Guelph Jazz Festival, September 8-12, 2010
The ECM undercurrent was represented by pianist Marilyn Crispell, who played a wide-ranging solo set; a trio of saxophonist Charles Lloyd, tablaist Zakir Hussain and drummer Eric Harland; violinist Mark Feldman, who appeared with the Toronto world music ensemble, Tasa; and cellist David Darling, who was called in to replace Dino Saluzzi, after a schedule conflict prevented the Argentinian bandoneonist from attending.
Crispell began her morning set with strong and bold chordings, then worked into a quieter refrain, which is to say she made sure everyone was awake for the lullaby, and built it with remarkable beauty, resolving in a non-repeating song and only the briefest pause, punctuated by the release of a pedal, before spinning little jetties of notes through the air, slowly ramping up again to a near-rag. As she carefully constructed the piece, stepping back to let it breathe and moving in on it again, an energy and a playfulness developed. Nearing the end, she took to the inside of the case with a pair of drumsticks, slowly, gently making her way from the frame to the strings and playing pronounced melody and bass lines, returning to the keyboard for impossibly perfect low-end rolls, gliding effortlessly between heavy chord structures and melodies placed directly in the midst of the progressions, and then turning to a new melody that could have been a Vince Guaraldi theme, or a new song for one of the summer holidays. Answering a standing ovation, she began her encore standing with the assembled.
The Lloyd/Hussain/Harland group (Sangam, after the 2005 ECM recording of the same name), one of a number of strong trios (not just The Trio but a Henry Grimes, Jane Bunnett and Andrew Cyrille group; Grimes, again with guitarist Marc Ribot and drummer Chad Taylor; and pianist Marilyn Lerner with bassist Ken Filiano and drummer Lou Grassi). They balanced far more than three pieces, with alto saxophone and flute, piano (and four-handed piano and inside piano), vocals, kit drums, mallets tablas and hand bells, and all three members rotating between instruments. Sometimes they were a jazz trio, sometimes a percussion trio, but more often than not it was Hussain who stole the show. Feldman's set with Tasa was equally eclectic, an amalgam of tablas and Eastern vocals, with drum kit, electric guitar and bass, saxophone and trumpet. After the quintet played a couple of melting-pot pieces on their own, they brought out Feldman for an easy groove tripling violin, trumpet and flute lines. It was an unusual setting for Feldman in a sense, but as evidenced by his sessionography, he can do anything, and do so comfortably. And Darling played a powerful solo set, borrowing from Bach and then presenting a piece with eight prerecorded electric cello parts, the instrument on which he made his well-regarded album, 8 String Religion (Hearts of Spaxe, 1993).
The Ribot/Grimes/Taylor trio, which closed out the festival, was something of an offshoot of their excellent Albert Ayler project, Spiritual Unity, which also included trumpeter Roy Campbell. Without a saxophone (but with a bassist who actually played with Ayler) the band has gone from a quartet homage to one of the greatest voices of the 1960s New Thing to a guitar trio, still faithful to the spirit of those times. And even given the heights they were capable of hitting, there were some remarkable peaks of interplay. It's amazing to see wholike these three, like Crispellcan turn it out, once called upon to be morning people, pros who can deliver before lunchtime.