Ravi & Anoushka Shankar, Terry & Gyan Riley, Kenny Garrett and Larry Ochs

Martin Longley By

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Ravi & Anoushka Shankar

Carnegie Hall

October 10, 2009

Ravi Shankar's 90th birthday is arriving this year, and still the master plays on, even if he no longer sits cross-legged, instead perching delicately on the edge of his performing platform. As well, Shankar now hoists a lighter sitar variant, shorn of its cumbersome tuning-head. As with his last NYC appearance at this very hall, around two years ago, Shankar's fingers took a short while to loosen up, with his early alap section of Raag Jog sometimes sounding slightly clumsy, its nimble intricacies handled by daughter Anoushka. After about fifteen minutes, it's clear that he's fully warmed up, issuing a series of rapid-fire runs. Tanmoy Bose played the tabla, but the audience attention was prone to be keenly riveted on the Shankars and their ever-escalating dialogue. There were also a pair of tanpura droners, one of whom was delegated to maintain repeated attention to the tweaking of Ravi's tuning-knobs.

During the course of a 105 minute set, the music's compelling nature refused to waver, with both soloists jousting at length, mostly at an accelerated pace. For the climax that preceded the usual closing folk medley, the Shankars and Bose attained a completely liberating vibration, where strings and skins became one, setting up sympathetic resonances that recalled the qualities of feedback guitars in rock'n'roll, or interlocking pianos in minimalism: a disembodied silvery ringing where overtones mass into a new instrumental permutation (and it wasn't tinnitus!). Ravi would necessarily be slower in articulation than Anoushka, but his bent slow'n'low notes were no less impressive than her high, up'n'down-the-neck runs.

Terry & Gyan Riley

(le) Poisson Rouge

October 11, 2009

On the following evening, this gig presented a duo of father and son, with guitarist and composer Gyan Riley continuing his now-regular collaboration with Terry Riley. In the end, though, the set-up went beyond the advertised Californian twosome, and was augmented by drums (Ches Smith) and electric violin (Tracy Silverman). The emphasis seemed to be on Gyan's pieces, although Terry probably mustered most of the crowd, and his pianistic (and personality) dynamics were a major element throughout. This was an opportunity to hear Terry in a broader setting, as a band member and performer, highlighting his rippling approach to sustained melodic soloing. Gyan's guitar style draws from a wide spread of influences, taking in Spanish classical, flamenco, jazz and the finger-bending repetitions of an acoustic Robert Fripp.

The band was particularly refreshing because of its evasion of a direct style. It's not possible to ensnare this music in the fixed corners of either new music or jazz, rock or global, but it shares gestures from all of these zones. The predominant vocabulary is acoustic, or at least acoustic-sounding, but this shouldn't imply that it lacks any momentum. The motion is as driving as it is subtle. Ches Smith is marvelously varied in his methods, providing rhythmic flow as well as ornamental small-percussion details. Terry Riley set up his marching piano progressions, full of light-fingered trills, then romped through a witty set of nursery-style couplets, and intoned in a fashion that recalled the deeply resonant dhrupad form of traditional Indian vocalizing. Over the last year Terry has appeared in New York City performing the landmark "In C," premiering a narrative-based work with the Kronos Quartet, and with Gyan Riley, the latter two gigs at this very venue. That's an impressive illustration of Terry Riley's broad concerns, and this is a path which Gyan is clearly seeking to follow, although with his own particular route-alternatives.

The Kenny Garrett Band


October 11, 2009

Kenny Garrett is in love with keyboards. This is a crush that's getting worse. Or better, depending on the listener's attitude. Not only does Garrett not play a massive amount of saxophone in this band, he has Johnny Mercer making a surging whoosh on Hammond B3 organ, and even features a briefly guesting acoustic pianist for one number. Garrett is happy seated at the Fender Rhodes electric piano, jousting with Mercer, and developing spangled lines that grow and grow in intensity. Even his alto horn has effects in place, lending it a somewhat synthy sound. Catching the final set of an Iridium residency is turning into a habit for this reviewer. It's definitely a sound plan for catching a combo at their loose-est and most confident, blowing out in style. Kona Khashu's supple electric bass omnipresence is on a woolly mammoth scale, with some of his sub-normal frequencies hitting an almost instinctive, primordial nook of the brain. Drummer Nathan Webb lashes his kit as though he's playing Senegalese sabar drums, striving for a massively thrashing freedom. Garrett is honing the funk, but it's an exercise in dirty steaming rather than any lightweight fusion-posturing.

Larry Ochs


October 13, 2009

This band began as Larry Ochs Sax & Drumming Core, but the Californian saxophonist has been unable to resist expanding to quintet form. Originally, his tenor and sopranino horns were vying with the twinned skin-thunder of Don Robinson and Scott Amendola, but the addition of keyboardist Satoko Fujii and trumpeter Natsuki Tamura broadens the scope considerably. This is a crew who can confidently move from extremely minimalist high-note suspensions to dynamically-composed freedom-riffing, even during the course of a single composition. Ochs has developed the idea of penning pieces for movie directors, pre-empting an as-yet-non-existent film. For this gig he delivered pieces designed for David Cronenberg and Akira Kurowasa, but there's no way that the latter will ever get made. Indeed, much of this music is highly visual in its suggestive nature, particularly during the stretches where the sound palette is sparser.

Fujii apes the high horn tones with her own synthesizer warble, although this technique was in danger of being over-used during the two sets. Alternatively, she also works inside her acoustic piano, either harp-plucking or preparing certain key-clusters. Tamura often chooses to breathe, hum, whisper, splutter or explode, but when he does play "conventional" trumpet, it's at the ripping end of its range, even when muted. Likewise with Ochs when he chooses sopranino, although his tenor blowing is contrastingly burred. One revelation of the night was the drumming of Scott Amendola in particular, who seemed to be charged with more of an active role, kicking hard bass-blows, spreading gong-cymbals across his skins and usually choosing to place unpredictable emphases on his beat strategies. As with the rest of the band, Amendola was working in a way which set up a tension between linear drive and scattered abstraction. Fellow sticksman Don Robinson was quieter and more supportive. The second set suffered from a slightly too-long intermission which ended up decimating the audience. Even so, the music maintained its high standards, but within a sparser venue-terrain.



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