Back a dozen years ago and more, the Knitting Factory put itself on the national map with a series of self-released live compilation discs. It was not just a good PR move on the part of the club, nor simply a smart way to launch their label. The five Live at the Knitting Factory discs, and various other releases of otherwise unavailable material (before they went the way of the label promo) are essential documents of the downtown scene in the '80s and '90s.
It is, of course, a new millennium now, and the Knit's heir is recently remodeled and going strong. Tonic just released the first CD of what appears to be a series of live collections (the nice graphics announce it as "Volume I" in any event). What they've pulled together is an excellent, nicely programmed and well recorded collection of sounds from 1999 to February of this year.
Listening to this disc back-to-back with the Knit CDs shows, in a sense, how downtown has grown up. Samba and R&B are the template grooves, as opposed to the post-rock and free-improv heaviness of the Knit discs, but even more so, there's a chamber-like beauty to much of the record.
John Zorn's contributions to the early Knit discs include his hardcore trio Slan (although, granted, Masada's first recorded appearance is also on a Knit comp). Here Zorn is represented by a funky workout with John Medeski, Marc Ribot and Ben Perowsky. The group, which goes by the name Emergency, apparently isn't going to record, so this is a bit of a rarity, as well as being a great 14-minute jam. Joey Baron has gone from his trio with electronics featuring Tim Berne and Hank Roberts to a duo with Brazilian guitarist Vincius Cantuária, and Arto Lindsay and Dougie Bowne, previously in a noisy trio together, present beat-heavy Brasilia and a light-groove sextet (albeit with Bowne now tossing a bit of skronk), respectively.
Other tracks feature a nice Derek Bailey/Min Xiao-Fen duo, a Susie Ibarra/Cooper-Moore/Charles Burnham piece as good as anything on their Hopscotch release, an unusual Haino Keiji/Ikue Mori/Z'ev piece and Kim Gordon playing and singing with Loren MazzaCane Connors. Like the Knit releases, the tracks just feel like being there. My only question is, didn't anything good happen at the club last year?
Personnel: Arto Lindsay; Emergency: John Zorn, John Medeski, Marc Ribot & Ben
Perowsky; Joey Baron & Vinicius Cantuaria; Dougie Bowne's Peninsula;
Derek Bailey & Min Xiao-Fen; Erik Friedlander, Sylvie Courvoisier & Ikue
Mori; Z'EV, Haino Keiji & Ikue Mori; Susie Ibarra Trio; Loren Mazzacane
Connors & Kim Gordon
* Marina Rosenfeld & Raz Mesinai