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Jazz on a Summer's Day 2013

Phillip Woolever By

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Krefeld's good karma may have led to an extraordinary improvisation. After a lack of sufficient lighting left a generally dark stage, Iyer had one of those "make lemonade" moments and let his ivories illuminate the bandstand by improvisations that fit the unusual visuals.

Accustomed to high definition surroundings and dexterity, Iyer noticed a lack of spotlights. "I think we need some more lights up here, we're kind of in the shadows," he hinted, with an unrequited pause.

What sparse lighting there was cast wild images of the musicians across a surrounding canopy, with intriguing effects. While the players' elongated silhouettes cavorted across brightly contrasting white plastic, numerous folks moved to watch beside the stage, as if viewing a puppet theatre.

Whether Iyer actually jammed with the shadows or not is pure speculation. If not a conscious effort at interpreting sound and form, it was one hell of a coincidence, considering Iyer's resume. If he kept multiple meters with fingers almost curled, or stretched the digits across layered scales, the sounds and sights seemed in sync. Plenty of people filmed the canvas with various devices.

Iyer could have probably cruised through any standard in his sleep, and a more traditional trio format sounded great, served sunny, swinging side up. Future Bop, perhaps?

"Star of the Story" transformed a disco-era hit into slow burning, melancholy fusion. The band tossed each other a few curves and seemed to be enjoying it. So did the smiling audience. Sitting in the central grass or sharing a pilsner at distant concessions, almost everyone swayed in a hard groove.

The set was not at all about Iyer alone, as his cohorts shared a similar vision.

Engaged in deep, private conversation, Crump offered oscillations during the soulful "Lude" that sounded drastically retuned, but with nary a machine head adjusted. His bow seemed to carry the overhead clouds. As Sorey sequenced a slow burning "Bode" with whispering poly rhythms, his cymbal brushes floated like fireflies.

They hit a collective high point during "Accelerando" and a cohesive peak during "Dogon AD," by Julius Hemphill, with a funky churning like grist for the jazz gods. Ultimately, Iyer's innovative approach to composition may be an acquired taste, but anyone who adjourned early missed gems from one of the very best trios in the game.

The prevailing case for Krefeld's abundant, abstract charm was eloquently stated by the casual precision of every artist, and also how the crowd mingled in the courtyard. For all the peripheral chatter and clatter, there were times when everyone was so tuned in it seemed like a group meditation. Sporadic intervals of calculated disharmony were a constant characteristic of the evening, but there was little discord in the proceedings. A huge crescent moon looked almost too good to be real.

The program opened with the latest collaboration between frequent German partners, saxophonist Angelika Niescier and pianist Florian Weber. The debut of their New York Quintet project featured a formidable lineup of US representatives, with Ralph Alessi on trumpet, Chris Tordini on bass, and the multitasking Sorey on drums.


These downbeat dignitaries had previously mingled under different formations, and their obvious rapport got things off to a quick, upbeat start. Krefeld was somewhat of a return engagement for Niescier and Sorey, who appeared in a trio here in 2009.

The interaction between Niescier and Alessi built and sustained a driving meter as the quintet piled on polyrhythms to build and deconstruct a chordal castle of its own, brick by brick. Alessi stood out with short solos and provided deep accents, as the group swelled from gentler initial interludes to near fusion chaos. Tordini was a constant anchor in the eye of the storm, while everyone excelled at complicated transitions during extremely varied passages or tempos.

The quintet's positive chemistry may have been a case of sharing familiarity—but not being too familiar—with each other. As they smiled and signaled to each other, both strong camaraderie and communication seemed apparent. It was a case where the musicians felt emotional energy from the surroundings and returned it to the crowd, musically.

"Looking around backstage, we felt like it was 1419 or something and we were playing at some medieval fair," the band observed. Time capsule couplets, indeed.

Steadily emerging Norwegian trumpeter Mathias Eick has gained notice as a composer well worth a listen. His busy annual schedule ranges from major festivals to small clubs to morning media gigs in public places. Today, his band was locked in tight for nearly all of its hour-long set and it briefly usurped the show from Iyer's trio, one of the most heralded groups in current jazz.

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