Jack DeJohnette, Project/Object, William Bell and Johnny Winter
The Jack DeJohnette Group
January 6, 2010
This was the second night of a residency featuring the debut of a new fusion-orientated quintet. Drummer Jack DeJohnette is no stranger to electrification, but this lineup presented an intriguing proposition, confounding the audience in any attempt to predict exactly where the music would roam. The front line features alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa and guitarist David Fiuczynski, immediately suggesting the prospect of an aggressively modernist vanguard. On keyboards (mostly synthesized) there was George Colligan, and on electro-acoustic bass, Jerome Harris.
DeJohnette and company were balanced effectively between touches of retro that harked back to the 1970s and around 50 percent of a feel that suggested moving onward into this new decade. The presence of Fiuczynski and his two-necked guitar provided ample opportunity for global wandering, as he employed his 12-string upper frets in a search for another axis on other axes. Sometimes during the course of a single solo, he would suggest microtonal sitar flourishes with flashing slides up and down the neck. He would then invest his strings with the qualities of a mandolin or National steel guitar, reveling in a vocabulary of sound that is rarely found within the confines of a conventional jazz guitar solo.
Mahanthappa appeared uncompromising as he tore out extended ribbons of complicated melodic ascendance, playing in much the same fashion as he would if he were fronting one of his own outfits. Harris contributed to the global traveling by vocalizing in a style side-step that distilled elements of Indian Dhrupad and Tuvan Khoomei singing. The only example of failed ethnic appropriation was Colligan's somewhat cheesed-up sitar/santoor/squeeble synth-setting during the closing epic that was "Ahmad The Terrible."
DeJohnette briefly filled out the texture on melodica, but remained firmly behind the kit for the duration. His one extended solo savored the rich tonalities of his skins, well-amplified in what amounted to a Birdland show at its most speaker-stressing level. There wasn't a great deal of ensemble composing, but the copious soloing was always engagingly delivered. This group finds DeJohnette in one of his more extreme habitats, and is much spikier and more aggressive than might be initially expected.
Project/Object with Ike Willis and Ray White
B.B. King Blues Club
January 7, 2010
To deem Project/Object merely a tribute band doesn't feel appropriate. This is a combo that's been deeply pickled in the repertoire of Frank Zappa for nigh on two decades, delivering his music with dexterity while grasping the composer's slippery sense of free-form humor. The crew's guitar-playing leader André Cholmondeley is also devoted to making minor tweaks of Zappa's lyrical contentupdates in the name of topicality. In other words, they're not completely dedicated to building The Church of Frank Zappa. The man's corpus is still subject to improvisational transformation and conceptual renewal.
Perhaps most importantly, Project/Object has a reputation for heading out on the road with original Zappa sidemen. In October 2007, the musicians played a barnstorming gig at The Lion's Den in Greenwich Village (a still-jumping joint that's now more soberly known as Sullivan Hall) featuring saxophonist, singer and flutist Napoleon Murphy Brock. For this tour, they've managed to unite a pair of Zappa's staunchest allies from the 1976-1988 recording and touring period. Ike Willis and Ray White are both singers and guitarists, and both of them have arrived from a soul-blues-funk background. The pair's stunning harmonies were a big part of Zappa's signature sound on the albums that marked his greatest mainstream successSheik Yerbouti (1979, Zappa Records), Joe's Garage (1979, Zappa Records), You Are What You Is (1981, Barking Pumpkin Records) and Tinseltown Rebellion (1981, Barking Pumpkin Records), to name just a few from this period of his prodigious catalog. Willis had his first guest stint with Project/Object in 1995, and this tour with the band marks the first time he and White have hit the road together in 25 years.
The evening's set list wasn't limited to the Sheik YerGarage Thing-Fish Rebellion period, though. Project/Object is committed to all Zappa eras, and so the White/Willis duo was given the opportunity to interpret older songs from before their time in Zappa's band. Not surprisingly, the One Size Fits All (1975, Zappa Records) and Over-Nite Sensation (1973, Zappa Records) albums were given particular prominence, with sterling renditions of "Zomby Woof," "San Ber'dino," "Montana" and "I'm The Slime." Cholmondeley was featured on the highly unlikely "Evelyn, A Modified Dog," which is surely one of the least-covered Zappa songs in the book.