Undead Music Festival: Night One
My night began with Heather Green and Ursa Minor, whose set started about 20 minutes late, which meant I could only catch the first 15 or so minutes. This group was good, not great, and was by far the most straight-ahead rock band of the night. Then I walked over to Sullivan Hall, where I saw the Kris Davis Trio. Though she played a set of mostly new music, she began with an old song which bordered on playing way too many notes to be appealing, and concluded with an arrhythmic and chaotic fade out. The next song opened with a lengthy segment of space, with no more than 2 people playing at any given time before adding levels of complexity, especially from the drummer, Michael Sarin.
After making my way through 20 minutes of their set and then getting shunned at the door of Kenny’s Castaways, I made it back to LPR for Jamie Saft’s New Zion Trio. This trio, featuring a drummer, a bassist and Jamie on keys (upright piano and a Fender Rhodes) brought some much needed noise and funk to my– up to that point– subdued night. It also upped the much needed quotient of beards on the stage. Blending funky, bordering-on-reggae baselines with a strong back beat and some really out there keys created the perfect storm of jazzy excellence. This was by far one of my favorite sets of the night and the band closed it with a song called “kings bread.”
Up next came the Refuseniks, an accordion trio with shades of klezmer. This group claims to predate Tonic, the legendary precursor to The Stone, and the real home of the 90s avant garde scene. This trio lived up to the avant garde nature of the evening as this not particularly accessible brand of music left a lot to be desired as the growing audience got louder and louder. About 20 minutes into their set, the energy level on stage picked up as the band began to liven things up, especially the rhythm section. This was the band’s first gig in 9 years and after shaking off some of the rust, the second half of their set was very strong.
Up next was Doug Bownie’s Peninsula, a sextet with the first hot section that I saw that night. The two sax players must have come in from the John Zorn school of playing, as more and more chaos began to emerge from this horn section as they were all playing in different modes and different time signatures, creating a cacophony of sound. Their 20-minute set was by far one of the most sonically interesting.
Up next was a short documentary entitled Five Days at Tonic. After about 5 minutes, the film cut out. After that, Billy Martin began setting up his collection of percussion instruments and the rest of his band. This included the phenomenal Erik Friedlander on carbon fiber cello, drummer G. Calvin Weston, and Marcus Rojas, a tubist. About 10 minutes into one of the greatest displays of percussion I have ever see– including some of the best tambourine playing– he switched places with Weston, who hits harder than almost any drummer I have seen outside of punk, and took a seat at the kit. By the end of their brief 20-minute improvisation, despite their weird instrumentation, they cooked the crowd into a dancing frenzy and cemented themselves as my favorite set of the night.
After that, I walked down the street in the mist to Sullivan Hall where I caught the middle of Tony Malaby’s Paloma Recio. This quartet was a little slow for my liking and as it was getting late and I had consumed four hours of music that night, I could have used something a little more upbeat. I then closed my night by going back to LPR to catch about 15 minutes of Yuka Honda’s EUCADEMIX, a strange blend of electronics, keyboards, and vocals. Four and a half hours and eight bands later, my night was complete, having seen some of the best improvisation and some experiments that failed. Either way, it all came together as a great way to start the festival.