April 2006

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Scraping a bow across one vibraphone bar and tickling another with two mallets, Kevin Norton elicited a free improvisation to reacquaint his Bauhaus Quartet. The group unfortunately performs infrequently, comprised as it is of intensely active musicians: John Lindberg on acoustic bass, Dave Ballou on trumpet and the omnipresent Tony Malaby on saxophones. The improv was a fitting opener for this night (Mar. 9th) of Dee Pop's Freestyle Jazz at Jimmy's Restaurant. After an exploration of textures, Norton moved to drum set and the horns erupted in a cascade of sound, the leader's kinetic flurry spurring them. For the remainder of the set, the quartet probed the flow between composition and improvisation - how one informs the other - a recurrent interest of Norton's. "Mother Tongue opened with a startling drum/bass duet that emerged as a skittering groove, the horns countering the motion with sustained notes and a stilted melody. Ballou glided over the rhythmic waves before passing to Malaby, who let fly on soprano, while Norton reined the dynamics but not the momentum. An insistent rhythm supported "Number 4 in 5 , with Norton syncopating the steady bass movement as Malaby wailed on tenor and Lindberg tapped the bass' strings and body for percussive effect. They concluded with the unhurried "Atie Aife , its spaciousness inviting a vaguely bluesy tenor to mingle with the shimmering vibes.

Eschewing the assiduous grooves he's known for with MMW, percussionist Billy Martin presented two exemplary realizations of his rhythmic theory in performance at Symphony Space (Mar. 2nd). For the first, "Stidulations , 11 percussionists with wood and bamboo blocks joined Martin onstage to play compositions inspired by cricket sounds. Martin used the timbres to imply melody, the different sounds forming counterlines of interwoven rhythms and varying in dynamics and density. Metal gongs and bells altered the tonal palette for trance-inducing minimalism on one piece. To another, a collection of glass bottles lent a bracing texture, the intersecting lines more musical than the average barfly's tapping. "Metamorphosis/Starlings , with the Black Elk Orchestra (string quartet, 3 woods and 3 brass), under the direction of Anthony Coleman and adapted by him from Martin's compositions for African mbira (thumb piano), shared many qualities of the percussion pieces. The musicians played short rhythmic phrases, with heightened melody from the instrumentation. The linear arrangements and rapid call-and-response were evocative of the music's percussive origin. Coleman blended the sounds for bold fullness or allowed the strings and woods to complement with contrasting lines. This was not typical chamber music, but idiosyncratic with an internal logic, illustrating that Martin is a deep musician with more to offer than just tasty beats.

~ Sean Fitzell

Despite a small crowd at Cornelia Street Café (Mar. 12th), clarinetist Perry Robinson's spirit was indomitable. For the evening he convened a newish group, the PJs, featuring him with tuba player Jay Rozen and drummer Jay Rosen (Robinson had played with Rozen with Burton Greene and with Rosen with Mark Whitecage). But this trio is much more than mere novelty. With a motto of "From Woody Allen to Sun Ra , almost any material is ripe for reforming in Robinson's capable hands. The set started with the band's theme, a jaunty doina that featured Robinson's cute vocals. A wondrously involved "How High The Moon was played for close to 20 minutes, highlighted by Rozen's smooth tuba multiphonics and a nifty fragmented time section that led into turn-of-last-century swing. "I Thought I Heard Buddy Bolden Say by Jelly Roll Morton was updated ragtime, a testament to the band's ability to make any song in any genre sound like it was written specifically for them. This tune was followed by an interlude of Robinson doing magic tricks (Robinson is one of jazz' last true characters) before counting off a cheekily subversive version of Fats Waller's "Ain't Misbehavin' . The set ended with a free piece, a nod to Robinson's '60s new music roots, the three players cackling at each other like three slightly tipsy babushkas and then shifting into a moving spiritual segment before sleekly segueing back in to the PJs theme.

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