Booker T. Jones, Abdullah Ibrahim, Neil Cowley, Nils Petter Molvaer, Arve Henriksen & Dave Douglas
Most of the numbers start out bounding, snapping through changes that could earn them the classification of prog jazz. Cowley's banging with virtuosity, having a systems music approach to tune-development. Along with bassist Richard Sadler and drummer Evan Jenkins, he's obsessed with the art of surprising pauses, jerked swerves and coordinated stabbings. Jenkins might pound away in thrash metal mode, but he can also scuttle around his kit making tiny cymbal or hi-hat embellishments, all in the midst of a rock-out race. Cowley often likes to construct a crashing wall of sound, a melodic waterfall that's outwardly hard, but with small, emotive chinks visible under close inspection. Observing the trio's energy-rush is a rather exhausting activity, but it feels very satisfying afterwards.
Nils Petter Molvaer/Arve Henriksen
(le) Poisson Rouge
June 16, 2009
A double-bill of Norwegian trumpeters, though sadly the initial perception that these two generations of bandleader would be performing together, was soon proved incorrect. That would have been an enticing prospect, given that both are spiritually descended from the granular disembodiment techniques employed by Jon Hassell. This fact becomes much clearer when spending a single evening witnessing Arve Henriksen and Nils Petter Molvaer, in speedy succession. First, Henriksen plays with sampleman Jan Bang, his horn channelled through a morass of laptop and effects extensions, all with the glorious aim of making trumpet sound like human voice, and human voice made trumpetesque. Henriksen sings high, pure notes into his mouthpiece, harmonizing with naked metal and internalized software alike. He also takes his horn out of his mouth, leaning forward to sing into the same microphone, issuing prayer-like invocations that have no horizon. Meanwhile, Bang potters away, snatching traces of Henriksen's output (or so it seems) and manipulating phrases into repeats, or even slow beats. The orientation of their music is very much environmental, and once again the club's avant-garde approach to lighting impresses with its extremity. The whole space is plunged into a nearly complete darkness, all the better to catch the crowd in the duo's spell.
Of course, this is only one particular aspect of Henriksen's repertoire. Another night, and he might sound more like a jazz trumpeter. It's the same with his countryman Nils Petter Molvaer. As if the two trumpeters had made a pact, he too chooses to play most of his set at an abstract level of ritual development. He too invokes the Jon Hassell texturing sound, although initially Molvaer is at the mercy of a fluctuating microphone/effects interface. He has an excitingly stripped down trio featuring two of Norway's key players: guitarist Eivind Aarset and drummer Audun Kleive. Soon, they can't resist the temptation to climax the gig with some more muscular interaction, eventually rising up to an aggressive assault of noise-interference. This is a wise move, following the steady thoughtfulness of the evening's music, allowing the audience a sense of release, without dispersing the carefully amassed vibrations with too much abruptness.
Dave Douglas & Brass Ecstasy
June 18, 2009
It's easy to lose count of the various bands operated by trumpeter Dave Douglas. He likes to maintain a huge variety of playing situations, and Brass Ecstasy allows just what its name promises: a complete tubular blowing orgy, with the exception of a sticksman, Nasheet Waits, to harry the street parade up onto the stage. It's the opening night of a four-day run, and over the course of two sets, Douglas manages to play almost all the contents of his new Spirit Moves album, only leaving out its Hank Williams cover. The trumpeter freely confesses that he's been inspired by Lester Bowie's Brass Fantasy, and two of his bandmates, Luis Bonilla (trombone) and Vincent Chancey (French horn), were actually members of that very ensemble. The remaining horner is Marcus Rojas, blubbering away on tuba. Each of the Douglas compositions is allowed to extend and, substantial though the disc's charms are, it's not surprising that the live experience hoists them up onto the next step towards fulfillment of the band's hedonistic objective. The arrangements are now allowing increased breathing space between the horns, a looseness that is still reasonably controlled, but now treading on the perimeter of uninhibited release.