Bozzio, Holdsworth, Levin, Mastelotto: Amped In Amsterdam
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
April 8, 2010
Instrumental mastery was the only rhythmic constant for an experimental exercise that paid off in uncharted realms.
Drummers Terry Bozzioand Pat Mastelotto, along with guitarist Allan Holdsworth and bassist Tony Levin, looked pretty much like any talented jazz quartet despite having drawn some heat during their formative appearances.
Regardless of structure or the purposeful lack thereof in a musical endeavor, the product is sound. Whatever the concert format, one thing to be considered is interaction between performers and how that is received by an audience, especially if there is an admission charge. Judging from the very positive reaction, many people enjoyed what they heard.
Maybe the set has become more conservative after recent shows by "BoHoLeMa" got reactions that caused Holdsworth to post what sounded like a disclaimer on his website, where he listed that some folks expressed wishes for his unpleasant demise. Even the jazz world has to deal with cyberbully BS. Advertising cautiously cited "no composed or arranged pieces," billing the band as a "spontaneous improv group."
Barring puns about "spontaneous improv," there was certainly nothing for anyone to get upset about during tonight's concert. Both high energy halves of an approximately 90-minute show developed along similar lines as many progressive jazz jams.
Bozzio opened softly on a gong before Holdsworth cooly entered the emerging cymbal soundscape, roaming up and down the frets like a searchlight for the quartet to consider. Levin's sleek, streamlined bass echoed like a sonic sitar. As the introductory passage repeated it became immediately apparent that there would be cohesion not chaos, even amidst the buzzed-up Paradiso ambiance.
And so they rocked. In one early movement Levin pounded out a multi-level solo that got so low the blossoming throbs outweighed the initial notes, while the drummers snapped back and forth breaks somewhere between 3/4 and 4/4 time warps. Some of Holdsworth's drifting, space-slide solos were far closer to prime classic rock than to any sort of jazz guitar sacrilege.
One moment offered a glimpse into Holdsworth's mindset about not letting the spotlight interfere with his musical vision. He impatiently signaled for the main light that was on him to be cut, since it seemed to obscure his view of an effects rigging. For most of the show he stood in the relative background at the side of the stage, his silhouette illuminated by the yellow glow of balcony lights. Still, he made his presence heard and felt.
Bozzio tinkered tastefully with shells and bells and for the most part left around fifteen percent of his huge assembled drum pedestal unbanged. Mastelotto used some spacey special effects that added well to the mix as he played wingman for Bozzio. Levin maintained an impressive bottom line on bass and Chapman Stick.
This was the third night of a European tour after a few appearances in the States and Japan, and the group showed a strong sense of each other. At one point it looked like Holdsworth was inspired to jump in and lead but noticed Levin reaching for the reins so Holdsworth held off, which allowed the drummers to build a fine climax.
Bits of the second half were more repetitive, but still solid, and the audience was more tuned in after intermission except for one loud zombie who appeared to have consumed too much local flavor. He was quickly hushed by the assembly, then an alt-babe with eyes of fire gestured to the second level and said "There are a lot of us here tonight." The crowd knew what she meant.
Holdsworth began the second half with his thumb on the low strings before picking into his longest solo of the night. Levin stayed on the more normal bass with a bow during the final suite segments, while Holdsworth used more delay touches. Bozzio and Mastelotto kept time like the military band on a space station. Everyone's closing runs were very tight and the assembled swarm let them know it was appreciated.
Bozzio took the lion's share of "leads" overall and played host. If you put that many skins on a stage you better be ready to back up the kit. Bozzio fronted around a half dozen bass drums, eight visible snares, just a conservative few toms, a dozen gongs, and thirty or so cymbals, some molded into self-designed high hat mutants. Mastelotto had a kit that might qualify as not too extreme if you were in Rush or Tool.
"We call it spontaneous composition," said Bozzio as he explained the format to the crowd. "Anyhow, we have no idea what we're doing. We're trying to give you a one time only, never to be duplicated, musical event."
If that it was, it was a fine one. There were sincere, unrequited pleas for more. "We have a curfew," lamented Bozzio, "We'd love to play an encore but we're prohibited by law." As the lights came on, the crowd whistled in the affirmative anyway.
Though its hard to imagine that at least a few extended foundational beats or guitar fills didn't float along familiarly played planes, the music still seemed wide open and brand new. Beside the skill of the players and their commonly weird starting points, the indication was that of endless possibility.