Live From New York: FONT Music, The Paradox Trio/Bojan Z, Clean Feed Festival; The Fringe
FONT (Festival Of New Trumpet) Music
(le) Poisson Rouge/The Cornelia Street Cafe
September 17-18, 2008
This year's FONT suffered from a clash with the Clean Feed festival, which was planted right in its middle stretch. Even so, this orgy of trumpeting offered up so many performances in so many haunts that it was inevitable that some of it would be sampled, even if only via a brief licking. Two of FONT's primary venues possess highly contrasting atmospheres...
Usually, (le) Poisson Rouge is an excellent place to hear music, but its diverse double bill with the Iraqi- American Amir El Saffar and Israeli Avishai Cohen ends up with a feeling of distance from both bandleaders, their two sets being captivating but rarely rousing. Cohen is leading his Triveni trio, with bassist Omer Avital and drummer Nasheet Waits. Later in the set, they're joined by pianist Jason Lindner. El Saffar's quartet features a mainline jazz line-up, with Vijay Iyer (piano), Francois Moutin (bass) and Eric McPherson (drums). It's a disappointment that this trumpeter is now shedding the Middle Eastern instrumentation that's been so successful in characterising his sound during the Two Rivers project (although Iyer is adopting a suitably detuned modality in his solos). There's something about the near-darkness of the stage, and each combo's almost-routine soloing sequences that mark the night down as enjoyable but nowhere near as inspirational as could be hoped, particularly with El Saffar's recent glowing progress as a master musician and composer.
The following night, intimacy holds sway down at the stage-front of the Cornelia Street Cafe. This basement den's New Trumpet Underground sub-section of the festival is booked by Taylor Ho Bynum and, unsurprisingly, features some of FONT's more extreme sounds. Rich Johnson is sitting cross-legged on the floor, his horn pointing down towards his laptop. Behind him, Aaron Jennings and Eivind Opsvik are softly caressing their guitars. This might be shimmering at the Jon Hassell end of jazz, but even though they're shaping up a tranquil rather than raging soundscape, the end is result is no less diverting. Johnson is altering his sound, with mute augmented by a laptop acting as the modern times equivalent of such rubbery stoppering, issuing its own sonic manipulations. Next onstage is Hampton Roads, a quintet led by Lewis Barnes, set on riling up the joint with some high-powered themes, discharged mostly at a racing pace. Barnes is impressive, but it's altoman Darius Jones who blows all away with his immense stamina, reeling off gabbling solos that continually push up the energy levels of this inflamed yet precise music.
The Paradox Trio and Bojan Z
September 18, 2008
New York's Paradox Trio and Serbia's Bojan Z have been collaborating of late, working on a form of jazz that co-opts a multitude of Eastern European, Middle Eastern and North African musical forms, switching them into a hybrid shape that's a genre unto itself. The adopted Frenchman Bojan Zulfikarpasic doesn't play often in NYC, so it's slightly frustrating that he's concentrating on acoustic piano. His electric work invariably provides a dirtily distressed, percussively raw-edged experience. Nevertheless, Mister Z's regular keyboard palette has the advantage of extra lyrical grace, employing a rushing river of eloquent phrases. Even though this music is still clearly unfamiliar to Z, he's melding instantly with the Paradox clan of reedsman Matt Darriau, guitarist Brad Shepik, cellist Rufus Cappadocia and percussionist Seido Salifoski.
Clean Feed Festival
The Living Theatre
September 19-24, 2008
Last year, the Clean Feed festival was housed at The Cornelia Street Cafe, but for 2008's six-day stretch this crucial Portuguese label has now moved to the slightly more formal environs of The Living Theatre in the Lower East Side. It was local beatnik poet Steve Dalachinsky who connected label with space, so he gets to emcee each night, encouraging folks to purchase discs, gobble olives and consume wine that just happens to originate from Portugal itself. Every night of the festival seems to bring a new piece of scaffolding to the surroundings, as set construction evolves for the next Living Theatre production. The stage lighting is quirky, too. Glowing washes bloom at seemingly inappropriate moments, then are quelled into dimness. After a few nights, this unpredictability takes on a strange charm.
Although stretching out its tentacles from Lisbon, Clean Feed has a strikingly complete understanding of the New York scene, or even, more specifically, the Brooklyn scene. This is underlined by the fact that they can organise a festival that almost exclusively features local combos, most of them throwing out an extreme degree of creative heat. Each evening features a double bill of acts...
Friday 19th: Normally, the opening set by the Drunk Butterfly trio (this is the name of their debut disc) would be a sufficient to produce a warm glow, but reedsman Mark Whitecage, bassist Adam Lane and drummer Lou Grassi end up being easily transcended by the Michael Dessen Trio. This Californian trombonist is just beginning to make his mark, and recently released Between Shadow And Space on Clean Feed. The wonders of that record are thankfully translated to the live stage, with Dessen utilising laptop alterations, but customarily in a subtle manner, organically re-curving his output. This set relishes extreme contrasts between near-silence and dense activity, moving from meditation to mash-up, without any sense of inappropriate behaviour.
Saturday 20th: Brooklyn tenor man Stephen Gauci's Basso Continuo involves the central concept of twinned basses (Ken Filiano, Mike Bisio) and no drums, with the leader and trumpeter Nate Wooley building the front firing line. Somehow, the delicacy of the quartet's interactions doesn't sound as enveloping as on last year's Ndidhyasana album, particularly as the basses sound quite thinly arrayed within the Theatre's hard environs. The horns dominate, with their stringent chatter, and the sonic confrontations within the band tend to have a negative effect on the communal result. Fortunately, Gauci helps matters along by being in a particularly concentrated state, throwing himself completely into the music. There's a different manifestation of power during Dual Identity's set. These guys are even harder, and before long Damion Reid's drumming style begins to batter on the cranium, trebly, cutting and militarily insistent. Around halfway though the set, the entire combo locks into a convoluted groove, and co-leader alto saxophonists Steve Lehman and Rudresh Mahanthappa begin a spiralling ascent, attempting to surmount each other's solos in a totally gripping fashion. This is funk complexity in the post Prime Time anti-tradition.
Sunday 21st: This is the night that FONT Music and Clean Feed unite, with a pair of trumpeters to the fore. The Empty Cage Quartet, from Los Angeles, features Chris Tiner (flugelhorn), joined by reedsman Jason Mears, bassist Ivan Johnson and drummer Paul Kikuchi. Their set is adequate, but is topped by that of Dallas trumpeter Dennis Gonzalez and Brooklyn bassman Rachlim Ausar-Sahu, who necessarily opt for a spacious, thoughtful dialogue, peppered with some of the festival's most mainstream moments. Effectively, this is the only unremarkable evening in Clean Feed's kinetic run.
Wednesday 24th: Bassist Sean Conly's Re:Action begin the evening in striking fashion boasting not only the fine horn thrust of trombonist Joe Fielder and saxophonist Michael Attias, the latter hefting his baritone with Herculean authority. All this, and their drummer is Pheeroan akLaff..! The only way to follow this combo is with the best presentation of this year's festival, delivered by the mighty Hellbent, a newish quartet led by tenor man Michael Blake. He has a dream line-up convened to play a brilliant set of compositions, employing an instrumentation which is hardly typical in the jazz sphere: Marcus Rojas (tuba), Charlie Burnham (violin) and Grant Calvin Weston (drums). This is a team of fierce individualists, embracing funk and abstraction, employing tuneful riff-themes and disemboweling solo tactics. There's an inspired confidence to their playing that lends the illusion of a casual engagement with the material. Burnham seethes with amplified power, stroking with liquid friction across his strings. Rojas is a buffeting presence, wobbling with great agility. Weston releases a storm of energy, completely uninhibited in his quest for the ultimate drum explosion. Clean Feed's Pedro Costa admits that he's not yet familiar with Hellbent, but it must be a certainty that there'll be an album on the label's prolific release schedules in the very near future.
The Cornelia Street Cafe
September 26, 2008
An attempt to witness the classic line-up of The Fringe is derailed by the absence of this cultish Boston trio's drummer Bob Gullotti. Tenor saxophonist George Garzone and bassman John Lockwood are making a swift return to this Greenwich Village basement, but the evening's replacement sticksman is the Cuban Francisco Mela. This is no disadvantage, as he provides a dynamic sparring partner for Garzone, who spends much of the gig ramming up to the drumkit with his horn, blowing abrasive gusts into Mela's face, as if challenging him to play faster, harder and with more intricacy, as if he isn't already following the development of each piece with an uncanny precision. Poor old Lockwood is almost a bystander, so animated is Garzone by this new challenge. Mela is heard here in a more extreme free-form setting, hurling himself into the music with a massive passion. He'll hover his sticks over the skins, waiting for the optimum instant to pounce, cultivating a sideways sense of apparent arrhythmia, rarely delivering the expected accent, but always surprising with an exact hit in a fresh percussive space. Garzone's tone is fulsome and forceful, old- fashioned and wild in the same breath, with rounded tone and growling articulation. There's a mysterious combination within The Fringe that's in sharp contrast to Garzone, Lockwood and Mela's work in other formations, something in the band-name that nurtures extremity and eclipse.
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