Guelph Jazz Festival & Colloquium 2009
Where Léandre's presence is too enormous to miss, Crispell's unassuming approach to the piano makes her easy to take for granted; she's a wonderful player with a talent for complementing whoever she plays with. In Ottawa-based bassist John Geggie's trio, she held to a firmer, more structured rigidity than with the Stones, fitting the leader's frameworks. It was, oddly enough, in an arrangement of a Gregorian chant that the trio seemed most open and relaxed.
And with her playing getting, occasionally, heavier again, and saxophonist Fred Anderson's playing, sometimes, getting a little softer and sweeter, it was anybody's guess where their trio with Hamid Drake might go. They went from the sacred to the profound with a sometimes knotty beauty, making for one of the week's most memorable sets. Anderson positioned himself next to the piano, confident, it seemed, that his drummer would be there for him. Drake listened for long stretches and set light cymbal rings over what felt like mesas made of water. Crispell was particularly remarkable, on a placidly-even keel yet finding ways to use repetition, dynamic, space and time, stillness and motion which worked beautifully for Anderson. Meanwhile, Anderson was forever looking for phrases, running through notes until he found a run that worked, repeated it once, maybe twice, and started looking for another one. Slowed down, his searching became tactile.
There are a couple of givens in considering the World Saxophone Quartet: a rhythm section has never improved them and they've been unstable for a long time anyway. So while the WSQ brand is theirs to sell as they choose, they probably set the bar too high on themselves by continuing to employ it. The same music under a new name would likely meet with less resistance. Oliver Lake not being able to make it to Guelph hurt them, and the rhythm section was different from that on the CD Experience (Justin Time Records, 2008).
With James Carter and Tony Kofi on horns, Jamaaladeen Tacuma on electric bass and Lee Pearson behind the drums, it was a hugely different group than the original quartet, evennotablyquite different from their 1988 disc Rhythm & Blues (Nonesuch). At the same time, they were a strong band in a new kind of jazz/R&B fold, and they probably pleased the crowd by not trying too hard to.
While the record includes such well-known Hendrix hits as "If 6 Was 9," "Foxey Lady" and "The Wind Cries Mary," they stuck to more obscure arrangements of lesser known (or at least less recognizable) songs, playing long versions of "Hey Joe" and "Machine Gun" and encoring with "Little Wing," a beautiful, complex song given a wonderful lead by Bluiett on B-flat clarinet.
With the exception of a closing party, Murray and Graves played the closing set in what was a small triumph for Artistic Director Ajay Heble. The two have only played together once since their 1992 duo record, in a brief quartet set at a memorial for Don Pullen. And their record was called The Real Deal (DIW, 1991) for a reason. Few sax/drum duos manage the combination of energy and melody that they do. Murray has a way of finding brief melodies in the midst of hard note clusters, but here, especially on bass clarinet (which he didn't break out for the WSQ), he stretched out, creating long cadenzas within the spontaneity.
The two didn't rehearse before the show, but they didn't play pure improv either. They picked up themes from their record of 17 years ago and played a surprising Albert Ayler deconstruction in staggered phrases and tight intervals. It was a remarkable set, ramping up to the end, which only means they have to do it again.
And if music can, perhaps, bring social change, it might represent electoral politics as well: Murray met with enthusiastic applause introducing his "Yes We Can," dedicated to President Barack Obama.