Sunday, February 18, 2018

Jason Roebke In Pittsburgh, A Night of Brevity


The last time Jason Roebke played in Pittsburgh, he was on the stage at the Consol Energy Center (now the PPG Paints Arena). He was a member of Locksmith Isidore, a trio led by bass clarinetist Jason Stein, the brother of that evening's headlining act, Amy Schumer. This past Friday, Roebke was by himself in a more intimate setting - the White Whale Bookstore in Bloomfield, the neighborhood a few miles up the road the arena. 

The bassist was between shows. A date with Tomeka Reid was coming up in Cleveland so he was trying to pick up a few things in between and this one came together easily. Luckily a friend of mine got wind of it and told me about it in enough time that I was able to make it. Roebke is an incredible bassist, who has recorded with most of the Chicago players that I follow (Stein, Mike Reed, Fred Lonberg-Holm, Frank Rosaly). He's also recorded a number of great albums under his own name, including High/Red/Center and Cinema Spiral. 

The evening's performances were conspicuous in their brevity. Susan Kuo and David Bernabo opened the night was a set of quiet improvisation. And by quiet, I mean if everyone hadn't been sitting in silent, rapt attention, you might not have been able to hear it. Bernabo bowed and occasionally plucked an acoustic guitar. Kuo played a thumb piano and added some vocals. From the back row of folding chairs, it was hard to see clearly, which made it interesting to figure out what was happening.

Music took a backseat next, since the following two performers were authors. Matthew Newton read an essay about growing up in the mid-'80s in Braddock, the once-thriving steel town that was falling apart at that time. His story of getting picked up after school by his Viet Nam vet uncle and his wild friend told a was really evocative in its detail about his memories of that time, and poignant as well. Rachel Ann Bricker played an audio piece next that spoofed computer apps, this one about finding your inner child. It incorporated movie samples including the inevitable Star Wars reference. 



Then Roebke carried his bass out from behind one of the shelves of books, along with his bow. From the moment he started playing, Roebke was deeply involved in the creation. When he set his bow on the podium next to the stage, or reached to pick it up, he never took his eyes off his instrument, reaching almost blindly for what he needed, without slowing the performance. He sometimes looked agitated or upset, like he was trying to figure out the best move to make. At first, his playing was sort of spare, using the bow over and under the bridge. At one point, Roebke even wedged the bow under the A string (I couldn't get my camera out in time). His technique was astounding, producing all sorts of rich, somewhat roaring sounds out of his instrument.

But after about 20 minutes, it was over. In fact, he played for about 10 minutes and set his instrument down. Then he seemed to get a nod from someone in the back of the room that it was okay to keep going, so he went back for more. I've seen Henry Grimes go on for an hour or more with just a bass and a violin. I would had gladly soaked up another 10 or 15 minutes from Roebke. However, he's coming back in April with Tomeka Reid, Mary Halvorson and Tomas Fujiwara. (The latter two are here in a few weeks at the Warhol with Halvorson's Code Girl band too.) So the pump has been primed.

There was a show happening down the street at Howler's so I headed down their next. That show was also a night of short, concise sets, as late., Clara Kent and Garter Shake (below) all played 30-minute sets.




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