September 2003

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The massive power failure that darkened cities from New York to Michigan on August 14 took a healthy chunk out of the month
Blackout! — The massive power failure that darkened cities from New York to Michigan on August 14 took a healthy chunk out of the month’s jazz calendar. As part of Tonic’s FONT series (Festival of New Trumpets, co-curated by Dave Douglass and Roy Campbell, Jr.), Bill Dixon was to have played a solo concert, marking his first New York appearance in 15 years. It didn’t happen. Shows by Joe McPhee and Ron Miles were also canceled. We’ll also have to wait for the rescheduling of a scuttled program at the Jazz Gallery involving the Creative Music Coalition, featuring altoist Matana Roberts and bassist Henry Grimes.

On the upside, I did have the rare pleasure of a visit from my AAJ colleague Phil DiPietro, who gobbled up as much live jazz as he could during his three nights in New York. Together we caught Tim Berne, Josh Redman, Rosenwinkel/Bernstein and Dave Ballou.

FONT Highlights:

John McNeil — It was a treat to hear this elusive trumpeter, a pillar of the New England Conservatory faculty, named by many young New York-based players as a major influence. McNeil’s quartet featured Andy Green on guitar, John Hebert on bass and Mark Ferber on drums. The first tune found Green playing shot-glass slide, harmonizing strangely with McNeil’s loping melody lines. Five more tunes unfolded without a break, ranging from modern, swinging lyricism to free blowing and even to warped country-rock. Green brought Goodrick-like notions to the bandstand, while Hebert and Ferber underscored McNeil’s assertive yet cerebral horn with their flexible rhythmic dance. McNeil’s droll sense of humor seemed of a piece with the music. When the last tune ended, he announced, “OK, that was our first tune....”

Dave Douglas/Roswell Rudd/Brad Jones/Barry Altschul — Every bit as great as you could possibly expect. It’d be hard to imagine a more spirited, swinging dual-horn attack than that of Douglas and Rudd, both of whom backed every note with a bravado that transfixed the overflow audience. Jones and Altschul were in no way relegated to mere support; both seized their share of showstopping moments. The prevailing themes were Herbie Nichols (“House Party Starting,” “Beyond Recall”) and Monk (“Ask Me Now,” “Humph”), but Rudd threw in his “‘A’ Train” variant “Eventuality” and insisted on “You Do Something to Me” as an impromptu encore. Douglas seemed hesitant about the tune at first (“it’s been a while,” he fretted), but went on to devour it nonetheless.

Natsuki Tamura — FONT was remarkable in that it opened Tonic’s doors to nominal “mainstreamers” like Jeremy Pelt, Ingrid Jensen and Brian Lynch. (Pelt was to follow Dixon on the 14th, and was therefore canceled.) Even on the same night one could hear avant-gardist Natsuki Tamura followed by Lynch, the post-bop firebrand. The music could use more broad-minded billings like these.

Tamura explored concepts from his new Libra release, Hada Hada. This was electronically textured free improv that fit right in at the house of Zorn. The remarkable Satoko Fujii, Tamura’s wife, played acoustic piano rather than synthesizer, while John Hollenbeck colored expansively on drums and percussion and Curtis Hasselbring threw his multi-faceted skronk guitar into the mix. The set consisted of one long movement, veering between eerie minimalism and grinding industrial funk, peppered with processed voices and samples.

Brian Lynch took the stage about an hour later, with a compact yet hard-hitting Latin jazz group called “Spheres of Influence” (after the title of the trumpeter’s 1997 outing on Sharp Nine). Lineups don’t get heavier than this: Miguel Zenon on alto, Luis Perdomo on piano, Hans Glawischnig on bass, Dafnis Prieto on bass and Richie Flores on percussion. Lynch led the band through a bristling, well-conceived set of modern Afro-Cuban hard bop, playing brilliantly and giving everyone else ample room to do the same. Brace yourself for Zenon’s four Thursdays in September at the Jazz Gallery — and for Perdomo’s forthcoming RKM release.

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