Enjoy Jazz Festival, Days 1-3: November 8-10, 2010
Primed from the previous evening's Master Class, it still wasn't enough to prepare for the sheer energy and positivism when Belew took the stage at dasHaus in Ludwigshafen, with his Power Trio featuring bassist Julie Slick and drummer Marco Minnemann. The trio wasted no time getting down to its blinding combination of effortless virtuosity, knotty, metrically challenging arrangements and more than the occasional nod to Belew's history with King Crimson.
Minnemann is the most recent recruit to the Power Trio, with Slick's brother, Ericheard on the group's most recent release, e (Self Produced, 2009)on the road with Dr. Dog. Minnemann is not only one of the most in-demand young drummers in the world of progressive rockcurrently being courted these days to replace the departing Mark Portnoy in Dream Theatre, thought a decision has yet to be madehe's come to attention in the fusion world as well for his Normalizer Project, a 52-minute drum solo that he gave to a number of musicians who have since written music around it, including guitarist Alex Machacek's remarkable 24 Tales (Abstract Logix, 2010), ex-Crimson touch guitarist Trey Gunn's Modulator (7D Media, 2010), and guitarist/keyboardist Mike Keneally's just-released Evidence of Humanity (Exowax, 2010).
With Belew, Minnemann demonstrated why he's leapt into the spotlight. Channeling Bill Bruford in an incendiary version of "Indiscpline," from Crimson's Discipline (DGM Live, 1981), Minnemann took the Crimson drummer's concepts a step further. With an unorthodox kit sporting two high hats, two snares, tom toms tuned to deeply resonant notes, and an array of cymbals high and low, he navigated the large kit with outrageous dexterity, his drum solo a staggering display of multi-limb independence, polyrhythmic complexity, long-form compositional focus, and no shortage of levity and humor as, at one point, he spun his sticks around in his fingers at lightning speed, while never missing a shot.
Slick, at 25, was no less impressive. With her first CD as a leader, Julie Slick (Self Produced, 2010) already sold out of its first print run, she's a real success story. A graduate of the Paul Green School of Rock, she was actually writing exams when she got the call from Belew to come to Nashville for three days of rehearsal and a tour nearly five years ago, having been suggested to the guitarist by the school, along with her brother. In the ensuing years she's grown considerably, a bassist capable of holding down a pulse with a thundering groove, but equally adept at matching Belew, note-for-note as she layers line after line of high octane, high velocity invention.
Like progressive rock group Transatlantic, the Power Trio show was dominated by near-relentless energy and the kinds of smiles going around the stage that were infectious; this was a group clearly having the time of its life, and Belew couldn't have made a better choice than to surround himself with young, hungry players, as it keeps the bar high for his own playing, which, in many ways, actually transcended his groundbreaking work with Crimson. An engaging, entertaining and charismatic front man, as Slick and Minnemann left the stage and Belew prepared to dive into his solo feature. "Drive," he quipped, "They're young, they're tired; I'm old, I'm happy."
Without another guitarist to share the work, Belew's use of looping to create layers of guitar meant that this was a Power Trio that often sounded like a quintet. And with Minnemann able to accomplish things with one hand that most drummers need two to execute, there were times when the band sounded like it had two drummers onboard. A group where it was almost impossible to know who to watch at any given timethere as so much going on everywhereBelew was still a commanding central presence, viscerally diving into heavy whammy bar swoops and dives, oblique patterns made all the more idiosyncratic by his inclusion of real-time looping and pitch shifting, and chunky chordal patterns suggest he may be self-taught, but he's studied hard.
Combining material from e, including the ferocious title track, with songs from his career including the quirky "Ampersand," from Side One (Sanctuary, 2005), and the tour de force solo guitar of "Drive," there was also plenty of Crim content. In addition to "Indiscipline," there was a high speed take on Discipline's classic "Elephant Talk," with Slick tapping her bass to echo Tony Levin's original stick part, but with more fire; a powerhouse version of "Dinosaur," from 1995's Thrak (DGM Live), with Minnemann pounding the skins and moving around the kit with a fierce combination of primal beats and lithe finesse; an incendiary version of "Neurotica," from Beat (DGM Live, 1982), with Belew's spoken word triggered from the back of the house; and an equally high powered encore of the title track to the 1980s Crim's swan song, Three of a Perfect Pair (DGM Live, 1984).
Belew said, after the concert, when he was selling CDs, signing and talking with his fans, that with 2011 being the 30th anniversary of his joining King Crimson, he's planning to pull out even more Crimson material, but hopefully not too much at the expense of his own material which, based on the all-instrumental e, is reaching a creative high point for the fearless sonic explorer. In the meantime, with his Enjoy Jazz showpacked with a loud and appreciative crowdhe had almost as much a good time as his Power Trio appeared to be having. With Belew's forthcoming collaboration with Holland's Metropole Orkest, 2011 is shaping up to be a very good year for Belew and his fans.
Enjoy Jazz coverage will continue with reports from Food's show with Nils Petter Molvaer and Christian Fennesz, Chucho Valdés' performance with his Afro-Cuban Messengers, and the Harold López-Nussa Trio.
All Photos: John Kelman
Days 1-3 | Days 4-6