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Knitting Factory 6/28/97 Matthew Shipp Trio feat. Suzue Ibarra (d), William Parker (b) Elaine Elias Trio feat. Marc Johnson (b), Satoshi Takaeishi (d) Cyrus Chestnut Trio feat. Alvester Garnet (d), Steve Kirby (b) This line-up is a fine example of what sets the Knitting Factory's festival apart from the other NYC based multi-act jazz lineups. One may argue as to whether being served up meat before dessert is a good thing or not. However, as far as jazz goes, it is. The idea behind the Knitting Factory's festival is that it is up to the listener to decide what jazz is and isn't while at the same time educating people not by dictating what they should and shouldn't like, but by providing a scene where one can be turned on to an astonishing range of music.
This evening gave a representation of the possibilities available to the format of the piano trio. Starting with long-time Knit mainstay and downtown fav, Matthew Shipp, his trio began the night with a thrilling 80 minute non-stop challenge to the listener. The challenge is to be an active, not a passive participant in this process that is so elemental to live jazz. While Shipp is also a fine solo player, the playing of the phenomenal rhythm section of Suzie Ibarra and William Parker was simply astounding. Ibarra, clearly a student of Milford Graves, is able to play both in a poly-rhythmic sense ala Elvin Jones while at the same time playing free. She is equally adept at driving the group and being a responsive agent to Shipp and Parker. Showing a sensitivity lacking in so many "free" drummers, Ibarra will soon be a household name within progressive music circles. While connections between acts sometimes happen and sometimes don't, tonight was extra special as Shipp was ending his piece, he quoted "Autumn Leaves" a few times, while each time doing something different with it. Perhaps that is why Elaine Elias decided to open her terrific set with her own version of this timeless classic. Playing with bass virtuoso Marc Johnson, Elias laid tribute to her Brazilian roots while also demonstrating a command of the mainstream idiom, dipping into a bag of tunes consisting of Jobim, standard be-bop fare all the way to her original compositions, Elias and trio played with fire and clearly had fun while doing so. The sweet release of the evening was a superb set turned in by Cyrus Chestnut. Ranging from a brisk reading of "It's All Right with Me" to a blues penned in tribute to grandma, Cyrus and Co. held sway with a firm grasp of sweet swing and melodic innovation. Sounding as consistent and tight as any working trio in jazz today, Chestnut had the sold-out Knitting Factory audience in the palm of his hand. Playing for ninety minutes, the Baltimore native could have kept this crowd all night if he wished. The development of this fine player, since his days with Betty Carter and Wynton Marsalis is apparent. He has done what so few players his age have been able to do that is, to find his own voice while not forgetting about the traditions that spawned him.
A terrific night of playing put on by a terrific festival, the 1997 Knitting Factory's Texaco New York Jazz Festival.
Years ago now--in Rhodesia--listening to Voice of America with Willis Conover I heard Bunk Johnson play When The Saints Go Marching In, and Billie Holiday sing Don't Explain. I knew then there was no other life for me than jazz.