John Zorn, Cindy Blackman, Dhafer Youssef, Jon Hassell, The Necks, Kenny Werner
Here, the Tunisian oud player and singer Dhafer Youssef is leading a quartet that's situated further towards the centre of jazz, when compared with past outfits. He has Scott Colley on bass, Satoshi Takeishi at the drums and Tigran Hamasyan playing piano. This make-up also continues the always- international scope of Youssef's music, with these last two hailing from Japan and Armenia respectively. His pieces could be described as archetypally spiritual, capitalizing on the prayer-call qualities of his vaulting vocal style. Having never witnessed Youssef in action before, it's a revelation to see that when his voice moves up a notch, to its purest high-calling state, he actually presses a digit against the side of his nose, to alter his entire internal valve-system. Either this, or it's a secret signal to the sound engineer, to switch on the magical Dhafer special effect..! This is a transcendent vocal pitch unheard anywhere else, a trademarked Youssef technique which evokes an agelessly abstract quality that can't help but transport the audience up to a new plateau of thought. His oud picking has a translucent quality that helps him on this pathway to heightened concentration. Perhaps the ultimate result of such a floating approach, over a single long set, is to court instances of lost attention amongst the crowd, but the overall rewards are worth the efforts of extended meditation.
February 10, 2009
This is the Memphis-born trumpeter Jon Hassell's first gig in New York for around two decades, and he doesn't even play around Europe with any particular frequency. The band is called Maarifa Street, named after his 2005 album, and formed in that very year. Aside from Hassell's own contribution, it's often difficult to discern who's playing what, with this line-up of electronicist sample-weavers. The Norwegian Jan Bang arrives from DJ environs, while laptopper Dino Deane gives the appearance of a sound-trapper who's evolved from academic quarters. Even the role of bassman Peter Freeman is not so clarified. There are many instances of the glugging low-presence that's become a Hassell trademark, and most often these indigestions are a visible product of Freeman's fingering, but at other times it's apparent that Bang is contributing the bass-flood globules. Even violinist Kheir-Eddine M'Kachiche seems to have some of his phrases captured by the samplists, for making into a disembodied cloud. It's also a joy to witness Hassell absently caressing his keyboard in-between making trumpet issuances, creating an opalescent cascade that is, once again, a trademark. But there is no quality more individual than the sound of the leader's trumpet, a frosted, speckled, dusted, flecked, granular, spumed, sandstormed (how can it be captured within the realm of words?) emission that seems untethered by the physical reality of its player's actual lips. It's a sound that sums up the essence of the Middle Eastern and North African lands (or some further archetypally exotic zone beyond both of these), but isn't specifically attempting to impersonate another pre-existing instrument. Trumpet statements are made like verbalized sentences, whilst the treacled slowness of a liquid groove plods beautifully ever onwards.
Ideally, Hassell's music might be experienced at a wood-glade festival or in an art gallery where audience perambulation is encouraged. After so many years of soaking up his sonics in an armchair situation, the formality of a concert is almost a distraction from the inward-gazing calm that's needed to appreciate his Fourth World meditations. Nevertheless, to make a live Hassell sighting after all these years is a rare privilege. The admirer doubtless wants to make the occasion so mystical that it can't possibly convey all of the potential contained within the imagination.
(le) Poisson Rouge
February 10, 2009
Then, later that same evening, the pellucid improvisation continues its linear current. With Hassell, the spontaneous contributions are part of a pre-composed structure, but with The Necks all is constructed via real-time instinct. This Australian trio has been adopting this approach since 1987, but each time it's ritualizing onstage, the threesome never fails to make music an unfamiliar, inquiring adventure. There seem to be only a pair of "rules." One is that each improvisation will usually last a long time, at least an hour or maybe more. The other is that each performance will mostly feature some kind of ongoing, or mildly repetitive "groove." Therefore, they step sideways from most of the familiar improvising tendencies from both the jazz and rock worlds. The Necks have an ability to make their output important, to invest their lines, riffs and pulses with a sense of crucial impetus. They never sound like they're going to lose their way, yet their path always sneaks up as a surprise.