Later the same week, Bill Bruford pulled into Iridium for four nights with a new incarnation of Earthworks. The prog-rock superstar drummer let it be known that pianist Henry Hey and bassist Mike Pope were the first Americans ever to play in the group. Not only that, these two had made the acquaintance of the famous bandleader only 36 hours prior to the first hit. Tim Garland, who has held the reeds chair for roughly two years, seemed to play a significant role in keeping this high-powered train on the tracks. Bruford has a great time playing and writing acoustic jazz, and this new lineup attacked the music with full force, effortlessly balancing improvisational fire and jaw-dropping ensemble precision. As a jazz drummer, Bruford could not be more of an original, with his snare sound tightly choked and his toms arranged flat and parallel to the floor. His rock-influenced approach to odd-metered grooves is consistently thrilling; the geekily inclined may detect traces of King Crimson, although the Earthworks aesthetic is more spacious and less mathematical.
It must have taken some doing to squeeze Michael Brecker’s “Quindectet” onto the Iridium stage, but the group didn’t sound constrained at all. Gil Goldstein conducted the large ensemble and played a snarling, intricate Rhodes piano — not to mention a bit of accordion. Daniel Sadownick weighed in with a spry percussion prelude on “Timbuktu.” Guitarist Adam Rogers, bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Antonio Sanchez were formidable in both solo and support roles. The reeds were Roger Rosenberg on baritone sax and bass clarinet, Bob Sheppard on flute and tenor sax and Dan Willis on oboe and English horn. The brass section boasted Robin Eubanks on trombone, Alex Sipiagin on trumpet and Peter Gordon on French horn. Mark Feldman and Erik Friedlander were missing from the string section, but Meg Okura (violin) and David Egger (cello) ably filled their shoes. Joyce Hammann and Lois Martin played violin and viola, respectively. Brecker sounded titanic in this relatively small room. A newly orchestrated rendition of “Syzygy” (from Brecker’s 1987 debut as a leader) came as a bracing surprise.
Yet again at Iridium, violinist Mark O’Connor, in an orgy of pan-stylistic virtuosity, appeared in several different group contexts to celebrate the release of his Thirty-Year Retrospective collection on the Omac label. The anchor for the week was the Hot Swing Trio with guitarist Frank Vignola and bassist Jon Burr. Stunningly tight, the group valiantly hoisted the flag of acoustic string-band swing with numbers like “Ain’t Misbehavin’” and “Fascinating Rhythm,” sounding a good deal more raw and organic than they do on their Columbia release, In Full Swing. Charts and music stands proved necessary for O’Connor’s “Anniversary,” a dense piece of writing and one of the show’s darker, less accessible moments. Then Vignola and Burr took a breather while violist Carol Cook and cellist Natalie Haas took the stage to play several of O’Connor’s ambitious chamber-grass pieces, including “Appalachian Waltz” and the “Olympic Reel Medley.” These magnificent players brought the global reach of fiddle music into full relief. Vignola and Burr returned to close the set with Burr’s “Lament” and the evergreen “Limehouse Blues.” Later in the week the monster musicians from the Thirty-Year Retrospective set — guitarist Bryan Sutton, mandolinist Chris Thile and bassist Byron House — graced the Iridium stage as well. Judging from the crisp, lyrical, technically dazzling sound of the album, the show must have been a blast.