Joseph Jarman, Bob Wilber, Charles McPherson & Vinny Golia
In the search for ever-more unusual venues, I journeyed to the Belarusan Church on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn, the current home of Connection Works. This is an artist-operated, non-profit organization that divides its resources between gigs and workshop activities, featuring established players as well as less-familiar names. Their chief focus is local, hence the subtitle, Brooklyn Jazz Wide Open. The Connection Works advisory board includes Dave Liebman, Joe Lovano and Woody Allen.
Was a surprisingly sparse attendance due to the semi-obscure nature of the venue, or the dawning-of-spring sunshine that dazzled just outside the open doors of this afternoon gig? An appearance by the old Art Ensemble Of Chicago reedsman Joseph Jarman is quite a rare event in NYC, but no members of the usual downtown crew were making a cross-borough journey.
Jarman was joining the local Works trio, comprising Rob Garcia (drums), Daniel Kelly (piano) and Michel Gentile (flute). Considering the guest's immense stature in the history of jazz, the meeting had an air of equality, with the repertoire coming from the Art Ensemble as well as the members of Works itself. Jarman and company applied themselves to these pieces as if they were a newly formed band, emphasizing the relaxed, inviting nature of this gig.
Jarman intoned some Bob Dylan lines, removed from their old context and sounding like something else entirely. The ritualistic ambiance prevailed through "Hail, We Now Sing Joy" and Jarman's own "Lifetime Visions (For The Magnificent Human)," then into the Works pieces, including "A Debt Of Gratitude," which was penned by Gentile only days earlier.
Jarman switched between alto and soprano saxophones, rattling bamboo percussion in-between. His tone remains ruggedly powerful, merging complexity with sore-ear abrasiveness. The music was divided between exultant themes and ceremonial abstraction, and there were several profound moments that rose above the general excellence. Kelly exploded into a suddenly desperate piano solo, abusing the upright's keys with a theatrical force, having the effect of whipping the other three players into a sympathetic agitation. Then, in the midst of a beautifully transparent flute solo during Garcia's closing "Thank You," as the music approached near-silence, Jarman placed both horns in his mouth and mischievously erupted in a jarringly discordant fanfare, which ended up closing out an all-too-brief set.
Peter Apfelbaum had already opened up the afternoon with an informal and insightful recollection of his formative experiences, being heavily influenced by the Art Ensemble and their Chicagoan extended family. To follow Jarman and the Works trio, he brought together the smaller quintet version of his New York Hieroglyphics group. This provided a contrasting though sympathetic alternative to the preceding set.
While Apfelbaum's compositions are globally aware, their tendency is to channel their rousing, spiritual qualities through grooves rather than abstraction or free-form expression. Instead, the Hieroglyphics are a tightly-wound unit that bounces from pan-African themes to reggae lopes, from heated funk to old-style big band impersonations (the multi-instrumental capacities of Apfelbaum and Peck Allmond widen an already far-reaching scope).
Once again, there was a ringing, thundering quality to the church's upright piano that offered a particularly pushy sound that wouldn't exist on a concert grand. Apfelbaum colored his themes on the keys and would stand up to blow gritty tenor saxophone solos. Allmond was switching from trumpet to saxophone and then electrified thumb piano. Dave Phelps was spidering choppy funk licks on guitar, while Patrice Blanchard made lightly dotted tar dollops on bass. Underneath (or over the top) of all this was Dafnis Prieto, one of the hottest new-ish drummers on the scene. He's a poly-rhythmic wizard, but this doesn't impede his naturally earthy qualities. He's a technical time-signature contortionist master, but he's also aiming to get your body on to the church dancefloor.
Jarman and Apfelbaum are connected in attitude, but their music ended up being joyfully different, as the two bands created completely separate moods, both exceptional in their individual manners.
Bob Wilber & David Ostwald's Gully Low Jazz Band