London Jazz Festival 2008
Nov. 14-23, 2008
Ken Vandermark, Barry Guy, Mark Sanders
In a meticulously unplanned concert, the music often seemed like a sonic battle between these three renowned improvisers. Sporting a black fitted tee and a hairstyle that could be straight from the Police Academy films, Vandermark was the dominant voice. On tenor saxophone and occasionally clarinet, his signature wailing, guttural, distorted screams interchanged with lithely melodic phrases and deft percussive passages. Sanders and Guy were largely in the background, providing a constant stream of ideas and demonstrating why they are so highly regarded amongst the European avant-garde. Guy in particular employed a number of extended techniques, utilizing all parts of his five-string double bass and performing on-the-job customizations such as jamming a drumstick under the strings, or using a soft-headed beater to produce gentle ripples of sound during quieter movements. Certainly a spectacular opening for the promising festival program, it would be hard for any subsequent performance to surpass the sheer creative intensity on display this Friday night.
The idea of a band playing live to accompany films is becoming very fashionable: Courtney Pine and Steven Bernstein are, along with Frisell, artists who have experimented with the concept. Frisell's trio tonight provided the soundtrack for a series of short pieces, from abstract insectile cartoons to a couple of delightful Buster Keaton slapsticks. With such a volume of audio and visual stimuli assaulting the senses, it was difficult to simultaneously focus attention on both music and moving images. However, the band, comprising Kenny Wollesen on drums and Tony Scherr on bass, always produced something to fit the occasionwhether stretching out in illustrative soundscapes or employing highly synchronized compositions with clever and perfectly-timed sound effects from the drummer. Always the individual stylist, Frisell stamped his mark on everything they played, his instantly recognizable tone ringing out with influences heavy in rock and country as much as jazz. The only drawback was that, occasionally, there was not a lot of variation in the overall sound produced for different films.
Richard Galliano and Gonzalo Rubalcaba
Queen Elizabeth Hall
A truly dreadful opening act featuring Romanian violinist Alexander Balanescu and Russian accordionist/singer Evelina Petrova went on for much too long without going anywhere musically; it wasn't even jazz. Galliano and Rubalcaba did not appear as a duo until after 10 p.m., following brief solo recitals from both. The fleet-fingered French accordion player ran through a series of short tunes, including Astor Piazzolla's classic "Libertango," with typically passionate Gallic flair. Rubalcaba's formidable touch was not employed to its fullest extent at any stage. His hands danced around the keys, but he seems to have developed a calmer, more restrained and exploratory attitudethere were no blistering runs, but his harmonic and rhythmic inventiveness was equally spectacular for those listening carefully. As a duo, they were engaging and communicative, giving each other space to play and not going over the top. A few more tempo changes would have been pleasing, but on the whole an impressive and vibrant performance.
What hasn't been said about Chris Potter? Deserved critical praise has been sent his way from all angles, including for the current 'Underground' project featuring Craig Taborn (Fender Rhodes), Adam Rogers (guitar) and Nate Smith (drums). All were in fine form at Ronnie's, with the band's groove-oriented aesthetic laid bare for a packed house to enjoy. Potter's tenor sax (and occasional bass clarinet) cut through an intriguing web of guitar and Rhodes as they melted together lavishly, with either Rogers or Taborn keeping an eye on the low frequencies to compensate for the lack of bassist. The saxophonist's brutally rhythmic improvisational attack is perfectly suited to this kind of upbeat settingthe band has mastered the art of carefully growing each tune, gently rising in volume and intensity to push any soloist to his limits. And the repertoire wasn't restricted to fast-paced blitzing assaults, with Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell covers thrown in for a bit of mellow variety.