Friday, November 20, 2009

Roundup of Things Seen/Heard/Eaten Lately

Saw the Paul Motian Octet + 1 at the Village Vanguard. 2 bass + 2 guitar + 2 sax + viola + piano + drums = "Octet + 1" Though I thought the ensemble became a bit unwieldy and sagged a little under its own weight in a couple of places, this was another rewarding set of music from the relentless, 78-year old creative force of nature that is Paul Motian. If nothing else, the assemblage on stage was a remarkable sight. Motian's fruitful years with Keith Jarrett, what might be considered the second (or even third?) major phase of his career, were already behind him before some of the musicians in the Octet + 1 were born.

Many of Motian's defining characteristics were in evidence with this group: his affinity with pianists and electric guitarists (almost all his best work has been with one or both of these instruments), his deep feel for standards, the mystery and beauty of his own compositions, and most of all, the vitality and freshness of his drumming. A few songs into the set, the thought came very clearly into my head, "Damn, he's playing great!"


Finally saw the underground/cult classic video "Heavy Metal Parking Lot". The original movie itself is only about 16 minutes long, but the filmmakers have made good use of the remaining space on the DVD, loading it up with sequels (including the almost-as-good "Neil Diamond Parking Lot", related documentaries, etc, etc.

One that I found strangely compelling was a feature on a collector and record store owner with a basement literally full of Judas Priest memorabilia. For several minutes, the filmmakers just keep rolling as he slowly flips through a stack of records, essentially narrating a critical history of Priest's entire discography. What could have been a throwaway bonus feature turned out to be one of the best portraits of the obsessive rock'n'roll collector type I've ever seen.

Also recommended along similar lines is Banks Tarver's "Beautiful Plastic", a short that's available as a bonus feature on the DVD of Tarver's Guided By Voices doc Watch Me Jumpstart. It's eight minutes of Robert Pollard going through boxes of old lyrics and collage materials from his basement. There's almost as much insight about Pollard's personality and creativity to be found packed into this short as there is the full-length movie (I don't mean that as a knock on Jumpstart - it's fantastic and essential if you're a GBV fan).


Went to Geoff Dyer's reading at the Central Branch of the Brooklyn Public Library. He read from his most recent book, Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi, which I've written about here, and from two older books which have recently been reissued, Out of Sheer Rage and But Beautiful. He also read an unpublished piece, a strange, funny tribute to John Berger which took the form of a deliberately stilted, cliched essay on Jackson Pollock. Dyer is almost shockingly tall and thin in person, and has the type of English manner that many Americans find irresistible, a major component of which is an effortless wit of the dry and self-mocking variety. In his readings and answers to audience questions, Dyer showed his wide range of interests: art, photography, travel, jazz, D.H. Lawrence. The readings drew a lot of laughter from the audience, and were mostly genuinely funny, with the notable exception of the moody, impressionistic pieces from But Beautiful, his book on jazz.

A semi-dramatic moment occurred during the Q&A when a young woman from Varanasi, who was sitting in the front row with her mother, asked if he had gone to the city with the intention to write about it or if the idea had come about later. Dyer indicated that he dreaded being confronted at readings by people that might be in a position to harshly judge the accuracy of the portrayals in his books (he mentioned jazz musicians, having confessed to some inaccuracies in But Beautiful), and he seemed quite relieved when the woman from Varanasi seemed to agree with him about the impossibility of "misrepresenting" a place as complex as her home city (if it's impossible to misrepresent a place, is it also then impossible to truly, accurately represent it?).


Tried the new burger at fancy hot dog joint Bark in Brooklyn a couple of times. Very good small burger, with the variety of pickled things and the "special sauce" working perfectly with the meat and bun. I only wish it was possible to get it a bit rarer - the default is medium/medium-well whereas I'd prefer medium/medium-rare. Black Iron in the East Village, where I've also eaten a few times lately, will cook their (also fairly thin) burgers to order, but your results may vary depending on who's on the griddle. Bark is more consistent, but when Black Iron is on their game I'd give their burger a slight edge.


Sorry to have missed:

Ethan Iverson/Tootie Heath/Ben Street at Smalls. Smalls is the place to see a piano trio, as I found out when I saw Fred Hersch there. Apparently Iverson/Heath/Street are playing again this winter at Iridium with Lee Konitz and Mark Turner, so hopefully I can catch that. (Very Cool Thing: Smalls is streaming the sets on their website, so I can feel a little less bad about missing out in person.)

The Eccentric Soul Revue (feat. the highly underrated Syl Johnson). I imagine Johnson's career and reputation was held back a bit by his being in Al Green's shadow when they were both on Hi Records. He may have adhered too closely to the (obviously commercially viable) Al mode on some of his singles, but the fact that he was so convincing in this style (which may have really been the Hi style more than the Al Green style), coming within a hair's breadth of the master himself, is a testament to his enormous talent.

Big Star at the Brooklyn Masonic Temple. Waited too long on this one, and it sold out. Review here in the Voice (including a typically, unnecessarily nasty comments section).

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