Calhoun Ensemble featuring Donald Harrison
For something completely different, drummer and percussionist Will Calhoun presented a high-powered jam band approach. The highlight was clearly New Orleans legend alto saxophonist Donald Harrison, who played with the tone of a soul legend but with a vocabulary that approached Coltrane. Harrison’s playing brought unbelievable energy and smarts and his presence, as he peered over the other musicians like an imperious Cherokee judge, lent a feeling of weightiness and seriousness to the proceedings. Marc Cary fooled with his piano, Rhodes, keyboard controller, and laptop like a hip hop mad scientist, but consistently made smart and bold musical decisions. Calhoun drummed energetically with a mixture of soul, rock, and jazz backgrounds and played a variety of percussion instruments, including an electrified drum pad on which he looped beats that he then played over on his set.
Nobody quite knew what to expect from Argentine vocalist, composer, and multi-instrumentalist Sofia Rei, but nearly everybody in the room was stunned by her music, her presence, and the tightness of her band. Her musical roots dug deeply into the indigenous music of her homeland, and her vocals and style drew comparisons to Elis Regina and early Shakira. Her somewhat large band – two guitarists, two percussionists, and acoustic bass, created a variety of soundscapes and was consistently tasteful and rhythmic. But Ms. Rei was something to behold, her rich alto commanded the room, her phrases were inseparable and impeccable, and her body ingested and exuded music while directing the band and referencing the sensuality of Latin American dances. You can see for yourself here: