Good modern jazz/free-improv related happenings have been taking place over on the northern edge of the French Quarter. Thanks to folks such as guitarist, modern/free-jazz impresario Rob Cambre-New Orleans' relatively conservative music scene, has been getting a long overdue face-lift. And while I won't go out on a limb, stating that its traditional musical values have steered off its relatively complacent course-the seeds for modernistic aspirations have been planted.
On Frenchman St, you will find the prolific mainstream jazz venue 'Snug Harbor,' where bands such as New Orleans' own 'Astral Project,' perform to SRO crowds. While newer places such as 'DBA' feature a wide-ranging roster of talent and Caf' Brazil also covers modern/free jazz, among other genres. Yet, 'The Blue Nile,' signifies one of the newer venues to inhabit this altogether artistically inclined area. It was four years ago to the exact date (Aug.17), when jazz great Andrew Cyrille (drums) performed in a duo setting with New Orleans' heralded educator/performer Kidd Jordan (tenor sax).
'The Blue Nile' features an elongated, and rather sinuous bar area to complement an assortment of sofas, chairs, and tables throughout the primary viewing area. The trio performed to a packed house, although there was no excuse for the two women who didn't think twice about standing directly in front of me! However, I politely asked them if they could move just a bit, only to be greeted by a gnarling scowl! Yet we shuffled our seats (at the bar) and all was well, while the trio opened in explosive fashion by engaging in some cat n' mouse escapades. Cyrille's legacy is well documented, but seeing the master at work was a site to behold. He utilizes the kit as a melodic vehicle, amid intermittent rim shots and complex polyrhythmic flurries. Meanwhile, Jordan was on fire. A distinctive stylist who occasionally performs/records with non-New Orleans residents such as William Parker (bass) and others, Jordan often integrates melodically tinged motifs into his muscular attack. Sure, his blistering lines and intervallic leaps are omnipresent, but the tenorist frequently augments his lyrically rich thematic forums with tuneful reverie. Here, Jordan's plaintive cries rode the crest of the undulating wave provided by Elton Heron (a monster bassist) and Cyrille's swarming underpinnings. They also embarked on some extended works, marked by Heron's pumping bass lines, and Cyrille's polytonal African rhythms and multifaceted funk beats. At one point, Cyrille systematically bended his small china symbol to produce a mechanical sounding rhythmic sequence. He also placed his left elbow on the snare drum to enlist disparate tonalities. Hence, it's not all about theatrics, but it's more about ingenuity and substance. In addition, Cyrille tapped his snare strands during a probing duet with Heron. Unfortunately, it just didn't translate all that effectively. Partly due to the sonic characteristics of a live venue, where the nimble plucking and massaging of his snare strands got lost in an indistinct haze or blur. Yet, this was a magnificent show - where the musicians' spiritual power, and instinctive interactions served as an all-telling testament to the power of jazz! What a night, indeed!
Photo Credit: Rob Cambre