Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Recent Live Music - Run Up to Year's End

I'm hoping to put together a year-end list of the best live music I saw in 2011, but in the meantime, here are a few notes on the most recent shows I've seen:

Jason Moran/Mark Helias/Tom Rainey at the Stone
As far as I know, this was the first outing for this trio, although Helias and Rainey have played together with Tony Malaby and others. Before they started, Moran said something about looking forward to the "conversation" that was about to take place, and it turned out to be a profound one. The trio's version of Paul Motian's "Once Around The Park" was nothing like any Motian version I've heard and proved once again how rich with possibility his compositions are for contemporary improvisers. The set ended with that most joyous of blues, the "St. Louis Blues" (the 2nd time I've heard it played this year - Bill Frisell's trio back in April was the first), a perfect showcase for Moran's thorough, Jaki Byard-influenced, recombinatory command of decades of jazz piano idiom.

Kermit Driscoll/Bill Frisell/Kris Davis/John Hollenbeck at Cornelia St. Cafe
Without a doubt, the highlight of this set for me was a rhythmically reworked version of Frisell's "Lookout For Hope" that started with Davis emulating on piano the effect Frisell sometimes gets by placing a music box mechanism up to his guitar pickup and ended with Frisell playing a straight-outta-Revolver backwards guitar solo via one of his effects pedals. In between, Hollenbeck and Driscoll chopped up the rhythm, turning one of Frisell's older and more familiar tunes into a new (but still recognizable) entity.

I've been meaning to check out more of Davis' music since seeing her with the SIM (School for Improvised Music) Big Band earlier this year. That band (packed with notable downtown/Brooklyn figures) played impressive compositions by several of its members, but I thought Davis' was far and away the best.

Billy Hart/Mark Turner/Ethan Iverson/Ben Street at Dizzy's (JALC)
I'd only seen Billy Hart previously with The Cookers, but knowing some of his records and his reputation, I was excited to see him with his main quartet of recent years, which includes some of the best mid-career musicians (veterans but not yet elders) in New York (or anywhere). Hart seems to be a very interactive drummer, listening and responding, seemingly concerned with supporting each of the other members of the group while also keeping the music fresh and in-the-moment. I particularly enjoyed his interactions with Iverson during the piano solos, which made for some of the most on-the-edge exciting moments of the set. I really need to get some of the recordings this quartet has done.

Though I'd been to the Rose Theater, this was my first time at Dizzy's (I feel silly typing the rest of the name, "Club Coca-Cola"), the club-sized venue at Jazz at Lincoln Center. It's clear that they took advantage of the opportunity to design a jazz club from scratch, resulting in a comfortable, rational layout with elbow room and good sightlines, basic elements that are often lacking in older clubs that came into being more "organically".