December 22, 2014
In the wintry wasteland, the new-ish Trans-Pecos venue did not seem to boast a particularly peachy set-up. It may or may not still be operated by Todd P, normally known as a promoter of slightly swerved rock outfits, and there were tales of this old Silent Barn-owned hole having some kind of bar. Now, there seems to be no licence for booze, and no cash for heating in this ultra-ascetic space. The lighting is also almost non-existent, but that's more of an artistic choice, proving that some spartan elements can have positive results. Even the floor is mostly bare, scattered with functional wooden stool-plinths. Trans-Pecos is located in Ridgewood, Queens, technically, but not far from Brooklyn's Bushwick, and very close to the L train subway. Even so, the desolate landscape doesn't offer a nearby bar alternative, or many eateries, so this is a joint for the (extremely) dedicated alternative music enthusiast. Psychological barriers had to be surmounted. So, despite initial misgivings about having made a serious bad choice of evening entertainment, once the performers jacked up, the night was saved.
The central performance came courtesy of Colonic Youth, who were the odd ones out, bookended by a pair of electronicists, each cohabiting the stage with a more traditional instrumentalist. Not that this quartet don't feature an electronics specialist, in the shape of Philip White, it's just that their sounds spring out of an improvised jazz/rock/noise burrow, rather than a more studied academic hole. White's three cohorts are more known in jazzing quarters: James Ilgenfritz
(upright bass), Kevin Shea
(drums) and Dan Blake
(saxophones and, this time, bagpipe-y and double-reed relics). Their set was cutting and concise, like a delicacy of extremity, played as a single piece, or eruption, that was presumably improvised. Ilgenfritz can often be witnessed in more studied, or even moderne classical, outfits, but when caught within these ranks, he plays at his most physically brutal limit, flaying the strings to bruise, thrumming up a blurring stanchion of solid, deep resonance. White favoured the lower end of electro-rumble too, often working in tandem with Ilgenfritz, doubling the low frequency tension, but still splicing apart from the bloodied acoustic strings. Split-brain thundering ensued. Meanwhile, Shea was a smearing of stick-fluidity, scattering close-knit beat-ratchets liberally, ever in motion, sutured to his cohorts. Blake mostly stuck to soprano saxophone, but made bleating diversions on a very rural-looking bagpipe, like something from the Galician hills, and a reed-pipe that could have arrived from either India or Morocco. Near-demonic darkness cloaked any details. This gig almost acted as an album release party for the very fresh "Fountain Of Youth" (available on Ilgenfritz's Infrequent Seams label), but we're not talking about any expected celebratory sounds, as this foursome hurtled into the sonic abyss. It was unremitting and exhilarating, as inwardly-bound bone-grating tension conflicted with a rush of orgiastic chemical release. The motion was kept in suspension, fluttering like a bloated, dripping turd of power. And they call this jazz? Well, probably, they don't, but the extended flood sounded very much a part of improvisation, vaguely descended from the distant funeral stomp of New Orleans, glorious in its polyphonic scream.
Andy Farber & The After Midnight Orchestra
December 23, 2014
By way of complete contrast, the following evening found the embracing Jazz Standard basement hosting a large ensemble who were devoted to the reproduction of tunes from a bygone age, enfolding the pre-Yule capacity crowd in the warmth of golden-hued nostalgia. This is the band that played for the hit Broadway musical After Midnight, well accustomed to cosseting singers such as Patti Labelle
and Tony Bennett
. For this one-nighter, they'd invited Catherine Russell
to guest, one of New York's finest vocal interpreters of songs from the classy age of jazz. Andy Farber
was a genial host, keeping the gathering informed regarding who was soloing, and generally exuding an aura of approachable chattiness. His attention to saxophone and flute was mostly distracted, as he was kept busy enough with conducting duties. The 19-strong combo's key soloists included saxophonist Dan Block
, trumpeter James Zollar
and trombonist Art Baron