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theSuiteUnraveling at the Cornelia Street Cafe, NYC

Budd Kopman By

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theSuiteUnraveling at the Cornelia Street Café
Cornelia Street Café
New York City, New York
November 30, 2007

theSuiteUnraveling is guitarist/composer Lily Maase's working quintet comprised of Peter Van Huffel (alto and soprano saxophones), whose own album Silvester Battlefield (Fresh Sound New Talent, 2007) was released to high acclaim, Evan Smith (tenor saxophone), Matt Wigton (electric bass) and Fred Kennedy (drums). This gig was tied to a CD release party for her new album Unbind, which was a long time coming, as it followed her previous release Aftermath (Self Published, 2005) by well over two years.

Maase, based in Bushwick, Brooklyn, is a bundle of entrepreneurial energy who desires nothing less than to create a new center for the creative arts, including jazz, through the founding of the AddTract Consortium.

This consortium reflects Maase's convictions that composition is central to the future of jazz and that young people need to be developed as listeners. What this means is that her work emphasizes structure while not sacrificing openness and that its rhythms include those of progressive/art rock.

theSuiteUnraveling is the vehicle for the expression of her philosophy (musical and otherwise), and she views the outside musical activities of the band members, who lead or play in other groups, as a positive, bringing welcome feedback and input to her own project. What became clear as the set progressed is that Maase's compositions are sturdy skeletons fleshed out in the moment by players given considerable freedom. That this band has been together for quite a while only intensifies the feeling of music that is organically created from a flexible yet resilient base —music that only this group and this particular mix of musical personalities could have produced at a given moment.

Put simply, this was powerful music that rocked and cooked, propelled by very strong themes, vamps and grooves. These compositions told stories, having a dramatic arch as well as a continual, forward-moving narrative. As at the band's last gig at 55 Bar, and on Aftermath and Unbind, Maase used her guitar as a sonic resource and conductor rather than a virtuoso's solo instrument. She does have the technique, but chooses not to use it, playing instead some of the strangest chord forms this reviewer has ever heard.

The set began with two tunes from Unbind, "Made To Be Broken" and "The Great Escape." Both use a harmonic pedal point and eschew normal changes. The band's sound is anchored by the bass of Wigton, who has managed, through his electronics, to create a sound that has absolutely no flab— tight, razor- edged, penetrating and growling. Teaming up with him is Kennedy, who enhances the simple drive of rock with many counter rhythms, producing an undulating, very funky and flexible underpinning.

The front line of Van Huffel and Smith interact with each other and with Maase. In this set, Van Huffel took most of the solos, with Smith playing supporting lines around him. "Made To Be Broken" has an uplifting, heroic theme that maintains an intense contrast with the ominous bass drone. Van Huffel's solo was both "inside" and "outside," producing goose bumps as the tune reached its climax by reintroducing the simple harmonic changes spiced this time around with note clashes.

"The Great Escape" was, if anything, even more intense in its faster tempo and thrashing bass and drums, complete with a theme of self-assurance and defiance. Full of drama, with Wigton and Kennedy keeping the listener locked in and off balance at the same time, the tune built to a high level of controlled chaos that, rather than seeming self-indulgent, proved very exciting.

After an interlude of two lower energy pieces, the marvelous set ended with "Anaphora," which Maase promised would wake us up — and so it did. Following another ominous beginning, defined by Wigton's bass with slashing drums from Kennedy, the piece continued to add textures as horn and guitar fought it out, then the other horn entered, each player in turn contributing once again to the sense of controlled chaos. Wigton and Kennedy reentered, bringing the piece to a thrilling climax.

Maase has a compositional philosophy and style that continue to be honed, sharpened and refined without ever letting up on the intensity of the musical experience. She already has a distinctive voice, whose presence and familiarity can only grow as her music attracts listeners coming from many directions.

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