Monday, June 23, 2008

A tale of two venues at JVC New York

By kindofblue

So far the JVC New York Jazz Festival is off to a good start at one of its new venues, the Concert Hall of the New York Society for Ethical Culture. The situation at another new venue, Le Poisson Rouge, has been a little different — for reasons having nothing to do with music.

The Ethical Culture hall, on the Upper West Side, has some acoustical problems, and the seats — pews, actually (the Ethical Culture Society is a kind of quasi-religion for people who don’t like religion) — aren’t all that comfortable. But all things considered it’s not a bad place to hear music, and so far it has hosted two outstanding, invigorating concerts.

The first was the tribute to Alice Coltrane on June 19, featuring her son Ravi Coltrane on saxophone, with Geri Allen on piano, Charlie Haden on bass and Jack DeJohnette on drums. The concert was inspired and inspiring; despite the spiritual nature of much of the music, the players never forgot to swing. It was a powerful enough evening to send me back to my Alice Coltrane albums, which is what a tribute should do.

The next night, the inimitable Cecil Taylor was in fine if surprisingly mellow form. Performing unaccompanied, he was recognizably himself — his attack was typically two-fisted, his atonality typically assertive — but his hour-long improvisation had moments of exquisite beauty as well.

I haven’t yet been to Le Poisson Rouge, on the site of the old Village Gate in Greenwich Village, but there is already a creepy vibe about the place. A concert by the acclaimed Swedish trio E.S.T. was canceled when the group’s leader, pianist Esbjorn Svensson, was killed in a diving accident. And Bill Frisell’s show was canceled because of an illness in the family. If I were a superstitious man, I would be worried that the place is haunted. Happily, I don’t think that way, and I hope to be checking the place out very soon.

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