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Murcof, Hamiet Bluiett, Broadcast and Joshua Redman

Martin Longley By

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Murcof

(le) Poisson Rouge

October 14, 2009

Murcof, whose real name is Fernando Corona, hails from Tijuana. His distinctive form of minimalist electronica lately seems to be moving closer towards classical music, and simultaneously becoming even more skeletal in nature. He's been active for nearly a decade, and has evolved from a minimal house pulsation towards collaborative works with massed strings and operatically-trained voices, inhabiting spaces where (sometimes) nothing much happens. It seems like the word hasn't yet spread to a New York audience, although the (l)PR's attentive gathering deserved congratulations for its zero tolerance to extraneous noise or gratuitous fidgeting. This was to be among the most hushed performances in the entire history of humankind.

Firstly, the pianist Francesco Tristano Schlime (resident in Barcelona) gave a delicate recital of Girolamo Frescobaldi pieces (at least this is what was advertised), playing without notation, and with a monkish concentration. At a certain stage, the sound of some piano tinnily emanating from the mixer-guy's headphones seemed unmistakable but, upon reflection, what I heard might have been the first subliminal tweaking made by Murcof himself who, almost unnoticed, had sat at his laptop table. Supposedly, an interval would separate two sets, but instead Murcof seamlessly began to inject transparent striations, subtly stealing Schlime's essence and spreading it across the club's surround-sound speaker system.

For most of the ninety-minute performance, this duo displayed a magnificent restraint. Rarely can such refined sounds be a possibility in public. Partly thanks to a totally captivated audience, Murcof and Schlime set about transporting the assembled into a state of near bodily removal. The pair wove an atmosphere that was utterly unique. Murcof would set up faint repeats of Schlime's patterns, while the pianist would wander on to the next phrase. The build-up was selective, though, instead of being a predictably tiered piling. Murcof would emit tiny alarm-like blips over at one side of the room, then rumble out a subterranean bass foundation. Only in the last fifteen minutes or so did the pulse quicken into an almost-nightclub trot, helping the acolytes to find some kind of release. Murcof latched onto a piano repeat, setting up a thrilling electro-riff. The fact that such an extremely slow build-up led to this state was a marvel of seductive technique, an immense foreplay session, just for eternity's sake.

Hamiet Bluiett

Sistas' Place

October 17, 2009

This was simply billed as a Hamiet Bluiett gig, but surprises were in store. Firstly, the baritone saxophonist was going to be playing as a duo with the Chicagoan percussionist Kahil El'Zabar, the latter heavily influenced by the sound of African drumming. He plays what looks like a modernised version of a Senegalese sabar drum, but El'Zabar's voice is almost as important to his contribution. The house is full at Sistas' Place, on Nostrand Avenue, in the Bedford-Stuyvesant district of Brooklyn. The intimate joint has a buzzing atmosphere, fuelled by rum and vodka. Its weekend jazz nights are organized by trumpeter Ahmed Abdullah.

Bluiett is principally known as a member of the World Saxophone Quartet, and this was going to be a prime opportunity to hear his blowing on a showcase platform. Well, not exactly, as very shortly after the first set's beginning, Doctor Sebi began his clinic. It's difficult to describe exactly what Doctor Sebi does, as this Honduran performer is part poet, part rapper, part storyteller, part ranter and part salesman (of himself). He's a pathologist, herbalist, biochemist and naturalist. It's virtually guaranteed that you've never witnessed anyone quite like Doctor Sebi taking to the stage. He's humorous at the same time as being vaguely threatening, as if his main mission is to extract demons from life's complacent humdrum. His tales are winding, wordy and sometimes completely askew: Sebi has a unique delivery for his unique content.

Bluiett mostly played the baritone, but turned to clarinet and piano to help build up the "opera" that was developing around the soul-chanting of "Veggie Deli." This is the "libretto," endlessly repeated, moving from amusing to affecting to absurd to strangely profound. Even after a long ramble by Sebi, with Bluiett and El'Zabar eventually becoming completely silent, the "Veggie Deli" repeats returned. Even after the intermission, and the bulk of the second (mostly instrumental) set, the evening finished with the by-now hilarious "Veggie Deli" refrain. Then, guest singer Chandra took to the stage for a vocal improvisation that veered from conventional song to abstract invocation. This segment was wild and loose, but never tedious or slack. Even though much of the night had the feel of a casual jam, it also appeared bizarrely pre-planned: striking elements would recede and return, perfectly crafted in their spontaneity.

Broadcast

(le) Poisson Rouge

October 20, 2009

Broadcast import nostalgically space-age exotica from Birmingham, England but have shape-shifted in recent years. Previously the band was a five-piece, with a traditional rock 'n' roll construction. Their music was derived from 1960s pop, often with an experimentalist fascia. Now core members Trish Keenan and James Cargill have stripped down to a mostly tabletop-electronics form, coincidentally fitting in with the majority operating mode that predominates amongst signees to their label, London's Warp Records.

As this sold-out gig was part of New York's annual CMJ (College Music Journal) Music Marathon, the club was particularly bloated with punters. Broadcast are reclusive types, electing to play in almost complete darkness, all the better to heighten their throbbingly geometric, flickeringly repetitive backdrop-films. The duo opened with an extended single-dimensioned pulse, thickly constructed with a muddy palette. Keenan's voice was woven into the general morass, not as clearly highlighted as in days of yore. Given that the club's sound mix is normally excellent, it seems likely that the bass-dominated sludge-sound was a result of Broadcast's own equipment-quirks. Towards set's end, Cargill began playing electric bass, and Keenan was strumming on an axe that looked something like a Turkish baglama. It's courageous of them to step sideways into a less overtly approachable form, but this bold stab at the ineffable has the effect of forcing them to compete in the far more crowded and competitive universe of laptop electronica. Eventually, Broadcast stitched in a clutch of older songs; but without the bright communicativeness of a full band, their old distinctive sound was getting lost. Overhearing the comments of the departing masses, this was a performance that had provoked sharply divided opinions between the ecstatic and the disappointed.

The Joshua Redman Trio

Jazz Standard

October 21, 2009

Another sold-out gig, this one had its audience exclusively seated at tables. It was also one of the Jazz Standard's more in-demand bookings, following an increasing trend of big-name artists deliberately choosing to play in venues they could easily fill several times over. This is a New York phenomenon, and it's easy to see why a player might want to suck in the adoring radiance of an audience at very close quarters. How unusual that saxophonist Joshua Redman would elect to pepper his opening-night set with standards, or almost-standards. Most of the crowd was probably expecting to hear primarily material from his recent Compass album's repertoire, but he opened with "Mack The Knife," then dropped in "Sophisticated Lady." Freddie Hubbard's "Crisis" is less commonly covered but still represented Redman in jazz club mode, even though he was alternating with Compass material. Whichever way, the interplay between Redman and his bandmates remained at an extremely sensitized level. Bassist Matt Penman and drummer Gregory Hutchinson were chosen to fulfill this five-night residency, echoing the set-up on the album, or at least half of its twinned-trio construction. Redman is never predictable, a soloist in constantly restless motion but always imbued with a radiant tone, whether revealing a softened moment or tensing for a hardened spew. He consistently holds the attention, refusing to slip anywhere near the knee-jerk route for expression.

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