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New York, New Worlds


GOTHAM BLUES CURE

For lifer jazz fans, any time is the right time to visit N.Y.C., the once and always jazz Mecca, no matter what hopeful “out of town” cities claim. The lure intensifies when IAJE comes to town, as it did last week. This innocent acronym —  International Association for Jazz Education — is increasingly becoming a looming force on the jazz calendar. Its annual January confabs are not just for educators anymore, but anyone with a strong connection to the music.

You know you’re at IAJE when visionary big-band leader Maria Schneider, a bit harried but ever-polite, approaches you in the Hilton lobby and says, “Where do you get those badges?” You do need stinking badges at IAJE, whose ranks of visitors continue to swell. Later that night (after midnight, actually), Schneider led her visionary band before an SRO house in a Sheraton ballroom. The next night, the conference’s traditional focus on big-band culture hit another high when the German WDR Big Band Köln — one of the world’s finest — presented the program Djangology, featuring the ridiculously cool and dexterous guitarist Biréli Lagrène (who recently blew the roof off of Campbell Hall).

Speaking of Campbell Hall, Chick Corea — whose UCSB show on February 7 will be a must-hear — was toasted as one of several NEA Jazz Masters, also performed twice at the conference. One of the enlightening performances on the fringes was by Benin-born guitarist Lionel Lueke and trio. Lueke, who gained some exposure in Terrence Blanchard’s band, is one of the most exciting new voices in jazz guitar, just as his special guest, the dynamic chromatic harmonica wizard Grégoire Maret, gives new energy and vision to his instrument (Maret also played Campbell Hall, with Cassandra Wilson).

Mini-walking tour suggestion: Visit the year-old Jazz @ Lincoln Center compound, on the fifth floor of the new Time Warner behemoth at Columbus Circle, head up Eighth Avenue and prepare to gasp before the sight of the newly-completed addition to the Hearst Building. Sir Norman Foster has created a surreal, triangle-oriented edifice atop the historic structure, perfectly encapsulating N.Y.C.’s paradoxical blend of deep history and innovation.

BRAVE OLD WORLD

Terrence Malick is now officially America’s greatest living director, at least in terms of batting average. With his latest masterpiece, The New World, Malick has now made four films in 30-odd years — Badlands, Days of Heaven, The Thin Red Line, and the new one — each a classic on its own terms, as well as examples of a unified artistic path. Malick has a bold sense of personalized cinematic poetry, not necessarily heeding the idea that film is enslaved by values from theater and literature, a moldy notion.

Rather, Malick’s film theory purports that film is a medium with intrinsic sensory powers, suited to create fluid relationships of sight and sound, conspiring toward powerful-yet-hard-to-define new dimensions. In The New World, certainly the finest film released in the past year, Malick expands on and seductively poeticizes the Pocahontas tale, along the way giving us a sense of you-are-there nature and historical veracity that pulls us out of the theater.

Among other things, The New World again shows Malick’s skill in blending imagery and music. In The Thin Red Line, the director ingeniously dropped Charles Ives’s “Unanswered Question” in the central, chaotic battle scene. In The New World, we hear the sweeping, ambivalently hope-filled sound of Wagner’s Das Reingold overture, which becomes a framing device on either side of the drama. See The New World and get thee to a new world, of Malick’s brilliant devising.

POLI’L RICH SOUNDS

One of the more unconventional and refreshing acts in the Sings like Hell series was last month’s opening-act show by L.A.’s Listing Ship, steering far to the left of the usual guitar-driven, post-Dylan song spiel. This Saturday’s headliner, Po’ Girl, is another entry from the offbeat path. Folk, jazz, rap, banjo, violin, and clarinet are stirred into a pleasing eclectic and heartfelt sonic brew. (Got e? fringebeat@aol.com)

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