Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Oliver Lake, Graham Haynes, Joe Fonda & Barry Altschul at Alphabet City

I went out of order again, posting about the Steve Lehman Trio's Sunday night show before talking about the OGJB Quartet show which happened last week at Alphabet City.

Every September for the last 15 years, saxophonist Oliver Lake has gotten together with City of Asylum to present a program of jazz and poetry with music and poets, many of whom are exiled from their native countries. In the past, he brought in the World Saxophone Quartet, Vijay Iyer and Jump Up. The one-night event has grown to a whole month of performances, where poets perform with live music, usually following a set that the band plays by itself.

This year Lake brought in his cooperative group that includes Graham Haynes (cornet, dousn' gouni), Joe Fonda (bass) and Barry Altschul (drums). (The name derives from their first initials.) TUM released their CD Bamako this year, presenting a great set of composed works and group improvisations by these veteran players.

Live, they were just as tight. One audience member seemed bothered by the fact that Oliver Lake seemed to stick to long tones on his alto, but the sustained notes just seemed to give Joe Fonda and Barry Altschul more freedom to roll and tumble around. Their contributions to the set were the highlights of it. But Haynes' switch to dousn' gouni (a stringed instrument) added to the other wordly sound of the performance, bringing some more sustained drones to it.

Poets Alicia Ostriker, Osama Alomar, Batsirai Easther Chigama, Efe Duyan and Takako Arai each performed with the group. Some of the poems were short and involved the whole group going into a walking groove behind them. Other ones were longer and more impressionistic with just one or two musicians.. Not all of the poets write in English, so translations were provided on the screen behind the band. While poetry and jazz can head down a slippery slope, succumbing to bad stereotypes about poets over-emoting, getting lost in the music, or just drowned out by it, the performers tonight worked really well  to integrate both words and music. It looked like Fonda had the words on his music stand - or maybe it was a music chart. So the group knew when to stop and made each reading stand alone as a unique piece, rather than just creating a backdrop for the poets.

(Note: the first picture here is a shot of the monitor on one side of the room. I was sitting near the back and couldn't get a good shot of the whole band otherwise.)

No comments: