Monday, September 05, 2011

Recap of Sunday

This morning I went out for breakfast to a diner around the corner from the hotel. Walking back, I had to wait to cross the street due to the Labor Day parade that was marching down one of my cross streets. Then when I got to the hotel, two cops, one after another, made me show my room card at the driveway of the hotel before they'd let me pass. Obama is speaking at a rally just down the road from here. I wish I had packed my coat with me because I would've taken the extra time to find a record store that's up the road from here. Oh well.

Yesterday, I went to a brunch where I met a few cool guys who are involved in internet radio and jazz media. They were all really great guys who are passionate about what they do and love the music, which was encouragement I need to keep doing this thing.

I had that in-between feeling yesterday because I couldn't figure out what to do with myself in the early afternoon. There were shows to see but not until a little later in the afternoon. So I got on the people mover, which is what us Pittsburghers might call a skybus or what Simpsons fans might call a monorail, and rode it in a complete circle.

Jeff "Tain" Watts played a set with the Michigan State University Jazz Band. They did a pretty hot take on Oliver Nelson's "Down by the Riverside," which featured all five of the trumpets taking a short solo. A lot of them entered seamlessly, picking up on the last guys' idea and running with it. It started raining during the last tune, Herbie Hancock's "Eye of the Hurricane," and I walked back behind the stage for shelter. Unfortunately I missed seeing who took the alto solo because whoever it was had some Dolphy influence going on. That's not something you hear very often in this context. I mean the band was strong and tight, but I wish some of these bands would get a little more adventurous with their repetoire and try to some Mingus charts, or maybe Hall Overton's arrangements for Monk. Or maybe even some Sun Ra. Some of his grooves would get the audience moving. Nevertheless, Tain set this band on fire.

Speaking of big bands, there was a tribute to the late drummer J.C. Heard on the same stage a little bit later. I only got to see a couple songs before running off to another stage, but Walt Szymanski, who played with Heard, had that band swinging really hard and he also blew some delicate flugelhorn solos.

Wish I would've stuck around to see more of them because Anat Cohen was late getting started. By the time I thought about it, I was already situated in a spot out of the rain and didn't feel like getting up.

Anat was worth the wait. "Anat's Dance" opened the set almost sounding like an early '60s Miles Davis tune with clarinet in the place of his horn. She was using space to create suspense, and threw in a couple fast chromatic runs. That piece was written by her pianist Jason Lindner, but several of the tunes she played were by Brazilian composers like Milton Nascimento (whose tune almost sounded like a soul number) and Ernesto Lecuona. But the way the band played didn't adhere to any strict Brazilian style, good or otherwise. They were straight ahead and looking forward.
Drummer Daniel Freedman pushed the songs in all different directions, making "Anat's Dance" a little elastic and taking a ballad into stronger territory. Cohen was smiling the whole time, dancing around the stage to the music, or else she was having trouble balancing on those heels. Either way she was graceful.

It was interesting seeing the Jeff "Tain" Watts 4 back to back with the Vijay Iyer Trio. Both groups were astounding but in completely different ways. In fact at the end of the night I started wondering if I knew how to write about music anymore, since most of my adjectives seemed to be overused in my notepad.

After playing all weekend, it's safe to say that Watts was all fired up and ready to go to town in his own quartet. With Christian McBride on bass, how could he not? Plus he had Marcus Strickland on tenor and soprano and Lawrence Fields on piano. It seems like an easy comparison to describe a tenor-and-rhythm lineup to John Coltrane's classic quartet. But with the fire power coming off the stage last night, these guys rank as players with the same level of skill and passion. Although you'd never imagine Elvin Jones making a joke about the show being a celebration only to have his bassist launch into the Kool and the Gang song of the same name. Yes, there was good humor mixed in with the band. Tain had the quartet play their take on "May 15, 2011," the ballad he premiered with his Drum Club on Friday night. It wasn't as much of a ballad with this group, meaning it hit a little harder, but it still sounded strong. "Attainment," which begins like the best transition period Trane tunes with a rubato theme, brought the house down thanks to Tain's thunderous mallet work and Strickland's screams in the climax of his solo.

Then there's Vijay. The music from the Carharrt Amphitheatre was echoing up to his stage, and there was some river boat on the water about 50 feet away that kept booming calls of "Work it out!" and "Come on!" thorough a tinny p.a. periodically through the set. I couldn't tell if it was a gambling boat or an exercise cruise. But I didn't let it bug me and neither did the trio.

Iyer has a distinct touch on the piano. As he played I realized that he's the only player outside of maybe Monk or Cecil Taylor that I think I could identify easily. Of all the offbeat song choices he often digs out, he threw in a song by the '70s R&B band Heatwave. Not "Boogie Nights" or "Always and Forever" (though I could hear him doing something swell to the latter tune) but "The Star Of a Story." It was hard to tell where that one started and the one prior ended but the group was tinkering with where they were playing in relation to the beat. Drummer Marcus Gilmore was playing straight 4, Iyer was getting choppy and Stephan Crump was bowing his bass, making his trademark (?) weird faces and singing along with what he was playing. The way that guy plays in the context of this band seems so innovative. He doesn't just support the trio, he becomes another lead voice along with Iyer. Later on in a tune Iyer said they call "Lude," since it's not a pre- or a post-lude, I thought I was hearing the downbeat in one place, until the drums dropped out and Iyer just followed Crump with his right hand. It made me think the center had shifted. Or maybe I shifted.

I did have a couple moments last night in Iyer's and Watts' set where I couldn't keep track of the beat. Now that I recall it harder, I think it was Watts' version of Bjork's "107 Steps" that really did it for me. McBride and Fields were holding down the riff while Watts played like he was trying his best to throw those two off, with a torrent of crashes and fills and beautiful clatter all over the drums. It didn't confuse his bandmates, but it convinced me to stop counting and listen.

The guy sitting next to me during Iyer's set kept asking about him and, being the supporter that I am, I kept feeding him info about Iyer's albums. Hopefully he'll pick them up.

I was hoping Iyer and crew would pop by the hotel bar after the set but I didn't see them. I did get to talk to Stephan about the review I wrote here of the album he did with Steve Lehman though.


barb said...

ah, this is great Mike, the next best thing to being there. I can see your mind working and the comment about "stop counting and listen" sounds so much like you. SInce i've been taking drum lessons, I find myself doing the same thing. The nice thing about your reviews is that they are reviews from someone who plays and has music background, and they are a pleasure to read. Anat Cohen sounds cool- don't know her. I'll have to check her out. Have fun today!

shanleymusic said...

Glad you like it, Barb.