Generations Intersect at Winter JazzFest


Lakecia Benjamin performs during Winter Jazzfest, which ran Jan. 8-18 in Manhattan and Brooklyn.

(Photo: Adrien H. Tillmann)

Peer groups serve as vital incubators for artistic development, but equally critical are intergenerational relationships among artists. They provide new perspectives, as well as a means to hand down information and evolve the music. These relationships also manifest potently on the bandstand.

Of the acts performing Jan. 8-18 from stages across Brooklyn and Manhattan during Winter JazzFest, many reflected intergenerational personnel, including The Revive Big Band, Kassa Overall’s ensemble and Lakecia Benjamin’s Pursuance, a project that interprets the music of John and Alice Coltrane, and features Reggie Workman and Greg Osby.

Saxophonist-composer Jure Pukl, too, led an ensemble Jan. 10 that included established players (guitarist Charles Altura and bassist Matt Brewer), as well as emerging artists (vibraphonist Joel Ross and drummer Kweku Sumbry).

“We get inspired by different generations,” said Pukl. “We find inspiration in musical collaboration with everybody.”

The collaborators performed music from Pukl’s forthcoming release Broken Circles (Whirlwind)—an album that explores motivic development and displacement—for an enthusiastic crowd. Moments that left listeners hushed and transfixed included Pukl’s solo improvisations, trades between Pukl and Ross, and interplay among Altura, Brewer and Sumbry, who shared his specific approach to the performance.

“When I’m talking to someone 15 years my senior, I’m going to talk less and listen more,” said Sumbry, 22. “With my generation, I might talk over somebody just to support their point: ‘I feel what you’re saying.’ Interacting with musicians who are older than me, it’s different. What they’re saying doesn’t need my validation. [At] 15, I was amazed at how Charles’ lines were so long, but they didn’t sound like a run-on sentence. They sounded like air, and a breeze can go on and on. I had to figure out how to say what I needed to say without disrupting his voice.”

Not all artists follow Sumbry’s conversational guidelines. Alto player-composer Godwin Louis took the stage after Pukl to present GLOBAL. The Harlem native appealed immediately to the crowd, leading with his suite, “The Four Essential Prayers Of Guinea.” A moment reverberated in waves when Louis and drummer Obed Calvaire moved seemingly simultaneously into a double time feel, their bandmates maintaining a slow chordal movement.

The set revealed an intimate, mutually gratifying connection between two artists of two similar, but distinct, musical generations. To the elder Calvaire, the difference in age hardly registers when they’re engaged in dialogue.

“We’re from a musical background where we speak a language that most people don’t,” he said. “Godwin will go into a rhythm from Haiti that will trigger me to accompany him in a certain way. The gap [in age] doesn’t affect our music, because we speak the same language.”

Sometimes mentorship itself transforms into collaboration. Closing out the Manhattan marathon, Albany-based collective Bright Dog Red performed a thoroughly improvised set at The Bitter End. The artists abandoned all charts, preferring to “ruminate” on the moment’s energy, according to drummer and bandleader Joe Pignato. The band’s set reflected moments of vamp-building, simultaneous soloing, call and response, and verse-dropping from emcee Matt Coonan.

Conceived during sessions Pignato held with his university students at SUNY Oneonta, the project features personnel whose ages span about 40 years. “I have served as the primary mentor for the younger players,” Pignato said. “But since [saxophonist Eric Person] joined, it’s been great to have another ‘mentor figure’ in the group.”

Saturday evening, listeners encountered another scholar engaging younger players. GRAMMY-nominated saxophonist-composer and full-time Berklee College of Music Professor Tia Fuller hit at SOBs with her quartet that featured emerging artist Andrew Renfroe, who’s swiftly becoming a first-call guitarist. Fuller’s band performed music from her 2018 release Diamond Cut, while the leader recited dramatic interpretations of how a diamond forms, framed as metaphor. The audience remained intensely engaged, if timid and a bit self-conscious. Fuller and Renfroe frequently played off one another, though, receiving effusive applause during “Fury” and throughout the rest of the set.

Beyond marathon performances, intergenerational weeknight acts included Artemis, the Blue Note-signed band comprising Renee Rosnes, Ingrid Jensen and other all-stars of the music. Members’ ages range from the early 20s to late 50s, and on-the-gig mentorship is an inherent trait of the band’s identity.

Taking the first solo from the stage at (Le) Poisson Rouge, tenor player Nicole Glover—the youngest Artemis member—held the collective attention of a standing room-only audience that exploded in applause when she finished.

“This is a great opportunity for [Nicole],” tenorist Melissa Aldana later said. According to Aldana, who recently parted with the project, Glover will join Artemis as a full-time member later this year. “I’m really happy they got her,” she said. DB

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