Under a new moniker this year, the Undead Music Festival rang the spring-summer cusp in with bold style, showcasing a wealth of avant-garde in just four days. The celebration began in the Greenwich Village hotspots Le Poisson Rouge, Kenny’s Castaways, and Sullivan Hall, where a line-up of established and rising musicians played into the wee morning hours. A stopover in Brooklyn was in order for the next two evenings, first at the Brooklyn Masonic Temple for Medeski Martin & Wood, and then at the borough’s countless underground venues for Night of the Living DIY. 92Y Tribeca ended the affair in riveting fashion, featuring twenty different artists in an improvised Round-Robin.
These four moments captured the Undead vision in poignant form, illustrating innovation at its finest:
4. In the stale heat of Kenny’s Castaways, Secret Architecture was the first band to hit the evening’s airwaves. Every minute of their half-hour reign was spent in impromptu territory at the hands of Fraser Campbell, Wade Ridenhour, Julian Smith, and Zach Mangan. As the band proceeded in a thrilling momentum, Smith took an intricate bass solo, visibly intriguing – even mystifying – Campbell on tenor sax. The gregarious saxist took a seat on the stage to ponder, while Ridenhour leaned closed-eyed over his Rhodes. A few moments later, Campbell stood and looked to Mangan, who also grew sparse on the drums. And in a split second, their faces awakened with inspiration, both smiling and nodding before slipping into Harvey’s framework. Ridenhour’s synth-tinged vibe launched a high-speed chase between the two musicians, spearheaded by Campbell’s brassy blurts and Mangan’s athletic cymbals.
3. At 92Y Tribeca, Brandon Seabrook walked on stage as subtly as any man could with a tenor banjo slung over his side. Once saxist John Ellis finished his smooth interplay with Matthew Mottel on keys, Seabrook flipped to over dissonant territory. He grated on his strings, producing pungent sounds akin to a tense violin. Mottel’s keys rumbled forward, enriching Seabrook’s notes with billowing velocity. Without warning, several bubbles mysteriously sprouted from Mottel’s vicinity, until it became clear that it was the keyboardist himself – clad in bright, orange-rimmed sunglasses – who was blowing the soapy spheres. The bubbles hovered over the audience while Seabrook suddenly conjured the spirit of country, plucking away with a hearty, down-home flair.
2. Co-led by Taylor Ho Bynum and Abraham Gomez-Delgado, Positive Catastrophe packed the stage and the floor below at Sullivan Hall. But the ten-member band’s “stage spillage” was a mere prelude to the crackling vivacity they brought to the venue. Their brief time slot was a CD release party of sorts, featuring compositions off the band’s newest release Dibrujo, Dibrujo, Dibrujo. Michael Attias’ colossal baritone sax set the mood early into the set, emerging brazen and subtly playful. Reut Regev further exuded resonant complexity in “Dibroojoh Four”, the final installment of the album’s namesake tune suite. Trombone bow pointed toward the ceiling, Regev blared one solitary roar, launching a full-band earthquake of transformative bliss. One artist, however, was the unforgettable force behind the action: drummer Tomas Fujiwara, whose rhythm formed a potent force field that seized the air like radiant thunder.
1. In the final two duos at 92Y Tribeca, Fabian Almazan served as ornate virtuoso, seeping classical flourishes through every key. The pianist melted into a lullaby with Miles Okazaki’s gentle guitar chords, crafting the only heart-touching melody of the night. Five minutes later, the guitarist left the stage to make way for Graham Haynes’ cornet. Hints of warmth still remained, though Haynes’ thick cries never quite mingled into Almazan’s elaborate style. And five minutes later, the cornetist stood solo on stage to cinch the marathon event. He questioned, pierced, prodded, and reflected through his brilliant instrument, before attaching a vocoder-like synth to the horn. Haynes climbed to near-inaudible pitches for what seemed like timeless eternity – until he halted for a moment and silently declared Undead 2012 over.