November 2005

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The Steve Lacy homage at Merkin Hall (Oct. 6th) encompassed poetry, solo horns, unorthodox trios, jazz quintets, live electronics (from David Wessel and Richard Teitelbaum) and even a solo guitar romp from Gary Lucas. It was a brilliant stroke to seat all the performers onstage, effectively making them part of the audience. We were thus afforded the pleasure of watching Dave Liebman enjoy Bobby Few's solo piano reading of "Utah , shortly before he took his own soprano solo on "Prospectus . With Few, Joe Lovano, Roswell Rudd and Lacy's rhythm team of bassist Jean-Jacques Avenel and drummer John Betsch, Liebman also played "The Bath , then joined Lovano (on tenor) for a fiery reading of "The Holy La .

Vocalist Irene Aebi, Lacy's widow, opened with short versions of "As Usual and "Ring of Bone featuring Lacy protégé Jeremy Udden. She launched the second half with Udden and pianist Daniel Tepfer on "Le Jardin and closed with the epic "Futurities , featuring guest vocalists Sunny Kim and Sean Wood. Judi Silvano joined in on the Robert Creeley-inspired "Inside My Head . Thomas Buckner performed a haunting song cycle with Rudd and the rhythm section. Don Byron offered an incredible "Tips on solo clarinet, apparently reading a transcription from a laptop. For sheer drama, nothing surpassed Teitelbaum's nebulous samples of himself and Lacy performing as a duo in 1968. For a brief and eerie moment, Lacy was in the room.

Loren Stillman tends to record with piano - his new Fresh Sound disc, It Could Be Anything, features Gary Versace. But at the Bowery Poetry Club (Oct. 4th), the young alto saxophonist mined the talents of guitarist Ben Monder. Eivind Opsvik played bass and Monder's drummer of choice, Ted Poor, completed the lineup. Monder was new to this difficult music, but he started strong, negotiating the wide intervals of "Evil Olive in tight unison with the horn. Stillman's advanced harmony, too, posed little problem: Monder gave every piece a spacious yet strong chordal foundation. Stillman's solos were labyrinthine, voracious, technically astute but always musical. His tricky forms and rhythms demanded intense focus from Opsvik and Poor, yet the music never sounded like work.

"Evil Olive was one of two moderate straight-eighth tempos, the other being "Skin . Throughout the set, Poor managed to articulate prescribed accents and still leave the soloists largely unencumbered. The warped funk at the start of "Drawn Inward was one of his best moments. On "Noushka-Foo , the first of two pieces in 3/4, Opsvik played the melody and the first solo before Stillman and Monder entered with a contrapuntal theme - a refreshing departure from the unison approach. "Gnu , in a more swing-based feel, began with a complex alto line that playfully mimicked the walking bass and involved exaggerated shifts in dynamics. The anomalous coda came as a pleasant jolt.

~ David Adler

Last month's 3-week-long Don Cherry Festival at the Stone featured on Oct. 17th the highly anticipated duo of trumpeter Bill Dixon (a Cherry contemporary) and bassist Henry Grimes (a former Cherry collaborator) in a two-set evening billed as "Gifts for Don Cherry and "Don Cherry's Gifts , leading one to believe at least one set would be dedicated to Cherry the composer. Instead the rather unique pairing of master instrumentalists did something neither had done together for 39 years, almost to the date: that is, play together (in 1966, they recorded on Cecil Taylor's seminal Conquistador!).

The unrehearsed spontaneous creations featured Dixon's processed trumpet blown effects assuming the lead voice role as Grimes offered needed framework with his assured, barely amplified acoustic pizzicato. Grimes eventually settled into the set with a masterful arco technique that not only became more impressive than his plucking but more appropriate, serving as an ideal sonic complement and sounding as supernatural as Dixon.

The moments where Dixon would sneak in rather than rely on technology worked better with Grimes' lines. His notes and tone were crisply and cleanly performed, as were his intentional occasional smeared runs, the sole Cherry-like aspect that night (other than Dixon's occasional spoken anecdote). When the space revealed itself in the music though, Grimes and thus this duo excelled.

On Sep. 26th, history was made by pianist Keith Jarrett. Performing at Carnegie Hall for the first time in 30 years, it was his first and only North American solo piano concert in a decade and, like his recent release (Radiance, ECM), fully improvised.

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