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October Revolution in Jazz & Contemporary Music 2017

Mark Corroto By

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Chicago drummer/composer Mike Reed might be the most significant bandleader of his generation. While that is a bold statement, he has produced some of the finest music of this new millennium with his ensemble Loose Assembly and People, Places & Things. The latter quartet of saxophonists Greg Ward and Tim Haldeman and bassist Jason Roebke, was expanded with bass clarinetist Jason Stein, trumpeter Ben Lamar Gay, and poet Marvin Tate for his new project Flesh + Bone (482 Music, 2017). It is a meditation, inspired by a skinhead riot in Czech Republic that Reed narrowly escaped, on race, politics, and the art of survival. The work picks up where Charles Mingus left off with his Impulse! recordings. The solos by the current who's who of Chicago musicians and the video production behind the ensemble accented the urgency of Tate's words, "the weight of rage will hold you down." Indeed.

The Norwegian quartet Cortex of Thomas Johansson (trumpet), Kristoffer Berre Alberts (saxophone), Ola Høyer (bass) and Gard Nilssen (drums) has the advantage of residing four thousand miles from New York. From their vantage point, they can cherry pick any jazz style or movement they desire for performance. Their music is old timey, if by that we mean the groundbreaking music of the Ornette Coleman and Albert Ayler as filtered through the same lens used by John Zorn in his Masada outfit. Their performance was fused by Nilssen's drumming, some solid time keeping by Høyer and inventive horn solos. Johansson's trumpet work is modeled on that of Don Cherry, but he has no problem referencing the sound of Louis Armstrong. The quartet wowed the audience with hard bop, slowed blues with bits of nursery rhymes, and even a Spanish tinge of bullfighter music. The very definition of studying abroad.

Cortex was followed by a very brief performance from Burton Greene. The expat American, now living in Amsterdam, performed in the original 1964 October Revolution. His return performance was a showcase of two-handed facility, as he often crossed palms for dramatic call-and-response effects. Green reconfigured bebop composition from 1957 as a bit of Tin Pan Alley and deconstructed his "Tribute To Bud Powell" and "Hope" so that he could have been mistaken for Bill Evans. Green's music (and life) have perpetually been about reinvention, and it sounds as if he isn't stopping soon.

The previous two performances, and that by Ballister, were held in Christ Church (circa. 1695) the place of worship for George Washington, John Adams, Betsy Ross, and Benjamin Franklin. The significance of the Nation's revolutionaries was not lost on the performers, least of all saxophonist Dave Rempis' trio Ballister with Fred Lonberg-Holm (cello/electric guitar), and Paal Nilssen-Love (drums). Their brief, but convincing, set opened with fervor, Rempis blasting forth, Nilssen-Love and Lonberg-Holm pounding a sawing. Then the trio eased into a meditative passage, drumsticks were replaced by mallets, and a long slow blues developed. Rempis switched from alto to tenor and finally baritone saxophone as Lonberg-Holm's cello solo took on the feel of a Jimi Hendrix performance. I'm not sure the trio had predetermined where they were headed. Drumming shifted from pulse to atmosphere with brushes, then to a full out blues, electric guitar replaced cello. On baritone, Rempis exercised burly circular breathing that incorporated clicks, pops, a boat horn, and some upper register gymnastics. Playing with vibrato, it was elementary connecting his horn to that of Albert Ayler's revolution.

Vive la revolution.

Photo credit: Christopher McDonald


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