Surprises and stalwarts in an NYC jazz weekend

Five acts, all jazz headliners, in 3 hours at the Jazz Foundation of America’s Loft Jazz Party, plus Chicago drummer-composer Mike Reed’s thrilling People, Places & Things quartet and alto saxist Darius Jones’ trio at Drom in the East Village — bountiful blues, soul, swing, groove, creativity, tradition, big names and newcomers in NYC on Saturday and Sunday. It’s like this all the time in the jazz capital of the universe, but good not to take it for granted.


Pianist Randy Weston’s quartet featuring tenor saxist Billy Harper; trumpeter Tom Harrell’s quintet featuring tenor man Wayne Escoffrey; alto sax veteran bop-to-funkster Lou Donaldson with guitarist Randy Johnston, organist Nathan Lucas and drummer Fukushi Tainaka; bassist Ron Carter and guitarist Russell Malone in close, spontaneous improvisation, and piano monster ELEW — that’s Eric Lewis, currently standing while pounding out alt.rock anthems with reference to Coltrane, Cecil Taylor and Jerry Lee Lewis in a style he calls “Rockjazz.” It was my pleasure to serve as room host to this lineup at the Jazz Foundation’s annual fundraiser for programs supporting jazz and blues people who’ve got medical, housing or employment emergencies. 
There were too many highlights to mention them all — but check out Weston’s new autobiography African Rhythms (“arranged” by blogger Willard Jenkins); Harrell’s latest album Roman Nights (the title track is a gorgeous, heartfelt ballad); any of Donaldson’s vast catalog of albums (choice introduction: Blues Walk); Malone’s latest Triple Play and Carter’s ’60s album with the great Eric Dolphy, Where? for starters. Of ELEW’s set, I liked best his rendition of the Rollins Stones’ “Paint It Black” which included an opening reference to Coltrane’s “Giant Steps,” segued into Michael Jackson’s “Human Feelings” and broke from time-to-time to quote Vince Guarald’s “Linus and Lucy.”
A crowd of approximately 1000 attended the JFA event, roaming through the wide-open spaces of a 13th floor in a Chelsea building with a gorgeous view of the Hudson and New Jersey shore/skyline. Piano expert Jon Webber hosted the other performance loft, and I didn’t get to hear much there but Jazz Foundation executive director Wendy Oxenhorn’s hard-core blues harmonica solo at the very end of the night. I hope they raised a lot of cash, but you can still chip in: go to and give what you can to support musicians without pensions, and too often insurance or savings.
I was thrilled (not a term I use lightly) hearing Reed’s band with alto saxophonist Greg Ward,  tenor saxist Tim Haldeman and bassist Jason Roebke on Saturday night in the well-appointed  basement Drom on Avenue A, where hipsters fill the streets. The two horns worked brilliantly together, stretching superfast bebop-like runs into personal shapes, complementary but also contrasting in a manner that brought to mind decades’ back Warne Marsh and Lee Konitz matchups. Ward is an especially rapacious soloist, capable of both extreme and repressed energy — Haldeman is his equal, but cooler so he doesn’t stand out as prominently — and Roebke was fast and solid, keeping up with Reed who obviously loves to play, providing structure but also goosing his front line with accents and prompts that demonstrate utter command. These guys should be known to anyone who likes their music hot. Here’s an interview with Reed, who is also a music presenter in Chicago, by Michael West from Washington’s City Paper. Here’s another by Gordon Marshall, in which he accurately describes Reed’s style as “multi-directional.”
Altoist Darius Jones, whose trio (was that Adam Lane on bass and Jason Nazary on drums?) opened for People, Places & Things, also possesses a personal sound: large, full and juicy, angular and going for the jugular. He and Reed are in their early 30s, and have no evident hesitation about aligning themselves with jazz, as long as they’re not constrained by its past but can dip into it and deploy what they find when they want to. Very good — gives us something to listen to, think about, listen to again. There’s hope for the future. There is a future.
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  1. Gordon Marshall says

    Thanks for citing me, Howard. The term I actually used to describe Mike Reed was “pan-tonal,” but it doesn’t appear it will stick the way Rashied Ali’s “multi-directional” has. What’s more, you know Rashied best!