Bernie Worrell and SociaLybrium doing “Super Stupid” a few days back
(Le) Poisson Rouge/Kenny’s Castaways/Sullivan Hall
Saturday, June 12
Just as the Vision Festival furthers its avant brand with smaller annual productions, the Winter Jazzfest braintrust expanded its reach this past weekend with the Undead Festival, which, like its much chillier counterpart, filled three spitting-distance Village clubs with ambitious, eclectic, downtown-friendly players. The focus: multi-generational line-ups and an emphasis on younger musicians who add rock, punk, and electronic elements to the genre’s usual mix. That’s “Undead” as in “Jazz isn’t dead,” after all.
That spark was in ample supply Saturday, the first of Undead’s two-night run. We began at LPR with trumpeter Graham Haynes and a “sound designer” who goes by Hardedge, both sitting at a table of electronics and crafting improvised, Hassell-like dreamscapes accompanied by abstract computer animations; now and then, Haynes would pick up his cornet to add some echoed and delayed overtones. After that dreamy lead-in, Matthew Shipp came on for some raucous solo piano that brought us back down to earth. Lately known for sparring verbally with some jazz bigwigs (Herbie Hancock, especially), Shipp attacked his keyboard with the same abandon that frequently gets him mentioned alongside Cecil Taylor, concocting an engaging, challenging brew that backed up his jazz-press bluster with further proof of his enormous skills.
Across the street at Kenny’s Castaways, the Uri Caine Ensemble was holding court; the stage wouldn’t hold his entire band, so the pianist himself took over part of the front row, whirling through ragtime versions of Mahler and Mozart pieces, climaxing with the latter’s “Turkish Rondo”–the impish side of the great composer, at least, would have definitely approved. Back at LPR, trumpeter Dave Douglas and his Keystone quintet wowed the crowd with a dazzling hard bop set, featuring material from their recent Spark of Being box; Douglas and saxophonist Marcus Strickland traded one breathless solo after another, generating enough heat for the crowd to demand an encore the band didn’t have enough time to provide.
Fortunately, instead we got P-Funk architect Bernie Worrell and his SociaLybrium band, which included the (Henry) Rollins Band rhythm section. The bandleader’s move from great funk-rock fusion to kick-ass jazz fusion isn’t so far-fetched, since his playing was always jazz-tinged; guitarist Andre Lassalle brought da noise and da funk himself, especially on P-Funk’s “Super Stupid.” “Are we too loud?” Worrell asked at one point. “It’s too late for me, I got hearing loss, but I have to watch out for y’all!” The Undead Jazzfest’s message came through even louder.