If you can create a Broadway musical about Alexander Hamilton using hip-hop, it doesn’t seem too radical to take the poetry of Carl Sandburg and set it to jazz. Matt Wilson’s Honey & Salt Band
does exactly that, and Saturday night the group provided one of the most unusual concert’s I’ve heard at the XRIJF. Wilson is one of New York’s busiest drummers; he's known for his band, Arts & Crafts, and his work with many other artists. His Honey & Salt Band is pretty personal. He grew up in the next town over from where Sandburg grew up in Illinois. There was even a family connection.
But Sandburg’s poetry combined with jazz? Well, as Wilson explained, Sandburg loved jazz. So, who knows; he may have even approved. At one point Wilson did a drum solo, playing off of a tape loop of a couple of lines of Sandburg’s actual voice. Afterwards he said, “It’s fun to jam with Carl.” I didn’t catch all of the players’ names, but on stage were trumpeter Ingrid Jensen and guitarist Dawn Thomson, who also sang and performed spoken word. Thomson was especially strong on “Offering And Rebuff,” one of the few arrangements that sounded like a constructed song. Turns out Thomson can also sing country and make her guitar sound like a banjo.
PHOTO BY ASHLEIGH DESKINS
Bassist Mark Lewandowski and his trio played Christ Church on Saturday.
Over at Christ Church, the Mark Lewandowski Trio
was paying tribute to the great “Fats” Waller. But it was not the standard homage, with arrangements that stayed true to the originals. Bassist Lewandowski views Waller as a songwriter relevant to the contemporary world, so he believes it’s appropriate to take the tunes new places.
My favorite Waller tune, “Jitterbug Waltz,” was certainly recognizable, but it got fairly abstract after the opening verse. “Lulu’s Back In Town” got a similar treatment. In some cases, the group got more subversive, speeding up a slow tune and slowing down a fast one. In a show about Waller, the pianist is a key figure, and Liam Noble was excellent, as were Lewandowski on bass and Francesco Ciniglio on drums.
I ended the festival with the most subtle set of music I’ve ever witnessed. It was played by Thomas Strønen
and his group at the Lutheran Church. For one thing, it was totally acoustic — no microphones, no amps, no electronics of any kind. The instrumentation was also different: Ayumi Tanaka on piano; Håkon Aase, violin; Ole Morten Vågan, bass; and Leo Svensson Sander, cello.
Strønen was the drummer and aside from some pyrotechnics toward the end of the set, he was the quietest percussionist I’ve ever heard. Strønen was also the composer of these slowly building compositions. The players often used their instruments in unorthodox ways, tapping and scratching with bows to produce unusual sounds. Some jazz festival audiences would be impatient with this sort of subtlety, but the music was so compelling that almost the entire audience stayed.