Last Friday evening I attended Winter Jazz Fest, an annual New York City tradition that sees hundreds of performers playing a dozen or more venues over a few nights each January. I made it to 5 concerts at 5 separate venues in the Village before finally hailing a cab and heading back to Brooklyn at 1AM on Saturday morning. All of the acts I saw were memorable. Some of them were amazing performers. Some played incredible music. I would likely go out of my way to see one or two of them perform again, and dare I say it, I may even (gasp) BUY an album or two. However, by far, the most remarkable act I saw that night was The Legal Innovation Project.
Of course, that was not actually their name, but T-LIP, as I have come to call them, played a brand of technical speed jazz reminiscent of a frenetic Spyro Gyra on Quaaludes. It’s not my favorite style of music and I don’t know that I would have enjoyed simply listening to their session, but watching the interaction between the musicians on stage was Epic Theater beyond anything Brecht ever achieved and would have justified the cost of the festival ticket on its own.
The drummer and the bassist were mostly heads-down, steadily plowing forward, seemingly unconcerned with (or possibly unaware of) anyone else on the stage. The pianist intermittently slapped at keys, his eyes darting back and forth over sheet music laid flat across the open Steinway. Two soloists, unfortunately out front and facing the audience, stared intently at music stands in front of them. They would occasionally half-turn and give each other furtive glances of confusion. Every once in a while, one would raise an instrument and blow a few tentative notes that appeared to have no relation to the chords or beat being laid down by the rhythm section.