Fred Anderson/William Parker at The Living Theatre
To hear Fred Anderson without a drummer behind him is at least a little like hearing a different horn player altogether. He did it at the 2003 Vision Festival in a duo with bassist Harrison Bankhead (documented on CD by Ayler Records) and did it again Dec. 7th with William Parker at The Living Theatre, in another Vision concert. Anderson is a player deeply into his own approach, yet he's extremely responsive to his environs - in these cases, more subdued duo sessions. He doesn't fill up the additional space but leaves it open. In their first duet concert, Anderson and Parker played a geometry of notes, quick bass riffs repeated once, followed by a quick jaunt to a new riff, repeated and discarded, with the sax both free and serving as anchor, mooring them to limitless possibilities. By the time they fell into a unison four-count and ended the 20-minute piece, the sheer amount of information imparted could have filled a night. The second piece - a good 40 minutes - hit a surprising synchronicity, something that wouldn't have happened in a trio, as if the rules of the game were that each note would quickly follow the player's own or the other's previous utterance. They hit a sort of bifurcated bop, eliciting a devilish laugh from Anderson. Then they started playing with the tempo, answering each other largo or adagio. In their brief encore, Parker picked up Anderson's laugh, repeating it like the musical phrases they'd swapped for the previous hour, making it into a simpatico vocal coda.
Craig Harris at The Apollo
Craig Harris took as his inspiration for God's Trombones, the remarkable song cycle he presented Dec. 14th at the Apollo Theater, the musical works of Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes. With Hughes contemporary James Weldon Johnson's sermon-based poetry as a libretto, Harris crafted a two-hour work that was nothing less than spectacular with a top-rate band featuring Curtis Fowlkes, Alfred Patterson and Gary Valente (along with himself) on trombones, Joe Daley on euphonium and Bob Stewart on tuba, with keyboardist Adam Klipple and drummer Tony Lewis. The pieces were delivered in song and choreographed spoken parts by four vocalists and were (unsurprisingly) trenched in the Biblical - God and Satan, Adam and Eve and Noah all made appearances and Harris cast himself in the role of a rapping Moses. But most of the music came from the New Orleans brass band tradition with some gospel and light R&B numbers filling it out. The band was strong all around, but it was Valente who got the biggest spotlight (next to Moses), playing a show- stopping solo in one of the handful of instrumental pieces. It was the singers, however, who owned the show: Kevin Anthony, Gina Breedlove, Caroline Hawthorne and William "Byrd Wilkins were stellar in a work that showed Harris to be an inventive arranger and composer. The evening closed with the ensemble breaking down, ultimately leaving the ever-remarkable Stewart to close the show alone.
~ Kurt Gottschalk
Karl Berger at Symphony Space
Pianist/vibraphonist/new music composer Karl Berger, founder of Woodstock's Creative Music Studio, doesn't come downstate all that often, so it's a must-see when he does. On Dec. 7th, Berger teamed up with Parisian accordionist Jean-Louis Matinier, vocalist Ingrid Sertso (a co-founder of CMS), bassist John Lindberg and cellist Tomas Ulrich at Symphony Space to explore five movements from his "No Man Is An Island suite, a selection of his "Miniatures and an impromptu interpretation of Sertso's poem/ composition "Birds Fly . A gathering of strong personalities, the date exemplified many cooks cooking well together, blending their individual flavors and ideas to enhance the group gumbo. The synergy was especially evident during the miniatures "Nameless Child and "Transit and in many serendipitous moments when the improvisers seemed telepathic, anticipating each other's slightest musical whims on the turn of a dime. Each voice had character: Berger was a consummate accompanist, a font of ever-changing rhythms, densities and timbres; Matinier spliced flowing pentatonics and whispered drones into the overall texture; Ulrich led the Sturm und Drang movement, expressing himself with stormy urgency; Sertso's poetry and scatting - now whispered, now popped in subtle plosives and slurped fricatives - was unto itself; and Lindberg gave new meaning to 'hands-on' with tapped, hammered and strummed soloing.