Avram Fefer Trio
Knitting Factory Old Office, NYC
Because the whole face of downtown has changed since last September, businesses in that area also have had to adapt. The Knitting Factory, always ground zero for progressive music in New York City, has been forced to change its focus in order to attract patrons. If the last several trips downtown are any indication, the Knit has succeeded, having lines as long and as irritating as Webster Hall, and music to match. However, having built its reputation on iconoclastic music, good shows featuring innovative musicians are still to be had there. A week after a marvelous John Tchicai appearance, New York stalwart Avram Fefer played an evening in the Old Office with his trio.
Fefer's best quality is his breadth. He does not stick with one style or idea but absorbs elements from all neighborhoods of the jazz map into constantly original and consistent expressions. He began and ended the set in rousing fashion with two originals, "Violin a Vilna" and "Running for Cover", both vehicles for bellowing solos. The highlights of the set however were the two middle tunes, showing the intelligence with which Fefer approaches music.
Charles Mingus is accorded master status in the jazz world for his playing, his composing and his bandleading; yet, not many attempt to play more than his simplest pieces (e.g., Pork Pie Hat). Perhaps this is the greatest testament to his legacy-so few feel up to his challenge. Fefer was not to be intimidated however, choosing to play one of Mingus' more formidable compositions, "Orange was the color of her dress then blue silk", and with a trio no less! Initially it may seem over-ambitious, but Mingus' concoction of traditional and non-traditional ideas fits Fefer's ideals well. Fefer played the Dolphy role quite well, adding a ragged feel to the piece. He played the slower melodies convincingly and pushed the odder sections out into a logical extension of what Mingus might have been doing had he ventured further into atonality.
"Ripple" is a rare case where a song title's meaning is as apparent to the audience as to the performer. Meant to recreate the phenomenon of ripples on water's surface, Fefer's piece takes this fleeting moment and creates a stirring several minutes out of it. Tenor proceeds in dirge-like fashion over a bowed bass line. Foni's percussion accompaniment is sparse, but slowly builds in intensity, as Fefer's horn work gets louder and more vehement. The trio sends out waves of sound across the audience until, much like the ripple, they slowly spread out weaving more and more space into the music until the water's surface is once again clear. A simple idea but deftly executed.
It was good to see Fefer's show well attended (see review of Feferfonix Orchestra January 2002). Despite some sound problems involving a PA speaker and a certain register of the upright, Fefer's group was spirited, and hopefully drew in some hip stragglers from upstairs for some good music.