Dosh and Friends at Undead Music Festival
The Undead Music Festival, an offshoot of the NYC Winter Jazzfest, returned last month for a slate of uniquely conceived performances across several venues in Brooklyn and lower Manhattan. The relatively young fest’s evolution has neatly echoed the stretch of experimental music, jazz and otherwise, to the further depths of Kings County’s vast expanse.
The festival’s headline event (a collaboration with the similarly innovative month-long Red Bull Music Academy) featured an array of big names like ?uestlove and Bernie Worrell rotating in a perpetual duet with ever-changing players in Fort Greene’s Brooklyn Masonic Temple. For the Saturday night marquee event, Minnesotan multi-instrumentalist Dosh and a cast of gifted extras, took over the ShapeShifter Lab, a bare-bones Gowanus room with deceptively impeccable acoustics and a rugged warmth befitting the minimal decor. The lines between opener and headliner were blurred, thanks to rampant cross-pollination, much of which was unannounced.
After a humorous public service announcement imploring the crowd to keep the phones out of sight, the opener took the stage. Bassist Todd Sickafoose, best known for his work with Ani DiFranco, joined forces with longtime NYC jazz scene drummer Ben Perowsky and Kneebody trumpeter Shane Endsley for a lounge worthy set of straight forward jazz improvisations to a packed house that managed to retain the ambiance of a private performance despite the sellout crowd. Towards the end of the meticulous set, Martin Dosh joined the collective, specifically put together for the night, and the new quartet tore through an instrumental rendition of the Neil Young classic “Heart of Gold.”
This band morphed into the headlining set, which was further augmented by Andrew Bird (who came to fame in the mid-’90s swing revival kickstarters Squirrel Nut Zippers) brought along Jeremy Ylvisaker from his touring band, which also features Martin Dosh. The music remained rooted in improvisational jazz, but veered into stranger terrain, incorporating elements reminiscent of trip hop and psytrance. Bird’s delicately plucked violin notes echoed soulful sitar strains. Dosh coaxed rhythms standard and syncopated from his drum kit, while tapping out organic melodic structures on an array of keyboards and electronics.
Overall the night served as an excellent primer in the type of genre-straddling improvisations the Undead Music Festival and like-minded promoters aim to purvey. Musicians purged from jazz and influenced by a cornucopia of concerns, from electronic to folk to indie, joined in harmonic convergence in a worthy attempt to distill an altruistic melodic alchemy in an offbeat hood centered around a similarly complex toxic canal.