Wayne Shorter, Roscoe Mitchell & Oliver Lake
The evening's musical contrasts were inspired. Mitchell's quartet was more old-school in orientation, with pianist Dave Burrell, bassist Henry Grimes and drummer Tani Tabbal. Ultimately, they ended up giving a demonstration of classic free jazz. This is still avant-garde in nature, despite revolving around a sonic vocabulary that's now been creating its powerful vortex for around 50 years. The band offered something fresh for NYC denizens. Burrell and Tabbal aren't often sighted here, although Grimes is ubiquitous on the scene. Even so, his bass and violin contributions formed a pivotal point, beautifully amplified, with a rich, fulsome sound. Grimes was heard at his best on this particular night. Indeed, Mitchell was granted a formidable surround for his own stirring solos, as Burrell and Tabbal were both primed for a coiled release of pent-up energies. The pianist was gushing involved runs of percussive aggressiveness, while the drummer was blending subtle cymbal shimmers with frequent hard tattoos, brutal yet sensitively delivered. Mitchell himself was resting between solos, then erupting in a ceaseless flow of invention.
Mitchell never edged into blurting, always choosing to maintain a warm, organic tone. The quartet took five or ten minutes to begin their journey in earnest, but following this initial exploratory drift, they entered into a long sequence of almost traditionally-alternating solos, as if they were playing within bebop rules, with free jazz sounds. The glowing audience reaction at the end was a response to the music, but it was also acknowledging the entire career and achievements of Mitchell, in his 70th year on the planet. Yes, it was Carnegie Hall applause, transposed to Manhattan's first home of experimental music, deep in the old loft scene's former heart.
The Oliver Lake Organ Quartet
February 19, 2011
Of course, Roulette won't be in Manhattan for much longer. Unless plans go horribly awry, this will be the venue's last season before relocating to its new 1928-vintage Art Deco Concert Hall in Brooklyn. Just like the Issue Project Room, Roulette is making a bold move into larger, older, quainter premises.
Roulette has a unique character. It sometimes seems slightly skewed when a band that is fundamentally jazzy performs here. Alto saxophonist Oliver Lake managed to transform the clean, white, loft-like room into a hot jazz cellar, particularly as his Organ Quartet utilized strong elements of 1960s groove music in its very lineup and approachnot without frequent incursions towards roiling freedom, though, particularly when the soloing veers off into extreme areas. This was a potent combination: free improvisation fury with a rolling groove undertow. Lake's regular organ sideman, Jared Gold, is a familiar presence, but drummer McClenty Hunter and trumpeter Freddie Hendrix aren't sighted so often. We shall now be up on the watchtower for them.
Gold's foot-pedals look like they're homemade, exposed in their workings and added to a portable organ-synth model. Sonically, he certainly doesn't suffer for not humping around a genuine Hammond B3. Despite having one of his instrument's felt pads fly off into the ether, Lake managed to maintain his fluid, graceful momentum. Whilst he disappeared for a speedy repair session, the other three players capitalized on an opportunity to show off their own prowess. Even besides this, there were frequent spitting, incendiary solos from Hendrix, who was shooting molten sizzles with great rapidity and directional accuracy. I'm not sure whether Lake was deliberately using The Room of Rest's door as the biggest mute in the history of jazz, but he was playing along beside Hunter's drum solo, audible during his stick-thunder pauses. It's a concept that could be developed further, with band members being periodically banished to adjoining rooms. John Cage would have chuckled.