2012 NYC Winter Jazzfest Part 3: feat. Jessica Lurie Ensemble at pre-2012 NY Winter Jazzfest

Date: Thursday, January 5, 2012
Venue: Le Poisson Rouge (NY)

Review by Matt Cole

On Thursday, 5 January 2012, the Jessica Lurie Ensemble opened up a 4-band pre-2012 NY Winter Jazzfest concert at La Poisson Rouge with a very strong set, which was dominated by selections from her upcoming album, Megaphone Heart. Naturally, this band is led by multi-instrumentalist Jessica Lurie, who is known for her saxophone pyrotechnics in Living Daylights and The Tiptons Saxophone Quartet. In addition to Ms. Lurie on the saxophone, flute, and vocals, the band consisted of longtime JLE stalwarts Allison Miller on drums, Erik Deutsch on keyboards, along with frequent collaborator Will Bernard on guitar and a (so far) rare appearance by Chris Lightcap on double bass.

It is very hard to pin down the JLE with regards to genre or style. The band can go from Balkan sounds, to avant jazz, to rock, to gentle ballads and back again in the space of a set (and sometimes within the space of one song). All of the musicians are virtuoso players on their respective instruments, and have excellent listening and communication skills.

The evening started with ‘Bells,’ one of the songs from Megaphone Heart. This piece starts slow, with the piano entering first, gradually joined by the other instruments. By the time it was over, it had energized into a smoking jam. ‘Bells’ was followed by ‘Boot Heels,’ also from the upcoming release. ‘Boot Heels’ is in 11 (with a 2-2-3-2-2 subdivision), and manages to groove very nicely. After the head, we first were treated to a call-and-response musical conversation between Mr. Deutsch on piano and Mr. Bernard on guitar, before Ms. Lurie joined the fun. The music then sped up, still in 11, and the band played a Balkan-sounding theme in unison before the song ended.

The title track, ‘Megaphone Heart,’ was up next, and began with a slow, sad flute introduction. Like its predecessor in the set list, ‘Megaphone Heart’ is in an odd meter (in this case 7). This song showcased Ms. Lurie’s vocal talents, and included a flute solo between the verses. Next up was ‘Maps,’ which is, Ms. Lurie informed us, “about getting lost in more ways than one.” ‘Maps’ rocks very hard, and featured a ferocious sax solo from Ms. Lurie.

With 3 more acts to follow, it was inevitable that the JLE would only play a short set, so after the band introductions, they started on the final song of the night, ‘Mexico,’ a slow, sad song from Ms. Lurie’s 2005 release Licorice and Smoke. Ms. Lurie opened the song by making eerie sounds through a MegaMouth (a toy megaphone with several interesting effects), before the band came in. After the first verses, Chris Lightcap played a strong solo on the bass with spare backing from the drums, piano, and guitar; after which Ms. Lurie played a high energy solo and didn’t miss a beat despite some technical trouble with her clip mic. The last verse followed, with very spare accompaniment from the band. As the song neared its finish, Ms. Miller built tension with her bass drum, leading to an intense climax, followed by a melt, which faded into naught but an ominous beat sung by Ms. Lurie through the MegaMouth.

In all, this was an excellent and varied set from a versatile and highly talented band. My only complaint was that Ms. Lurie’s saxophone mike wasn’t turned up nearly enough; this could have been a problem with the mike itself or an oversight on the part of the sound person, but it wasn’t nearly enough to put a dent in an outstanding show from an excellent band.

Megaphone Heart will be released in March. There will be a pre-release show at the 92Y TRIBECA on Saturday, February 18.

For more information about Jessica Lurie, including tour dates and a discography (Ms. Lurie has appeared on over 2 dozen releases as a leader and side woman), check out her website: www.jessicalurie.com.