On the Culture Front: Winter Jazzfest

There aren't many things that excite me about winter. It usually creeps up far to early to squash a pleasant fall and overstays its welcome, lingering into spring. NYC Winter Jazzfest though turns those icy days into a bracing experience that allows savvy fans to binge on dozens of acts spread across ten venues in the village that delve deep into the many sub-genres of this timeless form. From crooning standards to hard bop and free jazz, it was all represented at this sonic buffet. The first night, after enduring an hour-long wait outside the Minetta Lane Theatre, I scored a mezzanine seat and kept it for the evening. Highlights included Marc Ribot's improvisational funk outfit The Young Philadelphians and the music of John Lurie, which blended elements of dissonance of melody filtered through influences that span the globe. My favorite pianist Vijay Iyer also took the stage with Trio 3, for a rousing if too often discordant set.

The following night, I took the opposite approach and hit up three venues for an intensely satisfying (veering on over stimulating) evening. I started with the Campbell Brothers' A Sacred Steel Love Supreme, a bluesy take on Coltrane's classic album with steel guitars taking the lead. Drummer Carlton Campbell stole the show though with a mind-blowing solo that organically sprung from the song and kept a tight groove throughout the improvised storm. Afterwards, I rushed over to the crowded basement space Subculture at 45 Bleecker to find a packed house for fusion trio Harriet Tubman, whose bassist Melvin Gibbs mused, "I think if Duke Ellington was alive today, he would be using synths and samplers." Their set was heavy on effects and hard grooves that seemed like the love children of Nirvana and Miles Davis. Saxophonist JD Allen took the stage next and delivered a rousing set of hard bop that was bookended with a simple yet piercing riff from "Sura Hinda," a song off his 2011 album Victory. He played it in a much lower key than on the album though, giving it an extra punch.

I capped off the evening under the cool dim lighting at Zinc Bar listening to Loston Harris croon old standards like Cole Porter's "You're the Top" and Lerner and Loewe's "Almost Like Being in Love." He has an impeccably soft touch on piano and an equally smooth voice that made one song flow effortlessly into another. Before I knew it, I was back out in the cold walking to the subway to get home.