Le Poisson Rouge
New York City August 4, 2009
The chameleon-like but ever electric Nels Cline seemed at first to be an unusual partner for violinist Jenny Scheinman, but if anything the guitarist knows how to make things work and he pushed the quartet (with bassist Matt Penman and drummer Jim Black) even higher in a set that lasted well over an hour at Le Poisson Rouge Aug. 4th. They spent much of the first part of the set trading spartan, lilting melodies, Cline contributing ethereal, elegant backing, the band unhurried and seeming happy to support Scheinman's long phrases, punctuated occasionally by surprising bowed vibratos (one of the strongest tricks she has up her sleeve). She writes long lines with fast backbeats, creating a tension that must be resolved in the solos. The compositions were open enough to allow Cline the changeling room to move, to fit bits of noise, quick loops and subtle attacks into the mix. And if Cline's stock-in-trade is the various linguistics of the electric guitar, Scheinman's is the vocabularies of the acoustic violin, from lyrical lines to moments of soft swing, bursts of gypsy song and momentary hoedown. She and Cline are both adept at smooth yet sudden about-faces but the pacesetter was Black, who seems able to shift mood without changing tack, dialing up the energy without pushing tempo. By midpoint they'd built enough tension between vigor and restraint to allow them to erupt into an unexpected near-surf tune, which carried them through to a surprisingly rocky close.
New York City
August 2, 2009
Ingrid Laubrock's trio, playing at The Stone Aug. 2nd, seemed to use the stacks of scores on their music stands more as symbols than charts; while they didn't often turn the pages, they played a lot of music and did so with a level of determinism that was hard to gauge. Long lines seemed to circle through Laubrock's saxophone, Kris Davis' piano and Tyshawn Sorey's drums, almost as if they were playing a round during the opening of their first long piece. There was an appealingly odd sense that the players were following each other, either repeating or completing lines four bars later. It spoke to the band's telepathy (all contribute compositions), but also, when they built to short, off-center stops, suggested strong compositional sensibilities. The staggered statements made the moments of closer playing seem not just serendipitous (although surely they weren't), but nearly impossible, as if they had to bend time to get to the same place. They moved throughout the set between measured and open passages, blurring the lines between the two yet always remaining clean. There was something tidy, deliberate, about the music. Laubrock at times played forcefully but her tone was always pure, rarely descending into the tenor's growls and groans. Davis was at times loud, but was always chordal and melodic. Sorey played fast, but rarely heavily. It was a taut set, as if they'd agreed to avoid the easy way to make a fire and instead rubbed sticks telekinetically.
New York City
August 14, 2009
Brad Mehldau joined Smoke regulars Eric Alexander, Peter Washington and Joe Farnsworth for a weekend of untailored blowing. More known for leading trios, the quartet setting gave Mehldau fans a chance to see him in action with Alexander's robust tenor to the fore and Farnsworth's extroverted percussion aft. Friday's (Aug. 14th) late set opened with "The Night Has 1000 Eyes," performed in typical Latin/Swing/Latin format, with long solos all around: Alexander hard boppish and dense, Mehldau lighter, leavening his lines with pixels of space, and Farnsworth working out ideas on hi and low toms. "Blue Monk" followed, the tenor gruff, Stanley Turrentine-ish, while Mehldau sounded as if he was channeling Monk's muse, working fragments of the melody, developing each phrase with disciplined but quirky 'logic.' Alexander gave a sensitive, soft-edged reading of the ballad "Estate," followed by Mehldau's most intimate statement of the evening, again starting with a melodic shard, floating it, swelling emphatically and gently landing, all within a short stretch of keyboard and a shorter stretch of time. Following an interactive closing vamp, the combo kicked into an up-tempo "Love for Sale," played in 6/8 meter over the A sections to give it a novel twist. Alexander pulled off a bravura unaccompanied solo, hammering down his lines, then Mehldau, scrambling agilely with Farnsworth hot on his heels, segueing at last into Gillespie's "Ow!" for a chaser.
School for Improvised Music Faculty Concert
New York City
August 5, 2009