~ Laurence Donohue-Greene
Though Matana Roberts was unavoidably delayed for the start of her evening at the Brecht Forum (Aug. 7th), the first set trio with Ras Moshe and Tomas Fujiwara was well worth the wait. Before the performance, the subject of the '60s Frank Wright/Noah Howard band came up with Moshe and the spirit of that legendary duo was channeled for two 15 minute improvisations. Roberts is one of the more compelling altoists playing today and she spurred Moshe into some of his most thoughtful, and even delicate, tenor playing, the first piece based in trills set against languorous long tones. As the energy rose, the saxophones became shriller and Fujiwara's drum fills became more insistent. Though fully improvised, the themes were cyclical and explored in lovely unison passages.
The only way to follow it up was to change tack completely, Roberts switching to clarinet and Moshe to flute. Whereas the first piece was earthy, the second smacked of contemporary classical music. By the time Roberts switched back to alto, there was an elfin quality to the music. Besides the laudable brevity of the two improvisations, the trio should be complimented for creating pieces with distinct forms and endings and keeping any forays into atonality as a natural result of the music's development.
A lesser pianist might have wilted under the boisterous crowd at the Kitano Hotel (August 27th). But Don Friedman was unflappable in a trio with bassist Martin Wind and drummer Drori Mondlak. Even when audience members asked him in between songs to play "Girl from Ipanema", mistaking the Kitano for a piano bar, Friedman continued doing what he has been doing marvellously since his career began: subtly subverting melodies, being progressive without being jarring and traditional without being staid. "35 W. 4th Street" is entitled in deference to his employment address at NYU. "Alone Together" and especially "My Favorite Things" were deftly interpreted, the Howard Dietz/Arthur Schwartz piece played at a more insistent pace than usual. Special mention should be made of Mondlak's exuberant timekeeping. The set closed with two gorgeous melodies: "Memories of Scottie", written by Friedman to memorialize his late friend Scott La Faro, featured some elegiac bowing by Wind; and Cole Porter's "I Concentrate on You" which started out delicate but slowly swelled in intensity by the end. It is always special to hear Friedman play and be the focus of attention. His command can be overlooked when he plays with Clark Terry but leading a trio, under any conditions, he displays his mastery.
~ Andrey Henkin