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Matthew Shipp, Marc Ribot, Dorado Schmitt & Randy Weston

Matthew Shipp, Marc Ribot, Dorado Schmitt & Randy Weston
Martin Longley By

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The Matthew Shipp Trio
Dizzy's Club
November 3, 2014

It's not often that a hero of New York's alternative downtown improvising scene ventures uptown to play a mainline jazz club. It's even more of a rarity for a Dizzy's set to consist of a single long piece. In fact, it's a virtual certainty that such a thing has never occurred before. Pianist Matthew Shipp seemed to find himself an entirely new audience on this Monday evening, as few of the regular faces were in sight from the gigs he plays below 14th Street. The crowd didn't particularly seem to be random tourist drop-ins either, so maybe the promise of a Duke Ellington homage was the enticement, or perhaps folks thought it was high time they checked out this vaguely familiar Shipp character. Either way, the first set was filled to absolute capacity, and there was a significant queue in place for the second.

It turned out to be an inspired move, using the repertoire of Duke as a springboard for improvisation. Of course, all jazz involves improvisation, but the degree of free-flowing during this set was at a much higher ratio than the norm, particularly when inhabiting the realms of Ellington. Some folks might have harboured doubts about this foundation concept, but the evening's execution proved the idea to be perfectly sound. Shipp was joined for the long, deep voyage by bassist Michael Bisio and drummer Newman Taylor Baker.

Melody and abstract suspension coincided, as "Satin Doll" became "Stain Doll," as prettified chiming opened out into clustered rolling. It was a marvellous experience to hear such a familiar melody, streaked and strained in possibly one of the lengthiest interpretations ever delivered. One band member would invariably keep up a reference to the starter theme at any one time, with the remaining pair unfettered and roaming at will. The core was usually supported. Shipp moved frequently between dancing rivulets of cocktailed melody, which he'd gradually lead further afield into a still-opalescent re-christening of extremity. The set became a suite of spontaneity, but rooted more than most of this trio's output would usually be, cruising logically from one composition's ghost to another. The transition was very gradual, and it would take time to recognise the trace elements. "In A Sentimental Mood" started to sound like some non-Duke Broadway standard, pecking at alien sparkles, into a roiling cloud chamber of faint scent-recall. Traditional lines were subject to fragmentation and dicing, yet still held onto their original romantic essence. Bisio was left alone to solo, coaxing out the vibrations of a single string, then scrabbling percussively across all four, stretching, pulling and twanging, then drawing his bow across them with a grave groan. Baker decided that he too would like to be left completely alone, so set about crafting a detailed patter with his slim, bulb-headed sticks, tripping lightly. Then, Shipp re-entered with slammed power-chord force, developing a denuded, autumnal "Summertime," in surely what was one of this tune's most melancholy interpretations, morbidly droning, heavily dispersed, and slipping profoundly into winter-time.

The Marc Ribot Trio
(le) Poisson Rouge
November 3, 2014

Guitarist Marc Ribot's trio were limbering up for an imminent European tour, and also celebrating the 79th birthday of bassman Henry Grimes. Their late-night set at this Bleecker Street den was almost certainly more hot-wired than their residency at the Village Vanguard, as evidenced by its companion live album on Pi Recordings. Ribot was immediately running off into a distorted run of rock-spillage soloing, the trio initiating a pitch of intensity that sprang into existence straight away. Frazzling guitar licks burst out incessantly, matched by the levitating rumble of Grimes and drummer Chad Taylor. An expected highlight was the exultant sway of Albert Ayler's "Spirits Rejoice," which sat at leisure in the midst of the set. At the end, a cake was whisked out for Grimes, and distributed amongst the healthily crammed crowd. We never thought that we'd ever hear Ribot lead a rendition of "Happy Birthday"! For their encore the trio bled out a soiled blues, which released a lot of the tension built up by the spiralling structures of nervy scrabbling accumulated during this notably smouldering performance. The trio's introspective commitment was almost too much to handle.

Dorado Schmitt
Birdland
November 5, 2014


This one was a family affair, in the extreme sense. The French guitarist and fiddler Dorado Schmitt brought along three of his sons for this 15th Django Reinhardt NY Festival, as well as a bonus cousin. Their brood-bond was understandably close, springing outwards with zestiness, from the music. The fulsome stage-spread of players also included a few more regular faces from this scene, their mission to broaden the mostly guitar-ed palette with accordion (Ludovic Beier), violin (Pierre Blanchard) and bass (Xavier Nikq), all of who were awarded generous soloing space. Schmitt opened with a run of fiddling, and the uninitiated might have assumed that this was his primary axe, until he sat down to play guitar for the remainder of this substantial set.

Father Schmitt delivered several fluid solos, but he was also set on showcasing the talents of his fleet-picking sons. Samson and Bronson acquitted themselves well, but it was Amati who amazed. He embarked on a sequence of extended solos that were stunningly executed, both in the realms of physical technique and emotional expressivity. His phrases were the means of loquacious communication, at the service of a meaningful melody, not just running and leaping for their own sake. Not that there's necessarily anything wrong with merely gratuitous note-streams, but Amati was going out beyond, prompting a stunned, transfixed state around the Birdland dining tables.

Randy Weston's African Rhythms Octet
Skirball Center For The Performing Arts
November 9, 2014

New York University's Institute Of African American Affairs and Department Of History presented this gig, as a celebration of pioneer ragtime composer/bandleader James Reese Europe and the Harlem Hellfighters. That's a lot of names to take in, and in sympathy with this, the show was introduced by no fewer than three speakers, each handing over to the next. It was almost thirty minutes after the advised start-time that we began to hear music, but the background to this presentation needed to be explained. The Hellfighters were a WWI African American combat unit in the 369th Regiment, who also happened to be a band, otherwise known as Harlem's Rattlers. This gig was prompted by the publication of a book on the subject (Harlem's Rattlers And The Great War) by Professors Jeffrey T. Sammons and John H. Morrow Jr.

Pianist Randy Weston selected appropriate pieces from his existing songbook, as well penning some original music for the evening, including "Waltz For James Reese Europe" and "Hellfighter's Band Blues." He also sneaked in a sympathetic oldie in the shape of W.C. Handy's "Memphis Blues." Weston's regular quartet of saxophonist TK Blue, bassist Alex Blake and percussionist Neil Clarke were augmented by a further foursome, Robert Trowers (trombone), Howard Johnson (tuba), Vincent Ector (drums) and Ayodele Ankhtawi Maakheru (banjos). One of this latter player's axes looked to be homemade, and had the sound and appearance of a West African n'goni, highlighting an organic snapping resonance. Along with Clarke's Afro-orientated skin-spread, this imparted a mixture of cross-Atlantic rootsiness and vintage jazz vocabulary, streaking into Weston's own singular vision. The tunes were well organised into themes and solos, expertly negotiated, but sometimes lacking bite. It was Blue who repeatedly energised the proceedings, soloing with an impassioned sense of urgency. Clarke took turns as a virtual percussionist, brutalising his strings with hard-fingered accuracy, singing along with a ritual release. Weston was more relaxed, constructing elaborately flowing gestures with every spotlit run. Ultimately, though, the atmosphere was quite formal, and it would have been preferable to hear this music in a club environment.

Photo Credit: Frank Stewart

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