Fay Victor At The Local 269 in New York
The Local 269
New York, NY
September 6, 2010
New York jazz and avant-garde/free vocalist Fay Victor performed two sets with a new jazz ensemble at The Local 269 on September 6, 2010. The Local 269 is a jazz and rock club/bar on East Houston Street, on New York's Lower East Side. It has been open for a year or so and has hosted a stream of progressive music.
The Local 269 also has another noteworthy aspect: it is about three blocks from John Zorn's venue The Stone. As a result, this part of East Houston Street is now known for more than just being the location of Katz's restaurant (of "When Harry Met Sally" fame), or of indie rock's the Mercury Lounge.
The venue usually schedules three or four artists or bands each night, and so on this evening Victor performed between the first group, a jazz ensemble that which featured gifted Boston bassist Larry Roland and saxophonist Sabir Mateen, and two later groups.
Victor has led her band the Fay Victor Ensemble for five years. That group is, in addition to Victor, Anders Nilsson electric guitar, Ken Filiano bass, and Michael "TA" Thompson drumsmost of her recordings have featured electric guitar. This night however was purely acoustic (apart from occasional electric bass).
Victor was born of Trinidadian parents in New York and began her career there. However, changing the creative backdrop, the singer moved to Holland in 1995. She began recording, and her first two albums showed an interesting and compelling voice. Her album Darker Than Blue (Timeless Records, 2001) included Vijay Iyer at the piano, in addition to the usual guitar and percussion backing. But something dramatic must have happened after 2001, as her album from 2003, a live yet thematically-linked album entitled Lucky Old Sun Live/Life In The Lowlands (Greene Avenue Music, 2004) saw her performing a kind of gritty avant-garde rock vocal as if it were sung by a modern Billie Holiday. The album was with her Dutch band, shortly before her return to New York (also in 2003).
Since then, her Fay Victor Ensemble (formed in 2005) has released two albums. Victor's most recent album is however a duo with the guitarist from the Ensemble, Nilsson. She is clearly always exploring new areas, and even her album titles, like Cartwheels Through The Cosmos (Greene Avenue Music, 2007), hint that there may be no limit to where she would like to go.
At The Local 269, Victor was appearing in a different setting. The band a trumpet and sax-led group of major avant-garde jazz players. The music was to focus on Victor's Trinidadian heritage, as the performance was her recital and singing of poetry by Trinidadian poet singers (calypsonians), while her musicians exponentiated alongside her. A calm, Equatorial picture was painted of beaches, fried salty fish and, in general, a relaxed Caribbean lifestyle that can be difficult to recreate in New York's urban morass.
The band, with whom she had not played before, was typified by the famous bassist William Parker. Parker stood or sat, depending on whether he was playing electric or upright bass, at the back to Victor's right (viewed from the audience), and his pounding and dominant bass was ever present. He provided a constant thread of sound beneath the Victor's vocalising. Much of the words were spoken, and so the bass was a powerful partner for the meaning of these words.
Parker was dressed in a multi-colored outfit that added further luminosity to the event. His garb reflected his multi-faceted playinghe has performed with many free improv combinations, and is perhaps the Christian McBride of the avant-garde, or, more accurately, the modern Mingus.
The other musicians were leading tenor and soprano saxophonist Daniel Carter, the fluid sometimes free trumpeter Roy Campbell and the impossible to ignore drummer, Charles Downs. They were the environment for Victor's words, the flowing world that the calypsonians were inhabiting. This group is collectively known as Other Dimensions In Music, and was scheduled to record the same music in the studio two days after the gig.
The set comprised four pieces, all calypsos. Calypsos are musical versions of stories and the tradition has its origins in the griots of West Africa. The first two pieces, "Mary Ann" (by calypsonian Roaring Lion) and "Nora" (by one of the greatest calypsonians, Lord Kitchener), saw Victor employing experimental vocalizing.
On "Nora" at one point, she hit different pitches as she emoted words by expressive gasps. Campbell played notes around her, until all the musicians joined in in a frenzy of sound. Carter played a flurry of fast notes, and then Campbell echoed this with a chromatic rush. Victor raised the tension with a controlled kind of screaming as Carter changed to flute. Drummer Downs brought the piece to a close by metallic sounds as Campbell rattled a pair of percussive hand instruments. It is easy to draw a straight line from African music and performance to this music.
The album to come from the music should be very depictive, as complete scene changes were smoothly achieved by changes in instrument, or by simply employing a new figure and mood.
The third piece, a traditional folk song called "The Night Of The Wake," saw Campbell playing soft muted trumpet, before Parker turned up the heat at the (now acoustic) bass. His intensity remained for most of the rest of the set. Victor began reading the poem, adding a West Indian accent as she raised her voice to heighten the vibe. This soon gave way to more free form vocals. Carter and Campbell played shorter phrases of longer notes, a contrast to the previous pieces, that had been so full of fast passages.
The final calypso was "Salt Fish," by the great Mighty Sparrow: "It's sweeter than meat... but no pepper!" Campbell changed to flugal horn, its greater range projecting depth in the sound.
Victor says Sparrow is probably the most famous calypso poet. He is perhaps a Trinidadian counterpart to Jamaica's Linton Kwesi Johnson, the reggae poet resident in the UK, who is known for amongst other things his 1980 piece on England, "Inglan Is A Bitch": "Inglan is a bitch... there's no escapin' it." "Isn't it funny," said Victor. "Last night it hit me that he is similar to what I wanted to do (with this music). It's similar to his. 'Cause I love Linton Kwesi Johnson. It's a similar vibe. Even though he's reggae, I love (his music). Bass Culture's one of my favorite records. He's a deep deep guy."
Victor should know, as her own music is also rich and exploratory. She conveys the picture that communicates, whether it is a version of The Door's "People Are Strange" (from the evocative Lazy Old Sun Live/Life In The Lowlands) or the world of the calypsonians.