The Free Zone, curated by guitarist and man-about-town Ty Cumbie, transpires every Thursday night on the bottom floor of the Jazz on the Park youth hostel. The evenings usually revolve around a single artist who plays the first set, then joins in an impromptu collaboration with a handful of select guests. Free Zone #27 (March 11th) belonged to Pandit Samir Chatterjee, who transfixed a small but adoring crowd with an hour-long solo tabla concert. An unschooled ear (mine) couldn’t possibly absorb every fine rhythmic detail of Chatterjee’s music, but basking in the meditative glow was more than reward enough. The master’s first guest was reedman Ned Rothenberg, who has worked with Chatterjee and bassist/guitarist Jerome Harris in a trio called Sync for six or seven years (I recall an incendiary early gig at the Knit’s Old Office). Leaving their written repertoire on the shelf, Rothenberg and Chatterjee offered about 20 minutes of scintillating free improvisation, first featuring curved soprano sax and then clarinet. Kali Z. Fasteau, the second guest, established an Afro-Asian vibe with shakuhachi flute, soprano sax and processed vocals, skillfully exploiting an awkwardly placed mic and responding to Chatterjee with poise. Ty Cumbie brought out his acoustic guitar for a brief concluding duet with Chatterjee, setting steel-string poetics against the disarmingly melodic sounds of the tabla.
Joel Harrison is a skilled guitarist and bandleader, but also an affecting singer and songwriter. His appearance at the 55 Bar yielded hard-nosed quintet improvisation but also “a troika of road songs,” beginning with Merle Haggard’s “White Line Fever” and continuing with two strong vocal originals, “Passing Train” and “Travel On.” Harrison has performed the Haggard tune and others like it with his Free Country group. But this outing with Christian Howes on violin, Adam Klipple on keyboards, Stephan Crump on double bass and Todd Isler on drums – brought groove, songcraft and blowing into a new and novel conversation. The set began with Jimmy Webb’s “Wichita Lineman,” taken at a faster clip than Cassandra Wilson’s version from Belly of the Sun. Harrison, who can be a tentative soloist, left ample space for Howes’ searing lines and Klipple’s bold harmonic escalations. The vaguely tango-ish “Café Lex,” marked by liquid textures and sound effects, was another highlight.
~ David Adler
Though the “super group” of reedman Michael Moore (alto sax, clarinet, bass clarinet), trumpeter Herb Robertson, pianist Fred Hersch, bassist Mark Helias, and drummer Gerry Hemingway was billed as a leaderless ensemble, in actuality it was a focused group guided by the compositions of Moore. During the ex-pat’s rare visit for a packed Monday night Tonic set (March 15th), Moore’s 16-year old Home Game (Ramboy) recording of his eleven originals was performed in its entirety. A highlight, “Redman’s” (a dedication to Dewey Redman), featured a reggae-like pulse by Hemingway, who hesitated behind the beat of the tune, exquisitely building tension between Moore’s alto and Robertson, whose trumpet is appropriately - especially here with the Ornette connection - reminiscent of Don Cherry. One of the better non New Orleans-style plunger players, a style to which most others inevitably resort, he flaunted his unique sound particularly on the encore (and only non-Home Game affiliated piece), “Manuel’s Party”. Accompanying the fivesome’s tendency to split up into various trios, from clarinet-bass-drums to alto-trumpet-drums and an occasional hornless sampling of piano trio, Hemingway frequently played brushes to avoid overplaying his colleagues. The tunes, based around simple themes and presented as very digestible 5-minute miniatures, revealed a succinct-ness with not a note wasted on drawn-out solos or extraneous dialogue.