All That Street Jazz

City Jazz FestivalCheck out the reinvented jazz sound at
Louis Armstrong once said, "If you have to ask what jazz is, you'll never know." The jazz scene has grown in dozens of directions since Armstrong made the famous remark half a century ago, and it's getting harder to tell where jazz stops and other sorts of music begin.

This week, two jazz acts that fall distinctly outside the realm of conventional jazz come to Moscow as part of the City Jazz Festival at 16 Tonnes.

Both Erik Truffaz, the Swiss-born trumpeter who graced the stage Thursday night, and The Bad Plus, a New York-based trio that plays Friday, pride themselves on twisting the genre into new forms, bringing in unexpected musical traditions to create a new sound.

"Jazz needs to connect to the street somehow, and it can do that through rock and contemporary pop," Ethan Iverson, who plays piano in The Bad Plus, said in a telephone interview from New York before leaving for Moscow.

The Bad Plus, originally from Minnesota, have made a name for themselves through original compositions based on improvisations but also mainly through jazz covers of more traditional hits.

When they first arrived on the scene in 2001, many jazz purists didn't know what to make of a band that would regularly perform versions of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit," Blondie's "Heart of Glass" or Interpol's "Narc."

"The meeting point is jazz and jazz improvisations, with influences from rock, electronic and classical music," Iverson said.

Iverson is joined in The Bad Plus by bassist Reid Anderson and drummer David King, and the band is bringing to Moscow vocalist Wendy Lewis, an indie singer from Minnesota.

The band is flying to Moscow just to perform at the annual festival, in its third year. "It's a long way to come just for one show, but we'll do it for Moscow," Iverson said. The band is supporting its new album, "Prog," and the set list will include covers of Nirvana's "Lithium," Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb," the Flaming Lips' "Feel Yourself Disintegrate," and some Stravinsky, Iverson's favorite composer.

The highlight of the festival for many was the performance by Truffaz, a master trumpeter with more than a dozen albums under his belt, known for fusing jazz with drum and bass, electronica and hip-hop influences.

Truffaz has just released a trio of albums -- "Benares," recorded in Calcutta with Indian musicians; "Mexico," a collaboration with Mexican electronica artist Murcof; and Paris, where New York beat boxer Sly Johnson performs vocals over Truffaz's smooth trumpet.

Truffaz, who was due to perform in St. Petersburg after his Moscow show, has already played in Russia four times, the first in 1993. The album before his latest releases is titled "Arkhangelsk," following a festival performance in the northern city several years ago. "It's an important city for me," Truffaz said in a telephone interview from Paris.

"The Russians are a little crazy, like in the books of Dostoevsky, which describe very well the duality of Russia being a cold country where you have to protect yourself, and at the same time they're a little irrational," he said.