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Concert Review: Doing it Themselves at the 2012 Undead Music Festival

May 11th, 2012

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From May 9th - 12th, the third annual Undead Music Festival raged across Brooklyn and Lower Manhattan. Organized by the non-profit organization Search and Restore, the festival presented a wide range of performers across the spectrum of contemporary jazz and improvised music.

On the third night of the festival, labelled “Night of the DIY” (Do-it-yourself), the organizers paid tribute to the growing importance of independent, artist-run spaces in the contemporary music scene. Six different DIY spaces in NYC participated in the festival this year, including Seeds::Brooklyn, located in Prospect Heights, and curated by saxophonist/composer Ohad Talmor. At Seeds, the concept for the evening was a series of short solo improvised sets, each with a different instrument, and a unique concept.

Trombonist Jacob Garchik opened the evening with a performance that heavily incorporated laptop accompaniment. Though the music was cerebral, incorporating algorithmic beats and heavy distortion effects to accompany his improvisations, Garchick made a point of involving the crowd through some audience participation. Plugging into a small amp, which was then passed around the packed room, he gave his listeners a rare opportunity to interact with the performer at a concert of this nature.

Next up was a solo acoustic guitar performance by Miles Okazaki. A fairly mathematical musician in his own right, Okazaki would take a simple idea and slowly develop it, adding to its rhythmic and harmonic complexity with each cycle, though all in an organic and organized way that yielded many moments of quiet beauty. The soft timbre of the acoustic guitar, and Okazaki's sparse singing, created a sense of intimacy throughout the performance. He finished the set with an exploration and subsequent deconstruction of a Bach chorale.

Third was drummer Dan Weiss, who performed two improvised pieces, both of which effectively showcased his nearly unparalleled virtuosity. Weiss drew upon his study of Indian tabla music for the first piece, beginning with a simple beat and building up into a full Indian rhythmic cycle, complete with the recitation of tabla syllables. His second piece was dedicated to the great swing drummers Big Sid, Papa Joe, and Baby Dodds, during which Weiss used only kitchen cutlery, basing his improvisation on the classic “four on the floor” beat that was common in the early jazz recordings of 20's and 30's.

Saxophonist, and owner/curator of Seeds, Ohad Talmor, performed next. While freely improvising, each piece was organized in a logical fashion and had a recognizable concept behind it. One was based heavily on arpeggios, and Talmor displayed his technical virtuosity by flying up and down the horn. On another, he took a cue from Garchik, and included the audience in the piece. He gave them a note to sing, while he improvised against it, creating and releasing tension against the drone of the crowd.

While perhaps not as well known as some of the other artists, a stand-out performance came from cellist Greg Heffernan, who with the assistance of a laptop and various loop/effects pedals, presented a set of fully developed compositions for solo cello. Through layering and looping various parts, including tapped rhythmic accompaniment, each of Heffernan's compositions created a variety of sonic landscapes that served as excellent vehicles for his improvisations. It was a dramatic and engaging set.

The epic night of solo performances ended with pianist Jacob Sacks. In great contrast to Heffernan's set, Sacks' was one of pure improvisation. While not as focused at the previous set, Sacks jumped around the keyboard with a manic energy, infusing the performance with humor. At times he would frantically play, while only letting short fragments come out, courtesy of a volume pedal, while at other's he would leave open space, pounding out ominous tonal clusters. He concluded the evening by trying to play two standards, “Good Bait” and “What is This Thing Called Love” simultaneously, a suggestion jokingly made by Weiss. The attempt made for a warm and fun end to an inspiring evening of music.

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