Kevin Shea at Barbes
Building an evening around Kevin Shea is a bit like staking a tent pole in a rockslide. He has a way of keeping time while playing seemingly unconnected fills and a stage persona that makes Han Bennink look like Bud Abbott. But he was the common denominator at Barb's Mar. 12th, when People, his duo with Mary Halvorson, played before Moppa Elliott's Mostly Other People Do The Killing. The latter was a last-minute fill-in for Peter Evans' quartet and the interplay within the groups proved the value of community: Shea is also in Evans' quartet and Evans in Elliott's, so the substitution was a natural. Although Elliot's band has its avant breakdowns down pat and plays hard bop with ease, what makes them rise above retro is their enthusiasm, as evidenced by the 20+ minute version of "A Night in Tunisia" that closed both their excellent CD Shamokin!!! and their Barbes set; or by a fiery solo Evans forced through a mute, rising above the rhythm section without managing to break their volume; or by Elliott's ascending hammered bass solo, retaining a walking line with his left hand while carrying Eddie Van Halen trills with his right until he ran out of fingerboard; not to mention Shea's quite literally deconstructed drum solo. As a duo, People manage to sound like three disparate parts: folk singing, abrasively angular guitar and Keith Moon-nervous-tic drumming. The addition of a bassist gave them a bit too much center, but there's still nothing quite like them.
Uchihashi Kazuhisa at Roulette
It's hard to predict which direction the rare New York appearance by Japanese guitarist Uchihashi Kazuhisa might go. His earliest recordings with Altered States varied from abstract improv to high-speed prog and as a member of the groundbreaking Ground Zero he went from standards to noise. More recently he's shown himself to be a talented, straight-up jazz guitarist. But at Roulette Mar. 8th, he pursued a unique combination of finger-picking and heavy processing. Harmonized drones melded with sudden pitch-shifts like an in-your-face video game. A single chord emulated full George Martin orchestration at one moment and deft fingerwork evoked Conlon Nancarrow on a tack piano the next. The evening was also a rare opportunity to hear the daxophonean instrument that uses a bow against thin planks of shaped wood invented by Hans Reichel. For the second set, vocalist Shelley Hirsch joined Uchihashi. The two recorded an album, Flect, in 2000, but hadn't played together since. It was with Hirsch that his jazzy stylings came to the fore, playing mid-tempo walks and boogies (and still managing to sneak in some metal-edged prog licks) as Hirsch extemporized on the Bible, coins and other currency. While their history together is limited, they fell in with each other easily, Hirsch following Uchihashi's melodic cues and he matching her vocal textures. They ultimately found their way to an off-the-cuff rendition of "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes," a somehow fitting finale.
SFJazz Collective at Zankel Hall
You've heard the old saw about too many chefs? On Mar. 5th at Zankel Hall the SF Jazz Collective proved the reversethat overcrowding a stage with strong improvisatory personalities can lead to even more extraordinary results. The Collective, now in its fifth season, currently features Joe Lovano (tenor sax), Dave Douglas (trumpet), Miguel Zenon (alto sax), Robin Eubanks (trombone), Stefon Harris (vibraphone), Renee Rosnes (piano), Matt Penman (bass) and Eric Harland (drums), a formidable constellation of jazz stars. The program, dedicated to Wayne Shorter, mixed arrangements of his tunes with original compositions. The covers included Rosnes' setting of "Footprints" in a major key with a feel-good vamp; her gorgeous reading of "Diana"; Harland's fleet treatment of "Yes and No," inspiring sterling mallet work from Harris; Lovano's inventive interpretation of "Infant Eyes" and Penman's arrangement of "El Gaucho" with Douglas in a Freddie Hubbard mindset, firing off salvos of short sharp phrases to rally the band. Choice originals included Harris' soulful waltz "The Road to Dharma," an effective vehicle for Zenon's motific lyricism and the altoist's own "Frontline," which featured vibrant tandem soloing, first from tenor and alto, then trombone and trumpet, climaxing finally in a free-blowing four-for-all. Far from spoiling the broth, the sound of these master chefs all cooking at once was a feast for the ears.
Howard Alden and Gene Bertoncini at Bargemusic