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Luis Bonilla, Terri Lyne Carrington, Tony Levin & Otis Taylor

Martin Longley By

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It was King Crimson night at the Iridium, a few days later. Well, not exactly, but Chapman stick specialist Tony Levin's combo also features his drumming colleague in the final incarnation of that outfit, Pat Mastelotto. The third member of Stick Men is Markus Reuter, who plays what he calls touch guitar. The Chapman stick is a many-stringed guitar-bass composite, whilst the touch guitar looks like a regular axe, besides its own abundance of strings (at least eight). Both players concentrate on a technique of keeping both hands quite close to each other, mostly somewhere up on the necks of their instruments. Given that all of Levin's stick looks like a neck, we're talking about where the neck would be in our guitaring imaginations. The sight of this pair daintily stroking and pressing their strings whilst generating great storms of proggy bombast was faintly amusing. Such apocalyptic power as a result of what looked like very gentle caressing!

While the genuine King Crimsom experience lies dormant, this band provides the closest possible thrill. Levin and Mastelotto clearly want to have a touring life whilst Crimson founder Robert Fripp is in retiring mode. Reuter has perfected a stirring Fripp impersonation, replicating the bespectacled one's harshly swooping scabrous surge, that caustically cerebral head-banging complexity. The roles are not completely bass and guitar, as Levin jackknifes between high and low tones. With the added palette of looping and sampling pedals, plus Mastelotto's own electronic pads, it's often not completely clear who's making which monstrous sound. Which means that Levin could also play the Fripp role, having set down his bass line foundation.

This is not to ignore the fact that the Stick Men pens its own original material, as evidenced by the healthy chunks lifted from its new album Deep (Self Produced, 2013). The trio continues the Crimson concept, but it's refracted through its own composite lens. The new pieces included the fiercely angular "Nude Ascending Staircase," "Hide The Trees," and "On/Off," along with the more reflective "Crack In The Sky" and virtual mini-suite "Whale Watch," cinematically narrative in nature, and broodingly dramatic.

Unavoidably more exciting was the inclusion of Crimson pieces from wildly different eras, "Red" and "Industry," plus a solo Fripp tune, "Breathless," from his Exposure (EG, 1979). The other cover was a uniquely surf-rockin' interpretation of Stravinsky's "Firebird Suite," which ended up as a barn dancin' hoedown number. Audiences were crammed in for both sets, and this is a band that still sells CDs in copious quantities, particularly if the personnel are on hand to sign the artifact and chat with the fans.

This was the ultimate blend of visceral rock savagery and complex thematic convolutions, perhaps with a frisson of retro-prog pomp, but usually reeling with a vital now-ness, a palpable sense of committed urgency.

Otis Taylor
Iridium
March 31, 2013

The following night at the Iridium, there was a similarly crowded audience scenario, though oddly concentrated on the first set. Chicagoan bluesman Otis Taylor doesn't often set foot in NYC, so this was no surprise. The second set had a sparser attendance, but these varied head counts ended up having a noticeable effect on the nature of each performance. It was instructive to catch both sides.

Taylor is known as a multi-instrumentalist, but with this latest version of his band he's concentrating on guitar. Even though he said that one of his axes possesses a distinctly banjo-esque sound, this wasn't particularly apparent when he began to play the instrument. The emphasis was certainly on the guitar, as Taylor's regular sideman Shawn Starski was joined by the guesting Mato Nanji, from the South Dakota blues band Indigenous. Nanji has collaborated on Taylor's new album, My World Is Gone, (Telarc, 2013), as a co-writer as well as performer. Nanji's phenomenally scorching solos frequently took center-stage, but Taylor also licked out repeated old school bluesman phrases. His own spotlight solo moment arrived during a harmonica walkabout around the club's tables.

Taylor and Nanji traded vocals on an unusually episodic reading of "Hey Joe," which also featured a striking violin solo by Anne Harris, a constantly energetic presence in the band. Her special request was to revive "Absinthe," a hoary old song from the years gone by, which turned out to be a wise choice indeed. Although soloing the least, guitarist Starski also took a few prime moments in the spotlight.

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