September 2007

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Jenny Scheinman at Joe's Pub

Drawing from a deep reservoir of musicians, violinist Jenny Scheinman has experimented with innumerable permutations at her regular Tuesday night Barbès gigs. This past April she found something special when combining upright bassist Todd Sickafoose, guitarist Nels Cline and drummer Jim Black (the first meeting of Cline and Black), so she brought them back together for a mini-tour, stopping at Joe's Pub for two sets (Aug. 6th). Her music's inherent lyricism, with folk and traditional influences, tamped the wilder impulses of Cline and Black, who both creatively served the songs. But during improvisational sections, the two rambunctiously played off each other and seemed to inspire wilder flights from Scheinman for an intriguing inside/outside blend. Sickafoose was solid throughout, once laying down a funky line that Black morphed into a twisted off-kilter shuffle, prompting a 'hyper-billy' run from Cline informed by the Americana-infused melody. On an epic piece, he slowly wove a lilting tune as the others sawed atmospheric accompaniment until Scheinman spun a mournful solo. A loping groove broke out under her harmonic vocalizations, setting up a series of powerful breaks from Black, who unfurled increasingly adventurous fills. When it was over, Cline deadpanned, that's "some pretty good drumming. It wasn't just the drumming. And it wasn't just "pretty good.

McMancus, Driscoll, Smith at Bar 4

Konceptions, the expansive Sunday night series hosted by pianist James Carney, has made Brooklyn's Bar 4 a destination for creative music. The early set Aug. 12th featured frequent collaborators guitarist Terrence McManus and bassist Kermit Driscoll, joined by drummer Ches Smith for ambitious explorations of taut rhythmic structures and compositionally informed improvisation. Haunting bowed electric guitar and acoustic bass introduced the set, as Driscoll's halting, spare line elicited a clipped, repeated guitar phrase — a recurring strategy — that formed the first movement of an episodic piece. The tune ebbed, leaving only McManus' metallic sound, which he transitioned to a finger-picked phrase. After Driscoll's burbling turn, a tight unison passage surfaced, urged by Smith's clever barehanded rolling momentum. McManus used extended techniques — playing on the pickups, bending the neck and using the volume controls for blasts of sound — to vary the textures and extend the trio's sonic range. Likewise, Driscoll effectively used his bow for contrast and a thick wooden baton to rap the strings for percussive flair. He even opened a song slapping the bass' (and his own) body, creating a rhythmic dialogue with Smith that underpinned the piece. So tense were the trio's sinewy lines, the music almost begged for the release of a fourth voice to soar over or counter the dense formations.

~ Sean Fitzell

Uri Caine at Village Vanguard

It was one of those dog-day midsummer nights during the seasonal lull when you can actually find parking in the Village. Pianist Uri Caine, bassist James Genus and drummer Ben Perowsky were into the third evening of a week-long annual residency at the Village Vanguard (Aug. 2nd), an occasion for revisiting Caine's songbook and a chance to get familiar with some new material. For the first set, they stayed close to the compositions, an eclectic mix of organizational structures and improvisational strategies that kept things interesting: "What Have They Done to Our Country? had a short recurring 'free' section where time and 'rules' were temporarily suspended; "Stuff Happens was like the ever-rising, never-arriving staircases of MC Escher; and "Snaggletooth partied hardy — supremely "swunky with imaginative soloing and tight three-way hook-up. By the second set, the combo seemed primed to stretch out and take chances. Perowsky, a left-hander working a right-handed kit, was vibrant and unpredictable, never playing with two rim shots what he could accomplish with one; Genus, on acoustic upright, was both assertive and wieldy, going deep into the zone on "Othello . Caine was effervescent, hitting long strides on "Stain , "Go Deep and a later-night version of "What...Country? , sustaining high levels of intensity along the way. It's a treat to hear Caine unplugged and in the mood, with nothing between you and the creativity.

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