The saxophone and drum duet has been relatively common to jazz since 1967's Interstellar Space. What initially seems like a limiting format actually has many possibilities. Within the past year, three vastly different interpretations have performed in New York: the freeform blowout of David S. Ware and Rashied Ali; the much quieter and spacey duo of Oliver Lake/Louis Moholo (both at the 2001 Vision Festival); and the restrained Sonny Fortune/Rashied Ali show at Tonic last fall, that saw the two performing nothing but standards! What can be drawn from these examples is: concepts that musicians bring to a show are far more important than the structure of the group they use. The Feferfonix Orchestra, a deceivingly named duo, played a show to an almost empty house the day after Christmas. Avram Fefer had just flown in from Barcelona and most patrons of the Lower East Side venue were still digesting their holiday meals. (Fefer described the show as being similar to playing in a studio, the audience being an afterthought.) Those few who made it out saw a thoroughly enjoyable show by one of the stalwarts of the New York jazz scene. Fefer, who plays seemingly every wind instrument, and some non-wind ones as well, focused almost exclusively on tenor. The evening's performance did recall Interstellar Space, but as if played by the Elvin Jones trio with Joe Farrell, while Jimmy Garrison was having a cigarette. A conversation with Fefer revealed that he hates hard bop, hates free jazz, hates funk, hates any music if it is played poorly. He himself embraces all the aforementioned styles, plays them well and deftly mixes them within a show and within individual pieces. The thing that instantly strikes the listener, and separates Fefer from many of his peers, is his tone. What seemingly should be the main concern for any horn player is usually the first thing disregarded. Fefer, even in his freest moments, makes tone the first priority, his playing more convincing as a result. Regardless of the style he is exploring, his playing is sincere, and no higher compliment can be paid to a musician.
The set began with two Fefer originals-"First Glimpse" segueing into the cleverly titled "Shepp in Wolf's Clothing". The opening segment wafted from its basic hard bop roots towards klezmer and funk, decisively propelled by Foni's drum work. Fefer's moments of flight never totally abandoned lyricism, which throughout the course of the show went far to make each piece very distinct (as opposed to many free blowouts that end up sounding the same).
"Going Nowhere Fast", another original, lived up to its title, speeding along firmly to a heavy ride cymbal accompaniment. Straying further out than the first piece, Fefer did sacrifice some of his rich tone to the obligatory bleats and honks of the genre. However, since he explored other territory throughout the set, the free segment did not become derivative.
A beautiful rendition of Ornette Coleman's "Women of the Veil" found Fefer switching to alto. This lovely melody was welcome after the first two challenging pieces, and Fefer rewarded the small crowd with some emotional climbs up and down the instrument's register.
Fefer's "Violin a Vilna" closed out the set in energetic fashion. Latin-tinged, recalling "La Fiesta" at times, this was the best vehicle for Foni's drum major style. It was surprising and refreshing to hear that Fefer still had original ideas left in him, especially after effectively playing four very different types of compositions. Many of his contemporaries cannot convincingly play one.
It was to Fefer's detriment to play the day after Christmas. While he had the opportunity to play an intimate show, the more people to see this talented musician the better.