Saturday, December 17, 2016

The Past Week in Music

In the past seven days, I saw locals Thoth Trio in an unfortunately too rare show, the Ritual Trio (David Murray, Kahil El'Zabar & Harrison Bankhead, above, left to right) and William Parker & Patricia Nicholson. Pretty good week for music, methinks.

Thoth played at a space that's actually called the Space Upstairs, a really nice looking loft that's apparently being hosting performances for ten years. Granted, ten years ago I was off the local music grid (Pulp was two years gone and I wouldn't start writing for City Paper for another year) but this is the first time I'd heard of the place. Dance seems to be a big part of what the locale is all about. Throughout Thoth's two sets difference dancers would move across the hardwood floor, responding to the music. It wasn't like cliched "jazzzzzz" dance. The women and men doing it were really graceful and their movement seemed to pay attention to what was being played. Ben Opie (saxophones), Paul Thompson (bass) and Dave Throckmorton (drums) were in fine form. Plus there was coffee, although it took them awhile to brew it.

Last Sunday, the Ritual Trio played at the James Street Gastropub. Locals will understand the raised eyebrow by the combination of venue and music. James Street is a strong supporter of jazz and a great space, but rarely does it host a group so avant as these three. The reason in this case is the guy who brought them to town couldn't get into any other space.

David Murray and I had a late night chat for an article the week before the show.After resigning myself to the idea that I'd have to write the article based on memories (albeit strong ones) of Murray's previous Pittsburgh appearances, as well as his records, my phone rang at 10:00 pm the night before the article was due. Our conversation went so well, David being very loquacious, that I scrapped what I had written and started over, the morning after we talked. The results are here. 

James Street was standing room only for these guys, which was really exciting since shows like that (especially on a Sunday night) don't always draw well. All three members of the trio had been to Pittsburgh within the last 13 months. Murray came with the World Saxophone Quartet in September. Bankhead came to the Thunderbird with a bass and drums quartet called the Turbine! back in November of 2015. Kahil El'Zabar was here in the spring with the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble.

El'Zabar uses the same template each time he's come to town: playing on song on the amplified kalimba/mbria, one on the trap kit, one on a hand drum - set one; set two might be close to that with some variation in order. It's always a great show, but it's set up the same way.

Putting David Murray into the equation and a bassist (EHE has two horn players) throws some key elements into it. Murray's strong personality fit right in with El'Zabar's vision. The tenor saxophonist stayed close to straight-ahead jazz at first, complete with chord changes. But he quickly tore them up and rebuilt them. With the droning mbira songs, he made sure that things never waned, especially when he was playing bass clarinet. "One World Family," a song Murray and El'Zabar have returned to several times over the years, was a  powerful groove number with a hope for a better world. Bankhead played the anchor of the group, adding some of his own strong solo technique to the music in a few instances too.

City of Asylum brought in bassist William Parker and dancer/concert organizer/artist/poet Patricia Nicholson Parker (husband and wife too) on Wednesday of this week. CoA is still putting the finishing touches on Alphabet City, a space on the North Side which will host a restaurant, book store and performance space. But despite the almost-but-not-quite-there aspect, this is where they hosted the couple and the intimate space presented a good vibe for the event.

The evening began with a performance - Parker on bass, Nicholson dancing and reading poetry. I'll admit that I'm more a fan of the music. Especially Parker, who epitomizes the ability to project your life experiences through a performance on an instrument. His command of his whole instrument is something to watch. Without any other musicians to cover up his nuances, you hear a lot more of what he's doing.

Like the dancers at Space Upstairs, Nicholson moved very expressively onstage, bending and reacting to the music. During the nearly one-hour continuous performance, she read poetry that could be both pensive and hopeful as well as energizing.

After the performance, the duo took questions from the audience. They wanted to keep the discussion on the topic of what role the artist has in society. The work these two in New York is admirable. Nicholson organizes the VISION Festival each year. Parker plays consistantly with a number of different musicians, having released over 150 albums.

That being said, Q&A sessions involved such detailed questions like "what's the artist's role" are things that I'd rather miss, in large part because there are usually detailed but ultimately vague questions by audience members. That did happen on Wednesday, though not all that much. It was good to hear them talk, although some references to the new administration brought back some of the dread I've been trying to keep at bay.

Of course it was great being up close and personal with the two of them. Plus, the event was free. And over by 10 pm!

No comments: