The Undead Jazzfest is safely back in its grave. The CareFusion and Vision festivals are in full-swing, and Undead co-organizer Adam Schatz is skipping town for a cross-country tour with his "zombie jazz" band Father Figures. (Catch their album release show on June 30th at 45 Bleecker.) So it's a little late for a full review, but nevertheless, I wanted to note a few observations for internet posterity.
Ben Ratliff wrote in his Undead recap that perhaps one of every six festival goers was a musician. That estimate strikes me as plausible. During the Tim Berne/Dave King/Craig Taborn set at Kenny's Castaways on Sunday, cheers and jeers kept cracking the band's quiet interplay. This kind of thing happens from time to time at New York City jazz clubs—a woman on a bender wanders in off the street, a few obnoxious tourists chatter loudly through a show—but at the Undead, the offenders were musicians gathered in the bar's front room to watch Game 5 of the Celtics-Lakers Final. The disruption was unfortunate—Berne/King/Taborn's sound was spacey and mellow and would have been better served by a silent atmosphere—but it was also strangely wonderful—the club transformed into a big jazz hangout, with some cats playing in the living room and others catching a game in the kitchen. (Had the game been played two hours earlier, it would have actually been a perfect complement to the loud and fast Endangered Blood.)
This is all to say that while the music at Undead was mostly excellent, it wasn't entirely the point. I heard Josh Sinton's Ideal Bread, Endangered Blood, Steve Coleman and Five Elements, Berne/King/Taborn, and the John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble. Of these, Ideal Bread, Endangered Blood, and Steve Coleman were spectacular (Ideal Bread's cover of Steve Lacy's "The Dumps" was a highlight); the Berne/King/Taborn gig never quite came together; and Hollenbeck's ensemble impressed me but didn't move me—they've probably had much better days.
What I'll remember more than the very good musical moments was the thrill of the crowd—no small thing for a fan accustomed to watching jazz alone as one of the youngest members of a respectful but uninspired audience. As I waited for the doors of (Le) Poisson Rouge to open for the Hollenbeck show, a guy next to me remarked that we were in the longest line he'd ever seen for a jazz show. "Who's playing, Herbie Hancock?" he joked. And he was right. The line snaked around the corner, and it was after 10 on a Sunday night with a well-known but hardly "primetime" band on the bill. It brought to mind a story my friend Greg Kress once relayed to me. Year back, Greg was catching a Jimmy Cobb show at Smalls, and as he entered the nearly vacant club a Frenchmen approached him. "Can you believe this? It's Jimmy Cobb!" The Frenchman had said. "In France, there would have been a riot to get in!"
True to form, I did hear plenty of foreign voices in the crowd, but even if a sixth of the audience were in-the-know Europeans, who were the two-thirds of the over 1600 audience members who weren't musicians or tourists? I haven't a clue, but I do know that Schatz and co-organizer Brice Rosenbloom staged a powerful protest—maybe the most powerful ever—against that chronic, noxious, and hopefully passing phrase "jazz is dead."
Bonus: Catch all of the (Le) Poisson Rouge sets on WNYC's website.