Barry Altschul, William Hooker, Bobby Previte & Andrew Cyrille
January 8, 2013
Another 70th birthday to celebrate, another musician who commands the appearance and vitality of a much younger player. New York drummer Barry Altschul actually hit 70 two days before this celebratory gig at Roulette. The long-established experimental music venue is now settling in at its newer Brooklyn space very well. There's a sense that the joint has stabilized and refined itself as a performing space, in terms of its sound, light and acoustic qualities.
Altschul elected to combine his birthday party with an album release party, although the actual atmosphere was more concert hall than jumping joint in nature. This didn't prevent the players from spreading a robust sense of humor throughout the proceedings, something that doesn't happen too frequently within the sanctum of hardcore free improvisation. Altschul also decided to reform a band that hadn't played together for 30 years. He was joined by trombonist Ray Anderson and bassist Mark Helias to revive BRAHMA, a name which is concocted by employing their initials. The other trio on this double bill was The 3dom Factor, a much newer joining of Altschul with tenor man Jon Irabagon and bassist Joe Fonda. Its eponymously titled 2012 Tum recording provided the evening's release party part.
The 3dom Factor played first, concentrating on material from the album, composed but frequently having the feel of controlled improvising. This is a trio that's already honed a deep rapport, maintaining constant interest via a consistent interchange of dominant roles. There were frequent solos, many of them being literally solo interludes, with the remaining pair of players observing silence. At other times, perhaps just one member would play the accompanist part, often reining the sound down to a restrained field of introversion. When the entire trio was in full flow, the opposite extreme rose to dominance, each of them negotiating themes that were riding closely in rapid-repeat tandem. Altschul used cowbells, wood (or plastic) blocks and whistles or siren horns, establishing the vibration of an itinerant street musician. Carnival in a free-form state. Perhaps these special effects were a touch overused, but there was still ample demonstration of Altschul's polyrhythmic skills on the more mainstream parts of his kit. Irabagon was always studiedly in control, but he has a way of investing cerebrally organized, fleet-fingered progressions with a soaring passion. He spurts out an unbroken flow of exploratory phrases, winding along an unpredictable path.
When BRAHMA took to the stage following an intermission, even their brief sound check was a work of art. When Anderson plays in New York City, it's usually at either the Jazz Standard or The Cornelia Street Café, both of which have small stages. Here at Roulette, there was an opportunity to see him rambling along the ample boards, unleashing the New Orleans physicality of his 'bone rasping. The joyfulness of this threesome was contagious. The opening statement of intent was that this set was going to be completely improvised. So it was, but that didn't prevent the trio from throwing in a sudden reading of "Cheek To Cheek," penned by Irving Berlin and most closely identified with singer/dancer/film actor Fred Astaire. Anderson really was in a Crescent City frame of mind, repeatedly returning to blasting raspberry riffs, in-between the sparsely enunciated high-note acrobatics.
To make this gig even more special, the second set concluded with Irabagon and Fonda returning to the stage, forming an extended unit. Now it was thrilling to observe the bonding of Anderson and Irabagon, as well as Helias and Fonda, although it wasn't as simple as that, there being lightning flashes of intuition between all five players. These are some of the few artists who could successfully weigh in with a "Happy Birthday" that simultaneously conjured New Orleans partying and ascendant freedom-blowing, turning the tune into an extended encore. This was a musically challenging evening, inflamed by a strong sense of playfulness.
The Knitting Factory
January 9, 2013