Gigs, dance, art

October 26th, 2010: Joe McPhee Survival Unit III

@instants chavirés

I like Joe McPhee a lot, and the great memories I have of the one time I saw Michael Zerang join him had me pretty eager to hear this.

The third member of the trio is Fred Lonberg-Holm on cello. I didn’t know him but came away quite impressed. He mixed different ways of playing, including some electronics, blatant at times, less so at others. Quite a range, always put to bring something forward, even the few electronic outbursts where change-ups that derailed a routine in a constructive way. Because he timed these well, and followed up better. He a couple of solo moments that were very nice, and his dialogue with Michael Zerang was pretty good too.

Speaking of which, I again liked Zerang’s performance. Varied and creative most of the time, and that’s just me being rather tired of the scraping sounds. I guess I’ll just put him on my list of musicians I’ll rush to hear when I get an opportunity.

Joe McPhee’s already near the top of that list, but — as usual — I found myself wishing he’d play more. He again spent quite a lot of time standing on the side, and though I appreciate his leaving room for his partners, I’m sure he has a wide margin before becoming overbearing.

I also found the show to be a little too much on the quiet side. The most driven moments had a great energy but I think I would have liked both sides to be mixed more often. But there were some nice moments, I liked the encore — though it felt a bit disconnected from the rest — and I really liked Joe McPhee reading at the start of the second set.


November 7, 2010 Posted by | Music | , , , | Leave a comment

March 16th, 2010: Joe McPhee – Chris Corsano

@instants chavirés

The last time I heard Chris Corsano was so good it raised my expectations beyond reason, especially with him playing with a personal favorite like Joe McPhee. Unsurprisingly, the show fell  short of that lofty bar, but I still liked it a lot. Most of that is thanks to McPhee, and that’s where I was expecting more from Corsano. He seemed too respectful. There many times I felt McPhee was leaving an opening for Corsano to jump in but he rarely seized that opportunity.

Even though it could have been better, I really shouldn’t be complaining. I love free jazz, and the show started with a reminder of Ornette Coleman’s recent 80th birthday, then Joe McPhee again reminded me of Albert Ayler. These were welcome nods, but the best was hearing this music alive and well here and now. That was a blast.

Corsano had a few solo parts that went a little long for my taste, and made me wish he had spent some of that talent playing with McPhee. He sure could have pulled it off, and I really think the set would have been better with him a little more assertive apart from these parts.

Again, I really enjoyed this show, it’s just that I held high expectations because of the high esteem I have for both performers. I have the nagging feeling it could have been even better.

March 21, 2010 Posted by | Music | , , | Leave a comment

June 7th, 2009: Peter Brötzmann – Kent Kessler – Joe McPhee – Michael Zerang

@instants chavirés

I’ve had some kind of a problem with Peter Brötzmann, in that whenever I heard him live he seemed to be doing whatever was expected of him, rote performances that came nowhere near what I had heard on some records from a long time ago. So I was reluctant to go, but seeing Joe McPhee was there as well changed everything: I’ve yet to see a poor performance from this guy.

I had been talking with a coworker lately about the difference between free jazz and free improvisation, which I guess was just begging to be proved clueless. This performance blurred those lines, of course. Kent Kessler and Michael Zerang where almost always in the thick of this performance, and probably were instrumental in that. Saying that the bass and drums provide the backbone is an old saw, but in that case it was not just true but went beyong that, I think they were raising the level of discourse to the point where the others just had to show up.

Brötzmann has had a tendency to play on autopilot in my experience, but this time he eschewed that to show me what the hype was all about. He went through his usual things, but even through that part seemed more involved, and he didn’t linger on that but instead went slower at times and overall showed the range he can go through when challenged enough. At last he lived up to the standard he himself set those many years ago.

Joe McPhee was standing aside most of the time, but every single time he dove into the fray was for the better. He played a small trumpet, a regular one and saxophone, but no matter the instrument he was just spot on. If anything, he seemed to leave too much room to the others, but that’s probably my being a fan speaking. I think he did bring the most free jazz colored contribution of the four, but this performance doesn’t boil down to label and he was open enough to blend in the general rewriting of rules going on. My appreciation for him went up a notch, because no matter how much I wished he had been more involved, I’m sure he was instrumental in bringing out the best out of his partners. I sure it’s not a coincidence he was playing with Brötzmann the day he finally lived up to his records and performances from a while ago.

June 13, 2009 Posted by | Music | , , , , | Leave a comment

November 21st, 2008: Roy Campbell, Joe McPhee, William Parker & Warren Smith / Hasse Poulsen, Tom Rainey, Guillaume Orti, Stéphane Payen & Henrick Simonsen


Back in August, when I first heard about this place from a coworker’s roommate, I talked with him about Tom Rainey being my favorite drummer, and he said he wished he would come and play there — with Tim Berne — instead of the more expensive tourist traps. Then in October I found a flyer for that place and I immediately notice a tribute to Albert Ayler, and that was enough for me to decide there and then to go. I only read the fine print on my way there, only to learn that Joe McPhee was part of that tribute, and that Tom Rainey was part of the opening set. That made me worry about getting in and wishing I had booked in advance, but I did manage to get in, so all was right. Still, I guess I should pay more attention. Very nice place, by the way, I’ll definitely be checking out their site.

The opening set was a project put together as a celebration of guitar player Hasse Poulsen‘s tenth year in France. Named Progressive Patriots, this project features Guillaume Orti and Stéphane Payen on saxophone, Henrick Simonsen on bass and the great Tom Rainey on drums. I did like it, but thought it was missing some exchanges and interactions, but maybe that was because they may not have had time to develop more interesting group dynamics. There were some very good moments, but I had the feeling the compositions were too constraining. Again, that’s probably because a lot was new material, and this was a brand new project as well. Of course there was a great Tom Rainey solo, starting with the bass drum only then expanding. But somehow something feels off when I focus on a solo or on his playing when there are five of them. Probably my fault, but I still think there was something missing.

The tribute to Albert Ayler was exhilarating right from the start, when Warren Smith went through the audience with a small bell. I felt it was a great tribute because it went through many aspects of Ayler’s music, including some of the mandatory classics, but without too much respect. Just enough, but with a will to make it their own, and of course the ability to do it, no surprise with these veterans. Besides Warren Smith on drums, the quartet featured Roy Campbell on trumpets and flutes, Joe McPhee on saxophone and pocket trumpet, and William Parker on bass. These guys are so good it’s hard to highlight a part of the show — Truth Is Marching In and Our Prayer do stand out, but only because they’re personal favorites. They even went into a Obama shout out that felt all the more appropriate for me because it was the first time I heard that during a gig, and how fitting that these guys would do it, for so many reasons, including personal ones I won’t get into. I had a great time and just feel grateful for this tribute project that gave me this opportunity to hear some of Ayler’s music, and what’s more important to feel a bit of the spirit that I had only experienced through records. That’s no subsitute.

November 23, 2008 Posted by | Music | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

May 25th, 2008: Joe McPhee & Jean-Luc Cappozzo

@instants chavirés

Early gig, and unfortunately pretty short, I could have used a third set. Two trumpets most of the time — Jean-Luc Cappozzo had two, and McPhee a small and a big one — though Joe McPhee also made good use of a soprano saxophone, and just stepped back at times. But that does not mean it was the same kind of sound throughout, far from it. There was the usual understated breathing through the instruments so prevalent in the free improvisation scene, but it was just one sound among many, so it never had a chance to grow tiresome. And there was also some whistling through and even a kind of singing that gave a third and even a fourth line with only two performers. Cappozzo also used a different mouthpiece that yielded a buzzing, reedy sound and in the gimmick department McPhee started by pouring water into his pocket trumpet, which eventually yielded a gurgling sound. He also made good percussive use of his bigger trumpet by hitting the mouthpiece with his palm. And they even were daring enough to play in a regular way.

That’s just for the range of sounds, but it actually never devolved into an empty display, more like going through the possibilities of the instruments but in the course of carrying on a conversation. I did feel dazzled at times, and more than a little of it went way over my head, but that’s my lack of fluency in that language showing. I liked that they played slow at some points, it’s not that usual in there, this avoidance of technical virtuosity. And it proved that Joe McPhee could perfectly well sound smooth when he wants to, and that emphasized the choices made earlier. That’s probably where a third set could have been good for me, maybe I was ready by then to ignore the novelty of the different sounds and focus on the music itself; too often I missed the boat, which not much time to recover because they mostly played shortish sequences.

May 26, 2008 Posted by | Music | , , | Leave a comment