Jazz Showcase Fever Propels a Mini Marathon


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The Winter Jazzfest, now in its fourth year at the Knitting Factory, is one of the necessary gigs to attend on the New York jazz scene. With nine hours of music and 24 bands from all over the place gathered into one building, it's pure cosmopolitan overload.

It's open to the public, yet half the concertgoers seem to be there on the job. Its reason for being is the annual conference of the Association of Performing Arts Presenters, the people who book concert halls around the country and give jazz musicians a living. Performing-arts presenters like to stay up late and hear music endlessly. They probably did this for fun before they did it for work.

Anything necessary contains at least a hint of a drag, and this bonanza can be brutal, especially during its most sardinelike stretches. On Saturday night that was around 11:30, and I remember it as an enveloping white noise of amiable chat. If you wanted to understand the music, you had to get within five feet of the stage; that was hard to do, with the completely weird sightlines in all three theaters. (If you weren't blocking someone else's view, a post or a loudspeaker was blocking yours.)

At 11 the tenor saxophonist David Murray was playing upstairs in the club's biggest space with his Black Saint Quartet, a self-conscious throwback to 1987 or so, with a knockabout rhythm section, sweet and soulful melodies and Mr. Murray's typically virtuosic, high-register free-improvising style, which involves as much pure grandstanding as Mariah Carey's singing. In the Tap Bar downstairs, the bassist Ben Allison presented his new band, Man Size Safe, an instance of sturdy and well-conceived rock music played by jazz musicians. And in the basement club, the Old Office, a band called Aetherial Bace, with the drummers Eric McPherson and Nasheet Waits and the saxophonist Abraham Burton -- New York neighborhood friends since childhood -- played off-the-cuff themes and rhythms that sounded like the meeting place between John Coltrane's port-wine ballads and his later, intense music. They were coordinated and methodical and proceeded in waves.

A little later, after a bit of crowd thinning, the pianist Wayne Horvitz started up an excellent set with his band Sweeter Than the Day. Mr. Horvitz should have a room named after him at the club. He booked acts at the original Knitting Factory on Houston Street in the late 1980s, performing there often himself, and his aesthetic and his music encoded the notion of “downtown jazz."

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