New Universe Music Festival: Day 1, November 20, 2010
The New Universe Music Festival
Raleigh, North Carolina
November 20-21, 2010
With so many jazz festivals taking place around the worldand new ones emerging each and every yearjust as it's become increasingly challenging, in this world of DIY recordings, for artists to filter through and be heard, how does a new festival find its way into the public eye, to reach fans whose entertainment dollars are being stretched more than ever before?
In the case of Abstract Logix and The New Music Universe Festival, the answer is simple. Beginning as an online music store a decade ago, Abstract Logix has, over the past half decade, emerged as one of the world's biggest advocates for fusion of the broadest possible definition. Starting relatively small, the size of its roster, and corresponding releases, has grown to include fusion giants like guitarist John McLaughlin, bassist Anthony Jackson and drummer Lenny White ; important up-and-comers like guitarist Alex Machacek and drummer Ranjit Barot; and longstanding artists deserving of far greater recognition, including drummer/keyboardist Gary Husband, keyboardist Scott Kinsey, bassist Matthew Garrison, and guitarists Jimmy Herring and Wayne Krantz. 2010 has been the label's biggest year yet, with a slew of powerful and, in many cases groundbreaking new releases.
In the same way that Abstract Logix's growth as a label has, in retrospect, been nothing but inevitablethanks to the dedication of the label's owner, Souvik Dutta, his wife, Shweta, and store administrator John Angelothe creation of The New Universe Music Festival was, ultimately, equally inevitable. Its first year brings together many of the artists on its roster, for a two-day event in the label's hometown of Raleigh, North Carolina, and for fans of hard-edged, kick-ass fusion that crosses, and ultimately dissolves, boundaries stylistic, cultural and otherwise, it simply doesn't get any better than this. With a line-up that includes Machacek and his trio (bassist Neal Fountain and drummer Jeff Sipe); Barot's group, featuring the young and stunning electric violinist Bala Bhaskar; Human Element, a new super group with Kinsey, Garrison, percussionist Arto Tuncboyaciyan, and Barot, subbing for the absent Gary Novak; the Jimmy Herring Band; Krantz's trio; The Lenny White Band with Herring as a guest; and John McLaughlin and The 4th Dimension, there's more than enough muscle to satisfy fans of high octane, high energy electric jazz. And with a grand finale all-star jam, as a tribute to McLaughlin, there will be a once in a lifetime opportunity to see even more cross-pollination than already happens amongst a roster of musicians that, hanging with them during the soundcheck for the first day, feels more like a family than the broad collection of players it represents.
As Herring put it backstage, before the first evening at the Lincoln Theatre, this is "Real music played by real people," and the hundreds of eager fans that collected in the largely standing-room venue, were more than pumped as they entered the hall, where they were first met by a listening party that brought Krantz and Barot together onstage, to talk about their respective records, Krantz Carlock Lefebvre (Abstract Logix, 2009) and Bada Boom (Abstract Logix, 2010). Barot spoke of the circumstances surrounding the recording of Bada Boom, and how some of the songs were constructed; Krantz spoke less, but with a dry sense of humor as, following Barot's discussion of using a gospel choir at the end of one of his tracks, the guitarist introduced one of his own, simply: "I suppose it should be said that you're not going to hear a gospel choir on this track."
The half-hour listening party was an unusual but engaging way to prime the audience for the music to come, putting them in the mood so that when the first act hit the stage, they were beyond ready: they were pumped, vocal and clearly energized.
Since the release of [sic] (Abstract Logix, 2006), Austrian-born but now Los Angeles-based Alex Machacek has proven himself a multiple-threat. A stunningly virtuosic guitarist, emerging from the shadows of Allan Holdsworth by taking many of the iconic guitarist's signatures and expanding on them to gradually create his own distinct voice, Machacek is also a complex composer capable of incredible detail in longer form. [sic] featured compositions that were built around drum solos from ex-Frank Zappa percussionist Terry Bozzio, but for his latest release, 24 Tales (Abstract Logix, 2010), Machacek has composed a truly epic piece around a 52-minute drum solo from another emergent marvel, Marco Minnemann. Minnemann's solo was, in fact, given to a number of artists, including guitarist Mike Keneally and touch guitarist Trey Gunn, and his Normalizer series is unique in its opportunity to hear how differently musicians can interpret and extrapolate from the same foundation. As strong as all the Normalizer entries are, however, Machacek's stands out as the one that hangs together best as a truly coherent long form piece, one that ultimately possesses its own unique arc.
The complexity and multilayered approach to 24 Talesan album that took Machacek three years to completedoesn't exactly lend itself to live performance, however, and so for Machacek's opening set on the first day of The New Universe Music Festival, he collected tracks from past releases including [sic], Improvision (Abstract Logix, 2007), and The Official Triangle Session (Abstract Logix, 2008) which, not at all coincidentally, also featured the same trio that the guitarist brought to the Lincoln Theatre stage, with bassist Neal Fountain and Jeff Sipealso members of Jimmy Herring's band, and therefore the first demonstration of cross-pollination, community and a sense of family that Abstract Logix has engendered across the past half decade.
Machacek did perform one track from 24 Tales, the effervescently grooving "Sexy" which, with its knotty theme, demonstrated the trio's frightening ability to navigate arrangements of almost frightening complexity. There were hints, too, of Zappa in Machacek's writing, but even in a post-Holdsworth world, where Machacek's sustaining, overdriven legato lines possessed similarly huge intervallic leaps, visceral whammy bar bends and cross-picking at a speed beyond the capability of most mortal, the guitarist possessed something that sadly, his influence seems to have lost in recent years: an unmistakable edge. Just as Machacek demonstrated in his compelling solo on the title track of UKZ's EP, Radiation (Globe Music, 2009), here there was an unbridled sense of "going for it," that turned the often cerebral quality of the guitarist's writing into something rawer and more unfettered.
Tonally, Machacek also demonstrated far greater diversity. Opening the show with a solo guitar piece, he made instantly clear the breadth and sophistication of his harmonic sensibility, with a warm, clean-toned piece that also suggested an ability to dislocate the joints in his fingers, surely the only way he could possibly stretch them into chords spanning six or seven frets, as he did regularly throughout the set. He also proved that, while heavy overdrive and legato playing allows for lightning lines of near-vocal expressiveness, he was also capable of precise articulation on clean-toned phrases that required absolutely precise picking. He utilized looping, occasional preprogramming, and an expansive set of tones to create a sound often far larger than a single guitar should ever be able to produce.
Fountain is a relatively unknown quantity, but deserves to be on the radar of a larger audience. Effortlessly executing some of Machacek's staggering unison lines with equal aplomb, he also delivered a stellar solo spot that, on his six-string electric bass, matched Machacek for harmonic depth and textural breadth. Elsewhere, he locked in with Sipean expansive and, most importantly, listening drummer known for his work with bassist Jonas Hellborg and sadly deceased guitarist Shawn Lane on albums like Temporal Analogues of Paradise (Bardo, 1996) and Time is the Enemy (Bardo, 1997)for grooves that ranged from irregularly metered to more straightforward...but always organic and naturally flowing.
The good news, for those unable to attend, is that the entire festival is being recorded for later release on DVD, and while it's unknown how much of each performance is to be included, here's hoping that tracks from Machacek's performance including the funkily virtuosic "Strafe" and darker "Very Sad" make it into the program.