September 2005

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At the Stone, in a fairly rare New York appearance (Aug. 11th), Sticks and Stones laid bare the essence of the leaderless trio concept. Altoist Matana Roberts, bassist Josh Abrams and drummer Chad Taylor tunneled through abstract grooves, locked horns in riotous free-bop and sang with a deeply felt lyricism. The Strayhorn/Ellington classic "Isfahan , with its open spaces and acute melodic tensions, occasioned some vital push-and-pull between Roberts and Taylor - and the first of several well-developed solos by Abrams. A new, untitled Taylor piece began with a loping "Poinciana beat, but it migrated to a freer zone. "Spicer , an Abrams original, was built on a bass line that he and Roberts passed back and forth, in a loose and funky feel. Each player filled the gaps with incisive solo fragments. They were "trading , essentially, although no one voice was prominent; here was the equilateral trio idea in full bloom. "Shed Grace , the title track of the group's 2004 Thrill Jockey release, closed the set in full "energy mode, with Abrams bowing furiously and Roberts hollering in long, hymn-like tones before switching to clarinet for an impassioned denouement. Taylor was at his most colorful, superimposing small gongs on his snare and invigorating his bandmates with a crisp ¾ bounce. A new Sticks and Stones album and a Guelph Festival gig are in the works. Treat yourself.

This year's Festival of New Trumpet (FONT) spanned the month of August, but an entire creative universe seemed to unfold at Tonic (August 13th). Dave Douglas and Keystone led off with brainy astro-funk. Two of Oliver Lake's sons, drummer Gene and turntablist Jahi, hammered out a hiphop infrastructure. Adam Benjamin (of Kneebody) subbed for Jamie Saft on piano and souped-up Fender Rhodes. Douglas, bassist Brad Jones and tenor/soprano saxophonist Marcus Strickland were their best virtuosic selves.

Next came Kneebody - an awe-inspiring electro-quintet with Benjamin (keys), Ben Wendel (tenor sax), Shane Endsley (trumpet), Kaveh Rastegar (electric bass) and Nate Wood (drums) - spewing torrents of melodic and rhythmic information without the aid of a single sheet of paper. The music was organized not around solos, but rather a ceaseless compositional flow, flawlessly executed but still with the breath of indeterminacy. Endsley wrote one piece specifically for FONT and guest trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson.

Finlayson reciprocated, making Endsley a full-fledged member of his group Common Thread, which closed the evening. Together with Tim Albright on trombone, Endsley and Finlayson shadow-boxed over complex grooves laid down by electric/acoustic bassist Matt Brewer and drummer Marcus Gilmore. The triple-brass interplay gave way to solo trumpet interludes that enabled Finlayson to link nearly every tune in the set.

~ David Adler

The last day in July was also the last of four straight years of the Sunday Freestyle Avant Jazz Series at CB's Lounge. Curated by the tireless Dee Pop, this unique showcase for many New York-based improvisers culminated as a farewell music marathon. Of the nine distinct groupings who took to the CBs stage one last time, perhaps the night's musical apex was a collective with reedmen Louis Belogenis (tenor) and Andy Haas (curved soprano). Reuben Radding's pulse-driven bass and Dee Pop's multi-rhythmic interplay combined with Belogenis' intensely toned tenor which was contrasted by Haas not-oft heard curved soprano. Ursel Schlict (electric keyboard) provided effective multi-note patterns that seesawed the group from wailing intensity to the exploration of a gentler, though no less intense, side in a set of music which was truly a complete excursion of musical textures.

Two sets previous, the night got off to a running start with Joe Giardullo (soprano), Susan Alcorn (lapsteel guitar and effects), Tatsuya Nakatani (percussion) and Audrey Chen (cello and vocal effects). Their extended group improvisation incessantly shifted musical weight from one player to another. Giardullo summed up the significance of this already sorely missed venue: "Some day, people will talk about the CBGBs run in the same way we remember Slug's and The Tin Palace. Four hours of music later, the weight of that sentiment hit home.

The first set of five nights (Aug. 10th) by Lee Konitz' "New Nonet (actually a tentet with the bass clarinet part split between two players) was the first of many packed houses at Jazz Standard, and for good reason. Konitz - who soon turns 78 - showed no signs of aging, proving that he is one of jazz history's most distinct altoists unique from the Bird mold.


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