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New Universe Music Festival: Day 2, November 21, 2010

New Universe Music Festival: Day 2, November 21, 2010
John Kelman By

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Day 1 | Day 2
The New Universe Music Festival
Raleigh, North Carolina
November 20-21, 2010

It's no small challenge to make a new festival viable, especially when it represents something of a niche within a niche. The attendance at the first day of the New Universe Music Festival was impressive enough, but with an influx of even more dedicated fans coming from all over the United States—the Deadhead equivalent of fusion icon John McLaughlin followers, whose performance with his 4th Dimension group was to close out the main part of the second night—there was literally a lineup around the block of the Lincoln Theatre in Raleigh, North Carolina, before the doors opened at 5:45PM on the festival's second and final day.

There were plenty of rumors floating around in the hall about the festival finale—an all-star tribute to McLaughlin—with all kinds of names being suggested. At the end of the day there was only one guest who managed to make the trek to Raleigh; but it was, perhaps, the best and most exciting one surprise possible; a longtime friend and musical partner who dates back to McLaughlin's 1970s experiments in the fusion of western jazz with Indian tradition with Shakti. His guest spot with McLaughlin, at the New Universe Music Festival, provided irrefutable proof that, like any good friendship, it's not necessary to see each other all the time; if the relationship is strong enough, it's possible to come together, after years apart, and pick things up as if it were only yesterday.

From left: Scott Kinsey, Arto Tuncboyacian, Matthew Garrison

Like the first day, the evening opened up with a CD listening party, this time featuring keyboardist Scott Kinsey, bassist Matthew Garrison and percussionist Arto Tuncboyacian, discussing and playing tracks from their just mastered and soon-to-be-released Abstract Logix debut as Human Element. Beyond an introduction to this exciting new collective, with music contributed by all its members, including drummer Gary Novak (who was unable to attend the festival, replaced at the group's show the night before by Ranjit Barot), it was a strong endorsement for potential future careers as comedians for Tuncboyaciyan or Garrison, should the music thing not work out. Engaged amongst themselves, but equally responsive to their audience, they made the listening party a perfect warm-up a great evening.

Chapter Index
  1. Wayne Krantz
  2. Lenny White's Anomaly
  3. John McLaughlin and The 4th Dimension
  4. All-Star Tribute to John McLaughlin

Wayne Krantz

Guitarist Wayne Krantz also has a possible second career in comedy, though his approach was much drier than either the puckish Tuncboyaciyan or boisterous Garrison. As he introduced the members of his trio—drummer Cliff Almond and contrabass legend Anthony Jackson—he explained how Jackson had played Raleigh back in the 1970s. With a slight pause, he then quipped "he had to wait this long to come back because it's taken this long for the city to recover from the last time."

Wayne Krantz

Krantz's music doesn't make for an easy listen. Knotty arrangements act as jumping off and rallying points for open-ended group improvisation, and are challenging enough in and of themselves, but live, even more so than on recordings like his recent Krantz Carlock Lefebvre (Abstract Logix, 2009), where he kept things relatively short and to the point. Two tracks from that album ranged from the alt-rock energy of "Rushdie" to the post-new wave vocal track, "I Was Like." But unlike the recording, where Krantz employed a different sonic spectrum—from tensile acoustic to heavily distorted and wah-driven electric—in performance, Krantz's tone was a curious combination of high end edge and slight overdrive; a strangely funky tone that felt like the aural equivalent of glass shards.

Unlike his 2007 trio performance at the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal—which suffered from such poor sound that it ultimately lost almost all of the nuances so essential in the group's performance—here in Raleigh, the sound was still loud, but absolutely clear, revealing all, as it should. With Krantz's stylistic blend of muted lines, occasional bursts of frightening speed and an instantly recognizable but slightly skewed harmonic approach, it was too easy to lose track of what was going on in a band that, while ready and capable of kicking it hard, also demonstrated refreshing dynamic control—especially Almond, one of those players whose name may not be well-known, but who has been heard with everyone from The Manhattan Transfer and Michel Camilo to John Tropea and Patti Labelle. There's value in every project, no doubt, but it's clear with Krantz, that Almond gets the chance to be at his most reckless, thundering away at times with a frenetic backbeat, other times turning to delicate cymbal colors, and always doing exactly what the music needed.

Anthony Jackson

Jackson, too, was clearly enjoying the chance to dig in hard with Krantz and Almond. The six-string electric bassist—a veteran of countless sessions ranging from Lee Ritenour and Steve Khan to Dave Liebman and Chick Corea, and who released his long overdue debut as a co-leader earlier this year with Greek bassist Yiorgos Fanakas, Interspirit (Abstract Logix, 2010)—was as visually animated as he's ever been, despite sitting in a chair for the entire set. His ability to act as both harmonic anchor and contrapuntal partner was all the more remarkable for his actually reading Krantz's charts. Krantz's cues not only move to new thematic segments, but often reflect meter and tempo shifts, meaning everyone has to keep their eye on the guitarist; how Jackson managed to read the charts and maintain eye contact is anybody's guess.

From left: Wayne Krantz, Cliff Almond

The multifaceted Krantz has been heard on recent albums by David Binney, Aliso (Criss Cross, 2010), and Donald Fagen, Morph the Cat (Reprise, 2006), as well as making a vital guest appearance on Ranjit Barot's Abstract Logix debut, Bada Boom ( 2010). As consummate a sideman as he is an egalitarian leader, he's always managed to insert himself into any situation, both fitting the context and sounding like nobody but himself. But with his own group, where he leveraged oblique ideas with equally abstruse sonic colors—kicking in an octave divider at times, to broaden the group's sound, other times employing a ring modulator that sent his ascending lines even further into the ozone—Krantz's eminently personal concept became as clear as the sound in the room. His is music that possesses the punch to hit on a visceral level, but also engages on a cerebral level; music that requires time and attention to fully and truly absorb.


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