There are differing strategies for drummers to take when fronting a band. The one which Amir Ziv opts for is to place a huge kit smack in the middle and play loud and fast. At least, that was his approach on Sep. 13th at Abrons Arts Center. Ziv is a good enough drummer to carry off center stage to be sure and with Cyro Baptista on percussion, the rhythm rigs filled most of the floor and most of the sound field during Ziv's CD release show for KOTKOT's Alive at Tonic (AWDR LR2). Stage right housed Shahzad Ismaily on electric bass and Adam Holzmann on what Ziv termed "sub-bass keyboards," ensuring that the low end of the register was well-filled too. That left a small bit of space for
guitarist Marc Ribot. There was so much groove, so much heaviness, so many sounds per cubic inch that Ribot was forced into a tightly metered zone, an unusual but not unheard of position for him and one to which he responds with more fusion and less of his fractured R&B.
After a dense half hour, a softer space opened up in the sonic arena, primarily giving space to Baptista to work his treated vocals and a wide variety of handheld percussion. A final piece was introduced by Ribot with a strong bit of heavy metal riffage to which Ismaily (Ribot's band mate in Ceramic Dog) quickly responded. It was only when they reached the Deep Purple doublespeed that the band's excesses began to make sense.
RUCMA Garden Series
In the final days of summer and in the midst of the Howl Festival, the RUCMA (the Rise Up Creative Music & Arts coalition that sprung from the Vision Festival's core after the closing of Tonic) staged two days of performances in 10 community gardens across Manhattan and Brooklyn. It was an ambitious
undertaking that went off with a few hitches in the form of last-minute schedule changes, but such
complaints are minor in the face of free concerts in some of New York's nicest hidden corners. On Sep. 7th, Vision chairwoman Patricia Nicholson-Parker upped the ante, flying from the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn up to Manhattan's Hell's Kitchen and ending up in the Lower East Side, dancing at each of the day's four locales. The racecourse ended at the 6BC Botanical Garden, where she performed with
saxophonist Rob Brown, chanting "We are dream hunters / We've got to find them while they're fresh and pick them" as she glided across the sculpted lot. Brown's lilting alto stretched behind her, as if it were at once energized on a hot afternoon. The day opened with Jason Kao Hwang leading a children's workshop, encouraging different approaches to improvisation on the slide whistles he passed out. After instructing them to mimic animals, the wind or each other, he put those lessons to work with Todd Nicholson (bass) and Zen Matsuura (drums). They started with Coltrane's "Mr. P.C." but found their place in the sun with Hwang's exploratory tune "Grassy Hills".
John Zorn/Milford Graves/Marc Ribot/Lou Reed
A gig originally slated to join altoist John Zorn, bassist Bill Laswell and drummer Milford Graves at Le Poisson Rouge Sep. 4th turned into something else entirely when Laswell had to cancel at the last minute. Downtown fans were neither deterred nor ultimately disappointed when guitarist Marc Ribot sat in as third leg of the musical tripod. Appearing in his trademark yellow camouflage fatigues and dangling tzitzit
tassels, Zorn shifted instantly into high gear with a shrill wail, leading off an energetic set of four
contrasting soundscapes. Ribot's distorted timbres meshed well with Zorn's overdriven altissimo,
interlocking seamlessly over Graves' propulsive
percussion. Graves later broke into a shuffling Juba dance, accompanying himself with idiosyncratic song-chant and one-handed hamboning, egged on by Ribot's edgy interjections. After a break, the trio returned with a surprise guest, proto-punk rocker Lou Reed (who'd gigged with Zorn at Poisson just two days previously). Packed with an arsenal of Pete Cornish custom effects processors, Reed's sound matched Ribot's mad scientist's laboratory of
tone-bending electronica. Using open-string drones and rock progressions, the guitarists erected walls of glass-shattering sound, walls that Zorn promptly painted with screeching scrawls of sonic graffiti. Even the forceful Graves was briefly drowned out amidst the cacophonics. Overall, it worked - skronk-rock-punk-jazz-to-the-nth.
Guitarist John Abercrombie, a progressive influence on jazz guitar for over 35 years, is playing better than ever these days, as was evident at a recent Birdland set (Sep. 3rd) with his quartet featuring Mark Feldman (violin), Marc Johnson (acoustic bass) and Joey Baron (drums). This particular combination, veterans of three CDs together, have developed an acutely
empathetic rapport, resulting in collective musical journeys that seem to unfold before the audience's very ears.
Opening with "Dancir," Abercrombie's moody arpeggios were quickly engaged by Feldman's chirpy sound effects and unusual melodies, underpinned by Johnson's restless bass and Baron's witty extroverted drumming. Favoring innuendo over declarative
statements, Abercrombie's smooth hypnotic style remained politely lyrical, even at its chromatic extremes, while Baron proved a dynamic and
imaginative collaborator, employing a variety of tones and textures over his kit, the density of his ideas never overshadowing the musical moment. The group hit an early peak at the end of Feldman's solo on "Spring Song," negotiated a series of spontaneous mood swings during "Wishing Well" and showed a
collective sense of humor and playfulness over "Vignt Six". The closer, a harmonically complex bop opus, boasted strong solos from guitar and violin, followed by freeform exploratory duets from guitar and drums, then violin and bass.
There is world music and then there is music of the world. The former is often treacly and colonial; the
latter, as exemplified by drummer Harris Eisenstadt's Guewel project, is sincere and probing. Eisenstadt, celebrating the group's titular release on Clean Feed at the Douglass Street Music Collective Sep. 7th, didn't learn about African rhythms from field recordings or youtube clips. Time spent in Senegal gave him a
thorough and respectful understanding of that
country's musical history. Perhaps an entire album given over to either traditional drum patterns or pop music would be cloying over time. But Eisenstadt, in a masterful stroke of anthropological arranging,
combined the two in medley or, more accurately, sandwich fashion, the tribal rhythms giving way, often through free jazz squalls, to catchy danceable melodies and back again. If there were an antecedent, it would be Chris McGregor's Brotherhood of Breath, though obviously rooted in a much different culture. But like that group, Eisenstadt's quintet was also horn heavy but in an unusual textural setup: Nate Wooley
(trumpet) and Taylor Ho Bynum (cornet) were the female voices of the village while Josh Sinton (baritone sax) and Mark Taylor (French horn) were their
partners. The CD was presented in order and played almost exactly to its track lengths yet still managed to sound spontaneous and celebratory, particularly in the transitions to and from the pop material, taken from the '70s to today.
On the afternoon of Sep. 10th, as dog days of summer gave way to the crisper days of some other animal and Fashion Week descended upon midtown's Bryant Park, Junior Mance sat at a vaudevillian-style painted piano near the northwest entrance, under the stern gaze of the statue of noted abolitionist and
businessman William Earle Dodge. Officeworkers on their lunch breaks rubbed elbows with fasting models, blithely unaware of a legend in their midst. Why was Mance there, trinkle-tinkling on the keys? Amazingly enough, to provide incidental music for the Word for Word series at the Bryant Park Reading Room, an
outdoor extension of the New York Public Library on the far side of the park. The theme of the day was The Harlem Renaissance, the multi-decade movement that established Harlem as a cultural center and the African-American as an artist, writer and thinker for the rest of the country. Mance, having begun his career in the late '40s, was not a direct participant in the movement, but was certainly a beneficiary. Three actors read poetry by early Harlem luminaries
Wallace Thurman, Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston in a performance piece as Mance offered
occasional period music behind them. Perhaps Mance could - and what better pianist could one choose - have played more but the little he did in conjunction with the verses made quite clear the rhythmic synergy that makes jazz sound like poetry and poetry of the era sound like jazz.
Christian/McBride/Nicholas Payton/Mark Whitfield
Before the repeal of New York's reactionary cabaret law, drummerless trios were common on the city's live jazz scene. By the '90s such configurations had become somewhat rare, so in 1997 when bassist Christian McBride, trumpeter Nicholas Payton and guitarist Mark Whitfield united to record Fingerpainting (Verve), an album of Herbie Hancock songs, the grouping was seen as an anomaly. Assembled by the musicians' mutual record label, the unit never toured and so the appearance of the threesome at the Jazz Standard (Sep. 3rd) was more a reassemblage than a reunion. Each of the players, highly-touted young lions at the time of the original recording, has matured markedly in the decade since - more than living up to the early promise they demonstrated individually - and so their live performance, not surprisingly,
surpassed that of the record in many ways. Unhampered by the time constraints of a strict
program and the sterility of a studio the three players stretched out uninhibitedly, playing off each other's ideas. McBride and Whitfield shared equally in the job of accompaniment and rhythmic propulsion with Payton occasionally joining forces with either one,
riffing softly in the background behind the other's solos. Beginning with bluesy readings of "Driftin," the set's one Hancock piece, and Duke Pearson's "Is That So," they then revealed their true originality on freewheeling versions of Payton's "Backwards Steps" and Whitfield's "The Marksman".
Bands featuring two drummers are a real rarity in jazz (the combination more popular in rock bands like The Grateful Dead and The Allman Brothers), but the alliance of Eric McPherson and Nasheet Waits proved that the pairing of percussionists in a single jazz band is indeed a concept whose 'time' has come. Joined by saxophonist Abraham Burton, the exciting cooperative trio calling themselves Aethereal Bace played
rhythmically bracing original music at the new village venue Le Poisson Rouge (Sep. 3rd). The group opened with Waits' "Kush," with the composer introducing the piece with a spacious airy cymbal prelude. McPherson joined in shortly, increasing the dynamic tension as he played mallets on snare and toms,
beginning a genuine dialogue of the drums that
persisted throughout the evening. By the time the powerful Burton joined the two, they were playing together with a dizzying unity that called to mind a two-headed octopus, with its eight independently
operating limbs controlled by two completely
connected minds. For McPherson's "Future" the trio was joined by Trevor Todd on didgeridoo, his
droning/growling accompaniment complementing Burton's Middle Eastern-tinged sax as McPherson and Waits danced around their kits on reed brushes and sticks, respectively, occasionally abandoning their drums to play various bells. Burton's "A Punta Lullaby" closed the set with the drummers swinging AfroCuban rhythms over the boppish melody.
Recommended New Listening:
* Bill Cole's Untempered EnsembleProverbs for Sam (Boxholder)
* Lisle EllisSucker Punch Requiem: An Homage to Jean-Michel Basquiat (Henceforth)
* Lee Konitz and MinsarahDeep Lee (Enja)
* Rudresh MahanthappaKinsmen (Pi)
* Michael Moore/Fred HerschThis We Know (Palmetto)
* Adam NiewoodEpic Journey, Vols. I & II (Innova)
David Adler NY@Night Columnist, AllAboutJazz.com
* Conny BauerDer Gelbe Klang (Jazzwerkstatt)
* Anthony Braxton/Milford Graves/William ParkerBeyond Quantum (Tzadik)
* Lafayette GilchristSoul Progressin' (Hyena)
* Donny McCaslinRecommended Tools (Green Leaf Music)
* Lucea PulidoLuna Menguante (Waning Moon) (Adventure Music)
* Bebo Valdes/Javier ColinaLive at the Village Vanguard (Calle 54-Norte)
Laurence Donohue-Greene Managing Editor, AllAboutJazz-New York
* Renaud Garcia-Fons TrioArcoluz (Enja-Justin Time)
* Vyacheslav Guyvoronsky/Andrey Kondakov/Vladimir VolkovChristmas Concert (Leo)
* Stephen Haynes and Taylor Ho BynumDouble Trio (Engine)
* London Improvisers OrchestraImprovisations for George Riste (psi)
* Puttin' On The RitzBangin' Your Way Into The Future (Hot Cup)
* Trio ViriditasLive at Vision Festival VI (Clean Feed)
Andrey Henkin Editorial Director, AllAboutJazz-New York