At the NYC Winter Jazzfest, Learning How Less Can Be More | Modern Society of USA

At the NYC Winter Jazzfest, Learning How Less Can Be More

At the NYC Winter Jazzfest, Learning How Less Can Be More

Some of the full weekend’s purest energy was on display at the SoHo Playhouse, a rustic little theater on Vandam Street. There the booking outfit Search and Restore — which has been involved in the festival for about a decade — secured a constant flow of boldly inventive musicians across two nights. Many of them, like the bass clarinetist Lea Bertucci and the trumpeter Steph Richards, were horn players testing the limits of their instruments — and their listeners. In duo with the drummer Gerald Cleaver on Friday night, the tenor saxophonist Travis Laplante used circular breathing to play repetitive, slowly morphing patterns that were both startling and hypnotic. Your ear echoed differently with every note, so that you ended up experiencing each cluster as a prism of many resonances, more than as a melody or a rhythm.

What’s new in jazz doesn’t always equate to youth, or even any clear stylistic break. At Subculture on Saturday, the tenor saxophonist J.D. Allen, 46, working with a still-new trio, welcomed David Murray, a stalwart saxophonist one generation Mr. Allen’s senior. As they played Mr. Allen’s stern but flexible original tunes, there was a vast difference in their approaches, but they traded ideas easily. The younger player often worked in long and heavy tones, related to John Coltrane; even his quickest lines had a wary darkness. Mr. Murray used a higher center of gravity, often vaulting from cool swing to fish-at-the-end-of-the-line agitation. On the punchy “Graffiti,” Murray chewed on his horn, softening the rhythm, and Nic Caccioppo’s drums ended up in an open tumble.

During the second weekend, Nublu’s stage was given over to International Anthem, a four-year-old independent label in Chicago that is already having an outsize influence on creative music. On Friday at 11:30, I knew I should be seeing what all the fuss was about with Louis Cole, a wunderkind YouTube sensation whose jazz-infused, fratty IDM is starting to give Snarky Puppy a run for its money. He was playing at the Sheen Center, a theater across from Subculture. Instead, I stood in the front row for all of Ben LaMar Gay’s riveting set — a tangle of samba, blues and math-rock, bouncing from Bubber Miley to Animal Collective — and then stuck around for Joshua Abrams and Natural Information Society, a sextet featuring the bandleader on guimbri, Lisa Alvarado pulling chords out of a sighing harmonium, and Jason Stein playing sharply cut patterns on the bass clarinet. Mr. Stein’s funny shapes jutted up against the group’s circular, silt-over-rock flow, creating good tension.

Mr. Abrams has been making Afrocentric, droning free jazz like this for a long time. In recent years, that kind of thing has become more commonplace on the avant-garde. Still, even if it didn’t reveal any blazing new truths, Mr. Abrams makes affecting music; I was glad to have stayed put and taken it in.

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