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Concert Review: 2011 Undead JazzFest - Bizingas, Joshua 3, and Claudia Quintet

Sunday, June 26th, 2011 at Public Assembly in Williamsburg, Brooklyn

About.com Rating 3.5 Star Rating

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Claudia Quintet
Courtesy of Claudia Quintet
As a trombonist, I was excited to attend the final night of this year's Undead Jazz Festival, which included Brian Drye's Bizingas and Josh Roseman's Joshua 3, two forward-looking, trombonist-led ensembles. Add The Claudia Quintet, and you've got a recipe for progressive jazz bliss, which is exactly what such a festival should produce.

In its second year, Undead Jazz Festival has grown from three venues to ten, and from two days to four: a tribute to the promoting and organizing skills of Adam Schatz of Search & Restore and Brice Rosenblum of Boom Collective. An interview with Schatz after last year's festival can be found here.

First to hit on Sunday was Brian Drye's Bizingas, whose 2010 album I reviewed here. Bizingas was a ballsy opening act, setting the tone for the night with its tough-to-describe blend of jazz and rock. Cornetist Kirk Knuffke and Brian Drye showed impeccable sensitivity in their duets, often trading roles on a dime, Knuffke wiping smooth glissandi while Drye bounced dexterously around the trombone’s range. Bassist Jonathan Goldberger often assumed strict time-keeping roles, freeing up Ches Smith to experiment freely on drums. Drye's compositions somehow combine frowning, chunky rhythm with joyful melodies. I was enthusiastic about their recording, but nothing prepared me for the exuberance and energy of Bizingas' live sound. Bizingas is party music in the quirkiest, grittiest way.

Centerpiece to Sunday's lineup was The Claudia Quintet, who packed Public Assembly with enthusiastic jazz heads. Opening up with “Just Like Him,” John Hollenbeck's signature compositional style was on display, with interlocking ostinati under broad, floating sax and accordion melodies. It's hard to beat Hollenbeck and bassist Drew Gress for ensemble energy and rhythmic precision, and Matt Moran's acrobatic vibes solo over Ted Reichman's pulsating accordion lit up the room. The rhythmic transitions are what puts this music over the top: The beat cuts out leaving the audience suspended in melody. Then boom! The bass and drums drop in with a new meter. The Claudia Quintet's rhythm section is a bonanza of groove, and the audience responded accordingly. Heads bobbed, jazz hipsters cheered after solos, and the odd attendee was even spotted dancing.

My last stop on Sunday was to see Joshua Roseman's Joshua 3, an electric ensemble with Curtis Hasselbring, Peter Apfelbaum, Joe Russo, and Erik Deutsch. Providing a nice contrast to some of the bawdier groups on the bill, Joshua Three turned Public Assembly's Back Room into a dance club, with waterfalls of electric color and deep modal grooves. Roseman's trombone playing was characteristically warm and passionate, though poor engineering left him lost in the mix most of the time. Both stages at Public Assembly seemed bent on drowning acoustic instruments with guitar and bass Sunday night.

Sunday was my first foray into the growing world of new jazz as programmed by Search & Restore and Boom Collective. The size and age of the audience (mostly under 30), along with the quality of musicianship, should be encouraging to those concerned about the future of improvised music.

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