Perry Robinson, Ron Carter, Dave Liebman and Valery Ponomarev
The University Of The Streets
August 30, 2011
Native New Yorker Perry Robinson is not one of the better known free improvisers, but his stature is no less significant as a result. Within a certain scene the clarinetist has accrued importance, his activities stretching back to the early 1960s. This low-key set involved a trio with pianist Diane Moser and bassman Max Johnson, making up a mixed generational spread. They all have connections, but hadn't played together for quite some time. There was no sheet music in sight, but their improvisations existed within the realms of chamber composition, mostly being of a sensitively harmonious nature.
These three possessed a strong sense of instant composition, masterfully evolving ideas in a gradually linear flow. It appeared that the small gathering who witnessed this session were gripped by the music's concentrated aura. Though the medium-length improvisations were mostly serene, this didn't impede a recurring mood of thoughtful, introverted tension. All three players were expert at alternating sudden emphatic clumps of notes with contrasting streams of calm flotation. This was particularly apparent as Johnson's bruising bass lines, fingered with hardness in a gloriously unamplified state, were regularly alternated with groaning, bowed stretches, establishing a sequence of percussive bullishness, entering into hovering sustain. Moser, too, initiated sections where she was hammering with gusto, building up rippling blocks. Robinson maintained a superbly articulate clarinet poise, dancing loquaciously, only becoming more fragmented and strident during the closing piece. All three players were completely immersed in the musicmuch like their audience. This set's quieter, introverted methods were all the more poignant when set beside its fleeting outbreaks of aggression.
The Ron Carter Big Band
September 1, 2011
This was an unusual setting for august bassman Ron Carter. He's a player who would be expected to lead his ranks through challenging, or at least mildly innovative regions. Alas, even though this was the third evening of an almost week-long residency, the expanded formation still appeared sketchily organized. The repertoire was extremely predictable, including readings of "Caravan," "My Funny Valentine" and the slightly less obvious "Con Alma." Considering that the horn sections included such formidable players as Wayne Escoffery, Steve Wilson and Scott Robinson, their solos were frustratingly brief, with the majority of the action devoured by pianist Mulgrew Miller, guitarist Russell Malone and the leader himself. Carter offered several stretches of completely unaccompanied lyricism, but it was as though this band couldn't shake the mentality of a small combo, the environment to which Carter is normally accustomed. Bob Freedman's arrangements did not engage with any structural individuality, dynamism or fine detail, making this big band sound more like a temporary extension of a quartet lineup. Further problems were caused by a persistently (and unintentionally) distorting Malone, a rogue outbreak in a club which is usually remarkable for its cosseted acoustics and plush sonic balance.
The Dave Liebman Big Band
September 8, 2011
Dave Liebman was running a very different big band, bristling in the opposite direction. Here, the emphasis was on originality, with a selection of material that traversed the extremes from relatively swingin' to the far-out realms of cosmic minimalism. This was particularly noticeable when experienced within the conventional jazz club setting of Birdland. Some of Liebman's music was more suited to a bright white loft, or a Brooklyn dive bar's backroom situation. This imbued its more extreme interludes with a peculiar power, clearly unsettling some of the customers who probably didn't know what to expect. Then again, Liebman's range is so broad that they could perhaps be forgiven. Even a seasoned acolyte might have been surprised by the frequent contrasts in dramatic shading.