New Universe Music Festival: Day 1, November 20, 2010

John Kelman By

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Human Element

It's been far too long since Scott Kinsey—a busy player who has worked with everyone from guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel and trumpeter Tim Hagans, to renowned fusion group Tribal Tech (which is in the process of finalizing its first album in ten years, to come in 2011)—released Kinesthetics (Abstract Logix, 2006), and while he began a follow-up recording, his intention to reduce Kinesthetics' larger cast to a smaller, consistent group of players resulted in the germination of Human Elements, a more egalitarian collective that starts where Zawinul Syndicate left off, but with plenty of differences as well.

Scott Kinsey

Zawinul was noted for his "nobody solos and everybody solos" aesthetic—a clear foundation for Human Elements' modus operandi—there were clear solo features as well. Garrison—who, in addition to work on other Abstract Logix albums like Machacek's Improvision, has released a string of fine independent releases including the global-centric Shapeshifter (2004)—was front and center, and as much a lead voice as Kinsey's as he executed lines stunning breadth and speed. His ability to sweep across the neck of his five-string bass, combining vertical and horizontal lines with close voicings in a staggering demonstration of near-self accompaniment, created both a firm foundation with Barot and no shortage of exciting, snaking lines that moved in, out and around of Kinsey's equally quirky approach to keyboard orchestration.

What made the first day of the New Universe Music Festival so revealing—and something that's sure to continue on the second—was its dispensing of so many popular misconceptions about fusion. Yes, it was electric and electrifying; and yes, it was high on testosterone, instrumental virtuosity and high volume, high octane, high speed playing. But amongst the first three groups—from Machacek's cerebral writing and Barot's Indo-centric approach to western fusion, to Human Element's integration of world music concerns and booty-shaking grooves—there was proof that fusion crosses a wide spectrum, and that any attempts at reductionist pigeonholing are absolutely misinformed...and, quite simply, incorrect. With music as eminently danceable as Human Elements'—even when the meters were irregular—it was clear that words like bombast and excess simply ddn't belong in the same sentence as any of the groups so far. And any thoughts of this being simply music made to set a context and then get out of the way for endless soloing were belied by arrangements that evolved seamlessly, sometimes gradually, and always with an acute narrative sense.

Matthew Garrison

Kinsey's engagement was clear from the start. Facing into the group, there was plenty of eye contact going on, and no shortage of acknowledging nods and smiles as well. The relentless grooves were enough to get the crowd moving; but it was the remarkable interplay between Kinsey, Garrison, Tuncboyaciyan and Barot—who did an outstanding job subbing for the group's regular drummer Gary Novak—that kept them engaged. Well-paced, with an ebb-and-flow dynamic that lent the performance shape and dramaturgy, if it's any indication of what the group's debut will be like when it finally hits the streets, Human Elements is going to be a group that makes some serious noise in fusion and world music circles.

Jimmy Herring

With all the knotty writing and odd meters abounding, it was a ballsy move for guitarist Jimmy Herring to open with Roy Buchanan's 12/8 chestnut, "Dreams." But while its structure was simple, in the hands of Herring's crack, well-oiled touring band—in addition to keyboardist Matt Slocum, bassist Neal Fountain and drummer Jeff Sipe (both already heard earlier in the evening as the fire in Alex Machacek's engine room)—it became a tour de force that clarified Herring's status as one of the best guitarists all too few have heard. Herring, a longtime member of Southern jamband Widespread Panic, possessed the attention to sweet tone that's made Jeff Beck such a success, but his language was far more advanced, as he also proved during a closing set to the first day of the New Universe Music Festival that went from Buchanan to John Coltrane, with a little Led Zeppelin thrown in for good measure.

Jimmy Herring

Whether Herring was delivering soulful, searing and endlessly inventive solos to cover tunes like Zeppelin's enduring blues, "Since I've Been Loving You," or blowing the roof off the Lincoln Theatre with his own material, culled from Lifeboat (Abstract Logix, 2008) and some new material to boot, what defined his playing throughout the set was an unfailing ear for tone and a focused sense of construction that built each extended solo with dramatic peaks and valleys, and oftentimes multiple climaxes that, rather than leaving the audience spent, only raised the temperature and anticipation in the room.

This was clearly Herring's show in terms of maximum solo space, but his group was no less impressive. Fountain, alternating between his six-string bass and a funky Dan Electro four-string, proved the consummate player, adapting from Machacek's headier music to Herring's more inherently visceral repertoire without a single glitch. Busy when required, but keeping it simple when the song demanded, he locked into some absolutely evil grooves with Sipe, who also demonstrated a clear understanding and selfless approach that made the demands of the music paramount. The two build the greasier backbeat of Lifeboat's "New Moon" into a powerful show-stopper that featured one of Herring's best solos of the set, his combination of whammy bar and finger-driven bends sounding more like a slide guitar that, somehow occupying a timbral space not unlike Derek Trucks, may well have been an influence on the younger guitarist.

Neal Fountain

In a music that marries a jazz vernacular with the energy and power of rock, Herring's music sometimes leans more on the rock side of the equation, but if there were any doubts of his jazz cred—and hearing how he played in, around and through the changes of every piece, there shouldn't have been—they all disappeared when the group fired into Coltrane's classic "Impressions." Delivering a jaw-dropping modal solo, it was just one more example of a guitarist who demonstrated the less-is-more taste of Jeff Beck with Larry Carlton's tasty ability to navigate any context with a sweet tone given a sharper edge.

While encore demands earlier in the evening had to be declined to keep the evening on schedule, as the last band of the evening, there was no reason why the audience's scream, whistles and loud applause shouldn't have been satisfied, and so Herring came back for one final tune, where keyboardist Slocum—a rare player who still travels with an old clavinet, and it's beyond a good thing that he does—delivered a stunning solo that began on the decades-old instrument and, after exploring a range of choppy, wah-driven chords and almost impossibly fast double-fingered trills, moved dramatically to organ for a lead-in the Herring's final solo of the evening, and another stunner it was.

The good news is that Herring will be back on the second night of the festival, as a guest with Lenny White's group. With an already impressive line-up for the New Universe Music Festival's closing day, is one more vital reason to return to the Lincoln Theatre.

The New Universe Music Festival wraps up on its second day with performances by Wayne Krantz, Lenny White, John McLaughlin and The 4th Dimension, and a grand finale jam, a special tribute to John McLaughlin.

Visit Alex Machacek , Ranjit Barot, Scott Kinsey, Matthew Garrison, Arto Tuncboyaciyan, Jimmy Herring and The New Universe Music Festival on the web.

Photo Credits

All Photos: John Kelman

Day 1 | Day 2



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