Kristin Korb / Cosmologic with Anthony Davis at Conrad Prebys Recital Hall in San Diego
Conrad Prebys Recital Hall, UCSD
San Diego, CA
January 22, 2011
UCSD's internationally heralded music department hosted concerts by returning alumni and faculty in a weeklong celebration of the program's many successes. Saturday night's affair featured singer/double-bassist Kristin Korb playing solo and the wonderful, cooperative free jazz quartet Cosmologic.
The pristine acoustics of the recital hall made Korb's solo appearance a special treat. She displayed an absolutely gorgeous sound on the double basswhich could be heard in every detail of this performance. She also had a refreshingly disarming enthusiasm that made her off-the-cuff remarks and story-telling between songs seem like she was talking to the audience, rather than at them. Korb has several releases under her belt, including her latest, In The Meantime (Double K Music,2009). She made her recording debut with the Ray Brown Trio, Introducing Kristin Korb, (Telarc,1996).
Korb began her set with a lilting Latin vamp comprising all harmonics before settling into the body of the well-traveled standard "Green Dolphin Street." Although Esperanza Spalding gets all the press, Korb has actually been doing the bass/vocal thing for quite a bit longer. When she began to sing, it was hard not to notice her many attributes: she's got a beautiful, natural alto voice, and superb pitch. Her bass playing is as solid as an oak trunk and her timbre on the instrument is full of both fundamentals and color. While singing, she never strained for high notes and at all times exuded a sense of relaxation, even when the tempos raced. After dispensing with the melody, she offered up some neat scatting, then an equally inventive bass solo. The audience, mainly consisting of musicians, their significant others, and music students, roared in approval.
Korb followed up with a sumptuous reading of "I Want To Be Loved" which furthered the notion that she could be equally successful as a double-bassist or a singer. That she was able to do both with such aplomb speaks to the hard work she has invested in her craft. Korb is an unabashed "straight-ahead" jazz musician/singer with a definite preference for the Great American Songbook. She reminded everyone just how valid a path that can be when performed by a master of the genre.
For her finale, Korb related a story about how the iconic bassist Ray Brown (one of her mentors), called her up one day requesting she write lyrics to the Count Basie gem, "Whirlybird." After some initial pangs of doubt, she plunged into the task, writing words for the melody and the solos. Listening to Korb race through her hilarious results at top speed with unerring swing got the audience to its feet.
Cosmologic, with special guest Anthony Davis
Cosmologic formed in 1998, when three of its members were students at UCSD.Their latest release, Eyes In The Back Of My Head (Cuneiform, 2008), is essential listening. They are that rare example of a cooperative group that has managed to stay together with the same personnel for more than 12 years. That feat is even more impressive when you consider that they all lead groups and record individually, and all are involved as sidemen in many other ensembles. This performance was a reunion of sorts, since their members (with the exception of percussionist Nathan Hubbard) live in different cities now. Cosmologic plays a brand of "free jazz" that is actually highly composed. Each member brings compositions that are then filtered through their collective engine, often changing them dramatically. This group has the kind of telepathic dynamic that can only come from years of playing together.
Cosmologic has a front-line to die for: on tenor saxophone: Jason Robinson, whose latest effort as a leader, The Two Faces Of Janus (Cuneiform, 2010) has been warmly received; and on trombone, Michael Dessen who has been dividing his time between teaching at UC Irvine and performing in the contrabass virtuoso Mark Dresser Quintet. Robinson often draws a beautiful arc of the tenor saxophone history. He will start off running the changes with a burnished tone a la Trane or Rollins, then gradually morph into Albert Ayler or Archie Shepp territory. Trombonist Dessen is likewise versatile: at his core he possesses a gorgeous, almost classical tone. He can take that tone though, and manipulate it in a dozen compelling ways. Robinson and Dessen have played together so long that part of their aesthetic seems to be the ability to finish each others thoughts.
Of course, in a band where the compositions and front line are as daring as Cosmologicnothing would work at all without an equally sterling rhythm section. Scott Walton on the double-bass has all the qualities necessary for this music: he has a huge, woody tone, he can play time, ostinatos, or arco with solid dexterity. Oftentimes, he's playing the melody while the others fly above it. Drummer Nathan Hubbard must be seen to be believed. He is a constant blur of percussive motionbut never in an overpowering way. Much of what he plays is very subtle in terms of dynamics. He writes a lot of the material for the ensemble, so there is a composer's aesthetic to his contributions. He can go from a Sunny Murray to a Paul Motian kind of vibe in a heartbeat.
Cosmologic's set began with an untitled piece by trombonist Dessen. Robinson began stating the long, angular melody, while Dessen posited increasingly aggressive 'bone interjections. When they finally reached the end of the first chorus, the roles reversed. Robinson's solo began with a furious Sonny Rollins (a la East Broadway Rundown (Impulse, 1966) beginning, quickly yielding to several moments of raspy multi-phonics, about then, the trombone restated the melody against and over Robinson's orgiastic screaming. Dessen's blustery solo followed, filled with both inherent logic and wild abandon.
At this point, the band introduced Anthony Davis, who sat in on piano for the next two pieces. Davis is a fantastic pianist who is also lauded as a composer of both extended jazz and "new music" works as well as several critically acclaimed operas. Davis has been a vital member of the UCSD music department for many years now, and the members of Cosmologic all acknowledged his heavy influence on their own music.
Next up was Robinson's original, "Vicissitudes" which was dedicated to another UCSD mentor, the late bassist Mel Graves. Anthony Davis fit perfectly into the Cosmologic dynamic, whipping out long strands of increasingly chromatic repetitions, drawing the band into similar territory as Cecil Taylor's milestone recording: Conquistador (Blue Note, 1966). Hubbard's playing was insistently inventive, drawing a tiny bow across the very edge of cymbals, and producing explosive rim shots from all over his kit. The trombone and saxophone brayed and moaned, and all to soon, "Vicissitudes" was over.
The evening came to a close with the Nathan Hubbard original, "Clarity Of Thought." This piece was a total show-stopper. There were short, pointed and frenetic solos from the piano, tenor and trombone, meanwhile bassist Walton pumped up the proceedings with wild strumming, double stops and forceful pizzicato alchemy. All of this wound up to a furious climax, then one could hear a pin drop as Hubbard brought the house down with an incredulously inventive drum solo. He utilized the whole of his kit, rattling off asymmetrical rollsthen, he began dragging what appeared to be super balls mounted on flexible sticks across the head of his tom-toms, producing a sound very much like the double bass being bowed. It was startling, to say the least.
Despite numerous catcalls and steady applause, the evening had to end there, as the University already had a follow-up concert scheduled. With alumni as diverse and creative as Korb and Cosmologic, UCSD should have plenty of applications for admission coming in from the next generation of master musicians.