NYC Winter Jazzfest | Sun., Jan 9.
A.D. Amorosi 
New York Press

... for a lot of ears, this gig is a chance to hear Los Angeles-born singer Gretchen Parlato after her victory in the 2004 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Vocals Competition. You could spruce up the compliments and say "voice like angel" and compare her to Sinatra in terms of dynamics and subtone, or Chet Baker in terms of cottony cool. You wouldn't be far off the mark. Parlato's sense of subtle rhythmic interplay and understated theatrical nuance takes the ache of Frank and implicates it throughout an improvisational-based esthetic that rests, most often, on Brazilian master-class moments from Caymmi and Jobim as well as classics by Parker, Gershwin and Bjork. As simple and restive as she sounds in print, her voice—scatting, cooing, leaning back then soaring—can leap through complex tempo and rhythmic shifts as if riding rapids. Anyone who goes on after her will have their work cut out for them.

      Mixing jazz with pop: Gretchen Parlato at the jazzfest.             Keith Bedford for The New York Times

Jazz Is Back (Sort of) at the Knitting Factory
New York Times
January 11, 2005

It would be neat and tidy to say that the Knitting Factory is safe for jazz again. That the once-little club has gone back to its nice old menschy ways after having gone through a relocation to posh TriBeCa, pretentiously inflated Internet and worldwide franchising business ventures, street protests staged by musicians angry at its practices, trying months during the rebuilding of ground zero, a smoking ban, a few years of rock 'n' roll, and many torturous chairs and unworkable toilets. (It still has unworkable toilets.) And that the NYC Winter Jazzfest, a seven-hour, three-stage, 19-band event it held on Sunday night, was the welcoming signal of jazz's return.

But the Knitting Factory's relationship to jazz was always an interrogatory one. The club formed its identity around the New York improvisers of the late 1980's, many of whom felt uncomfortable with jazz as a set of traditional aesthetic values. They jostled and shook jazz to express how much it meant to them, and the club had the great idea, during its high years, of booking the rebels as well as the traditionalists. If the Knitting Factory is to book jazz again and be true to its own history, it will have to provoke a little confusion, mixing up audiences for double bills, nurturing the notion of a homegrown jazz avant-garde and then brazenly selling out to pop stars, confusing the issue of jazz's current identity.

Perhaps it will do just that. Six months ago the club added a fourth booker, Brice Rosenbloom, to bring back some of its old heritage. And his bookings for Sunday's marathon showed that he grasps the club's jazz past as well as its possible jazz future. This was not a self-celebrating, this-is-our-life evening for the club, which opened in 1986 in a Houston Street storefront and moved to Leonard Street in 1994. And it wasn't meant to be: Winter Jazzfest was occasioned by the Association for Performing Arts Presenters conference as a kind of trade show for out-of-town producers and promoters to hear recently established talents all at once. (It was similar in its purpose to Global Fest, the world-music show held the night before at the Public Theater.) The event opened up to the public, though, for a $25 cover charge, and about 650 people packed the club's three rooms.

Curiously, there was no out-and-out free jazz, and none of the club's old fixtures like Wayne Horvitz, John Zorn and Bill Frisell. The most established performers were the saxophonist James Carter and the trumpeter Dave Douglas. Mr. Carter played a good-natured, rocking performance with his organ trio, and Mr. Douglas opined about the return of "real music" to the room before playing a tight, fast-moving set with his quintet, featuring a new saxophonist for the band, the virtuosic Donny McCaslin.

Many bands across the long evening reflected one big obsession: bringing the rhythms of popular music, and especially of dance music, into jazz.

In the Bad Plus, there was the bearish drummer Dave King, using thin drumsticks to intimate the needling rhythms of electronic dance music between wandering patches of free rhythm. In the 12-member band Burnt Sugar, led by the guitarist Vernon Reid, and the quintet Blackout, led by the vibraphonist Stefon Harris, there was whomping, old-school funk. (But at times Terreon Gully, the drummer from Blackout, switched over to the more recent British club-music rhythms like drum-and-bass and two-step.) The singer Gretchen Parlato sang a Bjork song, "Come to Me," and in some reworkings of bossa nova and Brazilian pop songs (sung in Portuguese) locked into intricate rhythmic tangles with her guitarist, Lionel Loueke.

The pianist Vijay Iyer played a strong set with his quartet, which now includes Marcus Gilmore, an extraordinary young drummer; he expanded on the music's fractured rhythmic cycles, turning odd-meter funk into cubism. Gutbucket based its frantic party music on the idea of Ornette Coleman mixed with a rock band; the Claudia Quintet's serenely building vamps and drones were solidified by the sensitivity of its drummer and composer, John Hollenbeck.

There were other interests at play, some having nothing to do with jazz per se. Keren Ann, a pop-folk singer, gave the audience a bath of drowsy, mannered, hyper-cool 1960's obsessions; she might appeal to jazz's discriminating adult audience. Ditto for Clogs, a half-classical quartet with guitar, bassoon, violin and percussion. But the pianist Jason Moran, one of jazz's greatest new artists, gave perhaps the best lesson about jazz: it is what jazz musicians do. With his group Bandwagon, Mr. Moran used his slot to prove that he's basically fixated on his own imperatives. Folding traditional blues structures into his beguiling new music (and adding the guitarist Marvin Sewell to see them through), he flirted with compositional tools that could eclipse his own; instead the music turned out stubborn and almost perversely personal, with a thousand edges.