George Lewis, Muhal Richard Abrams, Wadada Leo Smith at Community Church of New York
If anything came out of the panel discussion marking the release of George Lewis' book (A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music, University of Chicago Press) at the Community Church of New York May 9th, it was that for more than 40 years the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians has preached the gospel of individualism. The panel, hosted by journalist Greg Tate, included Lewis, Amina Claudine Myers, Henry Threadgill, Wadada Leo Smith, Douglas Ewart, Iqua Colson and Matana Roberts and sought to define the AACM philosophy and its contributions to jazz and contemporary composition, but the proof was in the concert that followed the talk. Lewis played in a trio that included Smith and Muhal Richard Abrams (collective modesty aside, the spiritual father of the organization). It was one degree of separation from the Abrams/Lewis/Roscoe Mitchell trio that made the excellent record Streaming, although it was anything but a band with a sub sitting in. The doctrine of individualism ensures that the component parts don't dictate the whole. Abrams seemed the mentor, setting up situations in short piano bursts and then sitting back to let the horns deal. Lewis played horizontal, listening deeply and bridging Abrams and Smith, while Smith played vertical, moving above and below the other two, suggesting a duo plus one. It was the kind of matrix that requires more than shared historyit was born of communal practice.
Stephan Crump at KB Gallery
The immediate thing that's so remarkable about Stephan Crump's trio Rosetta is the distinctiveness of each of the voices. His upright bass and the hollow-body guitars of Liberty Ellman and Jamie Fox intermingle tightly within his compositions without stepping on each other. At Washington Height's KB Gallery on May 1st, they played two setsthe first comprised of music from their excellent 2006 release Rosetta and the second featuring new pieces. The compositions from the album are deceptively slippery, with themes rarely appearing until the pieces have unfolded and then defiantly rising from the 16 strings in unison, reinforcing the articulated looseness of the previous passages. The bass often serves as the whole of the rhythm section, setting syncopated lines while leaving plenty of room for the crystalline guitar parts. Crump has a varied and unusual background, having played with Dave Liebman and Bobby Previte as well as Bruce Springsteen and Jorma Kaukonen, which might explain his varied approaches in composing. The pieces from the album, he said, were about grief and impermanenceand kudzu, a fast-growing weed that runs rampant in the South. The new pieceswith stronger, more prominent melody lines and structureswere largely written for or inspired by films and family members. The group is working on a new CD; assuming some of these pieces are slated for the sophomore, they're either still breaking them in or this marks a different approach for the band.
Mark Helias Duets at Barbes
It was a "Two Bass Hit" when Mark Helias met William Parker on May 7th for a duet set at Barbès. It'd been 30 years since they'd shared a stage, so there was much catching up to do and the two titans went at it with gusto, Helias hammering, slapping and popping the strings with his open hand, tapping the wood like a bongo player, exploiting a grab-bag of extended techniques and timbral trickery, while Parker bowed long tones, feeling his way for a story to tell, eventually breaking into vocalistic glissandos, wolf whistles and his trademark double-string stretches. After the initial bombast had settled, things started to gel when Parker locked onto a six-beat swing vamp and Helias bowed melodies, coloring his sound with upper partials from the overtone series, then bouncing a tattoo on the bridge with the hard side of his bow. The final piece centered around the resonant open G-strings, climaxing in 16-note tremolos, settling at last on a mutual "perfect" fifth. The second set, another duet, again featured Helias, now with alto saxophonist Tim Berne. The reedman, less a sound contortionist than a weaver of musical spider webs, spun out densely layered lines interspersed with gargled tones, split notes and altissimo squeaking. Helias for his part answered with clustered double-stops, held pitches and incisive pizzicato plucking, even a folksy hoedown strum. After the tempo hit full gallop, the music faded finally over Helias' insistent ostinato.
Hank Jones; Gerald Clayton at Harlem Stage