Gigs, dance, art

February 27th, 2009: Drew Gress – Ralph Alessi – Tim Berne – Tom Rainey – Craig Taborn


There were a few other interesting gigs at the same time, but there’s not all that much that would keep me from hearing Tom Rainey. Even though I don’t like the pricey venue much, and the consistent dissing I heard from musicians isn’t improving that any. But hey, there was not just Tom Rainey, but also Tim Berne and Craig Taborn, so that’s three fourth of Science Friction — and I loved their performance last year — and I didn’t have to know the other members of 7 Black Butterflies firsthand to trust that they’re just as good. Which proved right, of course.

Drew Gress was the leader, and even though I sure would have liked more free elements in the music, it had beautiful moments, especially some times when they would all play together but quite different things, an intricate mesh with no compromise, a whole made stronger by the power of its components. Sometimes it was a little too pretty for my taste, but it also had a rougher side, and the sheer range was a definite plus.

As musicians, there’s no question they’re all excellent. That was especially obvious when three would stop and one would go on for a while with Tom Rainey — an arrangement I didn’t mind one bit. But I think it was most impressive when they played all together, because I could usually track each one’s path, but often didn’t lest I miss the forest for the trees.

That said, Tom Rainey was clearly my favorite in the band, no surprise here as he’s just as clearly my favorite drummer right now. The sheer range of what he did was impressive, and I heard him do other things before, so it wasn’t a full display of his ability. Quiet or loud, fast or slower, easily flowing or rougher, he seems able to do everything, and to change smoothly or abrutly at will. It was tempting to focus laser-like on his play, but that would have been missing another side as part of what I like about him is that what he does meshes so well with what the others are doing. I guess that’s more the case with people he’s familiar with, and tonight looked like one such occasion.

March 2, 2009 Posted by | Music | , , , , , | Leave a comment

April 22nd, 2008: Julien Lourau – Quartet Saigon


Another one I had been hearing about for a while. Julien Lourau probably has pretty different projects, because he’s been described to me as both innovative and mainstream-bordering-on-conservative. I guess tonight was more of the latter than the former, but my perception is probably skewed by Sunday’s aftershock. As usual in this place, they were consistently good, but there was some prettiness to the music at times that was annoying to me. It was often about the piano, and I think it’s no coincidence that the tunes that I didn’t like much were announced as his compositions.

On the other hand, there were a few fascinating moods, especially in the slower tunes, and when Lourau was on soprano saxophone. Still pretty much melodic, but with interesting interactions. I’m usually not that turned off by the mandatory soloing, I think I can blame Science Friction for my lack of interest this time. I liked the bass solos best in that department. I guess the all acoustic lineup was not best for me either, but on the other hand it was probably best for me to go in that different direction. My favorites were Saigon and Baron Samedi, both in the first set, but on average I liked the second set better; I didn’t get the rest of the first one. Overall it was nice but frustrating: whenever I was really getting into it, there would be some pretty piano flourishes to kick me out again. Even good stuff to make me want to try again, but I guess I’ll try to see another project, without that particular guy on piano.

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

November 16th, 2007: Benoit Delbecq & Han Bennink


At last I got to see Han Bennink. That strike had me exhausted, but I was not to be denied this time.

At first what struck me was his sheer velocity, but I know better than trusting my first impression. Same thing goes for his headband wearing, I was really set on going beyond that. I was not disappointed, he’s very much a showman; but that’s nothing. The real deal is that he is an astounding drummer. Delbecq is no dummy either, he got some great sounds out of his piano, more so that most people I have seen so far. It sounded weird at first how the drums were more interesting even on a melodic level, but he kinda raised his playing to the point were even I got to appreciate what he was doing, even though I was biased.

But I was there to hear Bennink at last and I’m glad I was there. His play comes close to redefining what drumming is all about for me. What a range of possibilities. And he’s going at it, not around like too many do. His sound is crisp and straightforward, but he just knows what can be done with it, and he’s nice enough to share that knowledge with the lucky audience. I was in awe at his ability to change the mood so easily, from compelling attention to supporting his partner in a heartbeat, but always smoothly rewarding my focusing on his play. How selfish of me, the price being that I’m aware that I probably missed on what else was there, but for a first shot at hearing him play, it was well worth going the extra mile, literally in that particular case, with that strike making me walk miles home after that show.

November 17, 2007 Posted by | Music | , , | Leave a comment

August 24th, 2007: Tommy Smith


It’s been ten days since the last gig, so I just went to with closest opportunity. I didn’t expect much from the venue’s blurb — “poetry” wasn’t what I needed — but I was pleasantly surprised.

Tommy Smith had a bobish look to me, which was an appropriate disconnect. He’s not an overbearing leader, as often sat down to let the piano player have his part. I wish he had been more assertive, but what do I know? It’s just that I didn’t really like the other guy’s style. But it was a very good tribute to Coltrane. I didn’t know that would be the case, and that’s a part of the pleasant surprise thing. I’m only starting to learn, but I think this was a breakthrough of sorts for me: figuring out how to listen to someone else’s take on stuff like a love supreme. They played acknowledgement, and that’s as hard as it gets for me, especially since I saw Rosas’ take on it with Cynthia Loemij dancing on Coltrane’s part. I think that what works for me is to use the familiarity as a guidepost, but let go of any comparison.

For once I didn’t need half the show to get into it. They started with an outstanding version of Impressions. Full of energy and a somewhat edgy warmth. It was exactly what I needed to hear. It’s a feeling I haven’t had for many years: an old tune made brand new. Then they went on to an equally good version of Naima. The opening part of A Love Supreme then surprisingly didn’t send me packing. There’s more to it than my learning about Jazz. This music carries a heavy emotional load for me. The Rosas connection actually lessens it.

I really liked the way they didn’t seem impressed by the material and just did their thing with it. On the face of it, this is not the kind of gig I enjoy. But I did, a lot, and I’m grateful for it as it came at a time when I badly needed a break.

August 25, 2007 Posted by | Music | , | Leave a comment

July 19th, 2007: Glenn Ferris


I had been told this guy was said to be good, so I went and checked him out. The fact that he’s a trombone player was a factor as I had never seen anyone play one. He is good. The lineup included piano, sax, bass and drums, but I didn’t like the piano and drums: I’m not saying that they can’t play, I just don’t like their style.

They mostly played Ferris‘ own compositions, which were pretty good, especially the first one. As the theme of the festival was a tribute to Coltrane, they threw in a couple of his compositions — Blue Train and impressions — as well as Afro Blues. Their takes were enjoyable overall. I think my seeing Vijay Iyer earlier this week made it harder for me to like what the pianist was doing: I couldn’t help thinking how it didn’t measure up to that standard, especially when it was his time for a solo. But the sax and trombone more than made up for it and it was a very pleasant couple of hours of music.

I didn’t stay for the third set, I just chickened out and went to catch the last train. It was the first time I went to a “classical” jazz gig — meaning sounding like what I called jazz before delving into free. I don’t think I’ll be a regular at these, but a few a year wouldn’t hurt. Hopefully I will learn to listen to this and get more out of it: I’m still struggling at this point.

July 20, 2007 Posted by | Music | , | Leave a comment

June 16th, 2007: Vijay Iyer & Rudresh Mahanthappa (Raw Materials)


I was looking for something completely different from my usual fare, and I was not disappointed. Vijay Iyer on piano, Rudresh Mahanthappa on saxophone. The lack of drums or bass, my usual favorites, was a big factor in my selecting this gig to venture into another unknown place. Of course a piano can have a percussive feel, and in fact in the case at some points. Three consistently good sets, especially the second one.

It ranged from also meditative pieces to upbeat ones, but always completely unfamiliar to me. One of the greatest parts was the way these guys played together, even when they were not playing together — if I may drop a Yogism. A solid construction leaving plenty of room for improvisation. Quite a new world for me. In the beginning I had a hard time hearing the piano but I got used to it midway through the first set. By that time I started to make sense of what Mahanthappa was doing as well, so I guess I was on the right track. Of course I most probably missed the point, being such a newbie. But I enjoyed it, and I’m not asking for anything more.

Two of my favorite moments were during the second set: at the start of a piece when Iyer put his hand in the piano — echoes of prepared piano to my corrupted ears — then went on in a percussive mode. Another piece by Mahanthappa that he said was inspired by a Tibetan mandala. A reference sure to grab my attention, maybe that’s why I enjoyed it so much; but being open is what I use mandalas for anyway.

The third set was the shortest, and felt quite upbeat to me. I write “felt” because I’m not sure it was anything but my own happiness at no longer having to struggle and focus to follow what was going on. I’m fully aware that’s I’m just scratching the surface, but it feels great to see there’s a whole world of music I don’t have a clue about.

July 17, 2007 Posted by | Music | , , | Leave a comment