Thursday, May 5, 2011

Recent (and Less Recent) Live Music, Part One

Although it's already been said better, I feel I should add one more voice to the chorus of enthusiasm for the meeting of contemporary titans that was The Bad Plus w/ Joshua Redman at the Blue Note. To say that Redman was able to find a place within TBP's often tightly arranged tunes would be a huge understatement. If I was to employ a deliberately terrible mixed metaphor, I would say that like master jewelers, the trio gave Redman a setting in which to shine and he knocked that s**t out of the park. For every mood and mode that The Bad Plus explored (and they get to lots of different places in a single set), Redman was right there with something profound (and often jaw-dropping) to add to the mix.

I do regret not planning ahead and getting stuck in the SRO bar area with a terrible sightline, but even at that remove it was impossible to miss the strong musical message that was being delivered - TBP's inimitable compositions taken to the next level live. "People Like You" and "Layin' a Strip for the Higher-Self State Line" are the first titles that come to mind as highlights, but there were many, many great moments spread through the set I saw (which also included, if memory serves, "Who's He?" and "Dirty Blonde" - I didn't make any notes).

I can't fault the Blue Note on its bookings - they bring in some of the best - but the decor does tend to give one the unsettling feeling (as I'm sure I'm not the first to point out) of having walked into the highest tier "gentleman's club" in a medium-to-large size Midwestern city, so that seeing someone with, for example, the elegance and stature of Ron Carter on stage there can seem almost distractingly incongruous. I suppose the defiantly unremodeled yet far-from-classic interior could serve as a sobering commentary on the economic viability of presenting jazz seven nights a week in the current economic and cultural climate. Mirrors and neon or not, they keep pulling me back in by booking musicians that are just undeniable, such as James Carter with 'Blood' Ulmer and Nicholas Payton (more about that in the forthcoming Part Two of this post).

I was at The Stone twice recently, finally seeing Dr. Eugene Chadbourne after listening to his music on and off for many years, and seeing the mighty Ken Vandermark in a duo with Joe Morris on guitar. Though he originally made his reputation as a downtown/avant guitar weirduoso, the Doc's recent solo set left no doubt that he's also a heckuva songwriter (highlights in that department included "God Made Country Music" and "Old Piano") and a great (though still plenty weird) banjo player. Come to think of it, I'd love to see a guitar-banjo duo with Morris and Chadbourne (looks like they have recorded together). If Clifford Jordan and John Gilmore hadn't already used the album title Blowin' In From Chicago, it would suit Ken Vandermark perfectly. His technique is highly advanced, but at the same time, he makes it very clear that playing the saxophone essentially involves blowing into a tube. There was no shortage of brains or guts in the Vandermark-Morris duo.

I saw the Mary Halvorson Quintet at Barbes for a second time (the first time, I think they were playing a mixture of material from the trio album Dragon's Head and some then-new compositions that would end up on Saturn Sings, but I may be combining it in my memory with an earlier trio gig). In any case, with the newer material firmly under their belts, the growth of the group sound and of Halvorson's compositions was very much in evidence. This group, already acclaimed well beyond the Brooklyn scene centered on venues like Barbes and Korzo, just keeps getting better.

For the March installment of Tower of Song, a monthly songwriter's-circle-type deal at Rock Shop, host/organizer Jennifer O'Connor outdid herself, assembling a very heavy lineup: Tim Bracy, formerly of Mendoza Line; the undisputed Queen of Country Music in Brooklyn and personal favorite of John Peel, Laura Cantrell; and a man who must be one of the most underappreciated songwriting talents of our time, 33-1/3 author and sometime John Darnielle collaborator Franklin Bruno. The performers made the most of being onstage together as a group, covering each others songs and contributing harmonies and extra guitar and keyboard parts. The highlight of the show may have been Bruno's song inspired by Felix Gonzalez-Torres' Untitled (Perfect Lovers). I don't know if he's recorded it, and I'm not even sure of the title, but I'd really like to hear it again.

I guess these YouTube clips (scroll down on the right-hand column) of the '80s-era public access jazz chat show The John Lewis Show (not the famous pianist or the civil rights leader and politician, but the less famous drummer) have been circulating for a while, but I just discovered them via A Blog Supreme and they are my new favorite thing. Ron Jefferson, the Ed McMahon to Lewis' Carson, must have been one of the hippest people alive at the time (not to mention "dynamic", "prolific", and "beautiful"). The show provides a valuable historical window into '80s jazz fashions, though I assume that Jefferson's bow tie in this segment was purely his own thing and not representative of any current trend. And fans of The Fighter might enjoy the interview Lewis and Jefferson conducted with boxer Saoul Mamby (who, at a critical turning point of that movie, pulls out of a fight with Micky Ward at the last minute). Lewis has DVDs of the full-length shows available here.

Next time in Part Two: Bill Frisell! Paul Motian! Neil Young! James Carter! and more?

And a final word from Schroeder:
More true than I'd like to admit.

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