Thursday, September 10, 2009

Eric Revis w/ Jason Moran, Ken Vandermark & Nasheet Waits - 8/28/09

The first set of their two-night stand at Jazz Gallery was apparently the first time this lineup had played together. I wished I'd made it back for the last set on the second night to see what had developed, because the set I saw was full of fire and creative energy. Many possibilities were explored, and many more were only suggested. If they wanted to, this group could probably have a fruitful run as a recording unit. I could see them putting together a discography that might someday merit comparisons with that other powerhouse reeds-piano-bass-drums quartet, the Keith Jarrett "American Quartet". With their own projects to attend to, though, it's just as likely that this was a one-off.

I'd seen Revis at the Jazz Gallery before with a totally different lineup - Orrin Evans, Stacy Dillard, Rudy Royston, and John Ellis. That was a strong set, but this was something more. Revis was the leader, but he stands out in any group he's in (I've only seen him as a sideman with Russell Gunn and in footage of Branford Marsalis). His intensely focused, physical approach to the bass, punctuated with vocalizations, was the same as when I'd seen him before (if anything, he was even more intense this time), but he also deployed a few other tricks I hadn't seen from him, including playing with two bows simultaneously and plinking out a head above the bridge.

Vandermark is a name I'd seen a lot, but I'd never heard him. He's quite a presence, physically (flat-topped, blowing hard, switching between bass clarinet and tenor while sweating through his shirt) and sonically (loud, aggressive, can squeal/scream/honk/overblow with the best but can certainly get with other modes, too). At times during the set, I enjoyed trying to isolate longtime bandmates Moran and Waits and watch and listen to how they were playing as a sub-unit within the group. As much as I enjoy Moran in solo or trio settings (including his recent trio stand at the Village Vanguard), there's something about the way he fits his sound into groups with reeds that I especially like. His album with Sam Rivers, Black Stars, is probably my favorite Moran release, and the trio of Paul Motian, Chris Potter and Moran that I saw was superb.

The set started off with a pretty aggressive, "out" tune that left me worrying a bit about the people seated in the front row directly in front of the fire breathing Vandermark. Many different directions were explored from here, but the first tune sort of cleansed the palette and let the audience know that they should strap in and keep their arms inside the car at all times. The group may have been finding their footing with one another, but they channeled this process into highly rewarding improvisation. There was a real sense that the direction each tune took was only one of many, very different ways it could've gone. Nothing felt predetermined or pat, which I guess is what group improvisation is supposed to be about. I hope this isn't the last we hear from this group, because I know there's an audience out there for them.

(Update: Found this interesting post suggesting that the set following the one I saw was superior. I think the "finding their footing" quality of the group interaction that the poster perceived as "shaky" was one of the things I liked about the first set, but I could easily imagine that things would've only improved in the second set. Wish I'd seen it.)

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