Circumstances conspired to keep me away from the month-long 50th birthday celebration of September’s AAJ-NY cover icon, John Zorn, at Tonic. I was counting on catching Derek Bailey’s performance with Zorn and Ikue Mori toward the end of the month, only to find out that Bailey, afflicted with bronchitis, bailed. All the same, happy birthday, Mr. Zorn. Until next time.
Tin Hat Trio — In a unique occurrence at Merkin Hall, the THT took part in an installment of “New Sounds Live,” hosted by WNYC-FM’s John Schaefer. The Merkin stage was set up not only for live performance, but also live radio broadcast and person-to-person interviews. Across from Schaefer were three chairs and three mics, awaiting the presence of multi-keyboardist Rob Burger, guitarist Mark Orton and violinist Carla Kihlstedt. The evening was organized around a “separate and together” theme, wherein each Tin Hatter would present their own mini-set (and interview) during the first half, and the full THT would finally assemble in the second half.
This worked out quite well. Burger presented music from his klezmerish Lost Photograph album on Tzadik, with Chris Speed on clarinet, Trevor Dunn on bass and Kenny Wolleson on drums. Then Orton sat tight in his interview chair while Burger (on pump organ), Speed and bass clarinetist Oscar Noriega performed his piece “The Land of Dark,” a brief but dense chamber work inspired by the Scandinavian winter. This segued smoothly into another Orton piece, “Elegy for Margaret,” a sparse, haunting feature for Kihlstedt’s solo violin. Kihlstedt then sat down for her interview and brought on cellist Marika Hughes and drummer Shahzad Ismaily — the configuration heard on her Tzadik release 2 Foot Yard. What followed were delightfully off-the-wall, art-punkish songs featuring Kihlstedt’s voice as well as violin. “Like watching someone do magic tricks” is how one friend described it.
It was remarkable to hear these three musical intelligences merge in the second half, when the Tin Hat Trio took to a far less cluttered stage and worked their magic. Orton summoned an enormous amount of sound from his old, little acoustic guitar and seemed to provide most of the glue here. His dobro playing, too, was gripping and expansive, particularly on the unforgettable “Bill,” dedicated to the godfather of this school of countrified, intercontinental chamber jazz, Mr. Frisell.
Bill Frisell — Appearing before a capacity crowd at Zankel Hall (Carnegie Hall’s new multi-genre alt-music space), Frisell and his six-piece Intercontinentals band gave what felt very much like a living room concert. With Christos Govetas on oud and bouzouki, Greg Leisz on pedal steel, Vinicius Cantuaria on guitar/percussion/vocals, Sidiki Camara on Malian percussion, Jenny Scheinman on violin and Frisell on guitar, the Intercontinentals certainly live up to their name. But despite its new World Music thrust, this ensemble is just as unmistakably Frisellian as any he’s ever put together. Essentially a string band with percussion, the IC’s are able to conjure humor and pathos in the same tune, carry on complex dialogue over a simple, infectious groove, and create sounds so intimate that one is almost reluctant to applaud when they’re through. And you’ll never hear anyone get a warmer, mellower sound from a yellow Telecaster.
Charles Tolliver Big Band — A frenetic blast from the hard bop past. Tolliver, sounding brilliant on trumpet, conducted this big band with energy and pinpoint resolve, putting a new coat of paint on music from two Strata-East albums dating back to the 70s: Music, Inc. & Big Band and Impact. This was an evening of long tunes (typically three per set) and long solos, but with people like Craig Handy and Gary Thomas on tenors, Gary Bartz and Jesse Davis on altos, and Howard Johnson on baritone and numerous doubles, you’d better believe there wasn’t a dull moment.
The trombonists were Jason Jackson, Clark Gayton, Jack Jeffers and Aaron Johnson; trumpets were Frank Green, David Guy, David Weiss and Keyon Harrold. (Hats off to David Weiss for planting the idea for this project in Tolliver’s head.) Tolliver’s longtime Music, Inc. colleague Stanley Cowell played piano, Ugonna Okegwo played bass, and Billy Drummond held probably the most important chair of all, powering every tight, Tyner-influenced groove with a jaw-dropping intensity. James Spaulding was billed but had to back out, leaving Howard Johnson and Jack Jeffers as the only two who had actually played on the original 70s sessions.