After a week of trying to see as much music as my schedule permitted in New York City, it's readily apparent that every night, there's at least some jazz music worth seeing. Whether or not it's affordable to the average young person, or in a convenient location, or well-attended, or if anyone even knows about it: these are other questions.
In any event, I wanted to document the ordeal, in full color. (Nothing like a F/4 zoom lens to hide your flailings in amateur photography.) Here's the second of three installments (the first is here), this time musing on ad hoc gigs, the odd accessibility of free improv, and on the insufficiency of recorded music.
Evan Parker: he speaks softly, but carries a lot of saxophone.
Evan Parker: he speaks softly, but carries a lot of saxophone. Patrick Jarenwattananon
Tuesday, Oct. 6
Evan Parker with Ikue Mori (and guest Sylvie Courvosier)
The day after I saw Evan Parker, I was auditioning CDs at work and put on a decidedly "free jazz" record from Brian Groder and Burton Greene. And something about the liner notes by Bill Shoemaker (of Point Of Departure) really got me thinking:
Listening to a recording of free jazz is a bit like watching travelers in a busy train terminal. People of all sizes and colors are moving in every direction; some of them are headed out of town, while some are on their way home. What these folks share is the need to get to the platform or the street straight away, and each pace, sidestep and sudden, momentary halt serves this heightened sense of purpose. Before long, what was initially perceived as a formless mass becomes perceptible, if constantly changing currents, carrying people to their destinations. There is no superstructure to it per se; but there is an organic quality that is fascinating to behold.
Evan Parker's two-week residency at The Stone featured the great British saxophonist in all sorts of free-improvising combinations, some more "jazz" than others. This one, with electronics artist Ikue Mori, was very much without reference to any idiom. Mori sent pops, gurgles and other inorganic noises out of a Macbook and a small mixing board; Parker emitted non-melodic key pops, breathy swishes and barely audible runs out of a soprano sax. It was enjoyable in a way that I have no architecture to talk about; I was as equipped to discuss it as anyone who's ever thought about music. (Case in point: Parker began what he called a tribute to late saxophonist Steve Lacy by audibly scratching his beard with his mouthpiece.) That leads me to a pet theory: because it is more akin to watching a train terminal than following a set of chord changes, anyone can find this "free improvisation" stuff worthwhile if they're willing to pay attention. Of course, it helps a lot if all parties involved do their respective things really well. I happened to think they did, especially when Sylvie Courvosier joined the duo to play a prepared piano with immaculate touch; judging by the rapt attention of the crowd of 50 or so, I wasn't the only one.
Wednesday, Oct. 7
John McNeil Quartet
Puppets Jazz Bar
I went from the Upper East Side in Manhattan to Park Slope, Brooklyn to hear trumpeter John McNeil's quartet play its regular Wednesday night gig. They weren't there, without any warning on the venue's or artists' Web sites. I know McNeil is no digital native, and may not imagine he has tons of fans coming all the way from D.C. to see him, but there really should be no excuse for that sort of thing in this age of instant communication and social media. At least McNeil sent a substitute band, in the form of ...
Dear Puppets Jazz Bar: your lighting is not very good for concert photography.
Dear Puppets Jazz Bar: your lighting is not very good for concert photography. Patrick Jarenwattananon
Wednesday, Oct. 7
Dan Tepfer Trio (with special guests)
Puppets Jazz Bar
Generally speaking, there are two opposite approaches to playing jazz gigs. One involves a lot of advance planning and rehearsal in order to present a refined, finished product. The other is when folks just show up, roll with the punches and call it a show. There were about 15 people in the audience for the Dan Tepfer trio's second set at Puppets Jazz Bar in Brooklyn, and about one-third of them were musicians. Apparently, the first, 9 p.m. set was all Dan Tepfer trio material, but the band's second performance was mostly not planned in advance, and had the casual feel of a jam session — even if some sophisticated stuff was going on.
He's only in his twenties, but Tepfer can do freewheeling exchange pretty well; on a 2009 disc called Duos With Lee, he and saxophonist Lee Konitz (about 50 years his elder) freely improvise vignettes to get lost in. (It's not atonal blowing, though: both he and Konitz are interested in coming up with appropriate chordal harmonies on the spot, Tepfer told me.) And whether it was "Stella By Starlight" or a melodic original, Tepfer had an uncommonly solid, fluid feel, using both hands and developing extended patterns with ease. He and his band (Jorge Roeder on bass, Ferenc Nemeth filling in for Richie Barshay on drums) also invited a number of musicians to make guest appearances. Tepfer had just completed two long days of recording with Alexis Cuadrado's Noneto Iberico, and two Spanish musicians from those sessions, the graceful alto saxophonist Perico Sambeat and excellent brush drummer Marc Miralta, both sat in. I wish I had made the first set instead, if only to see how Tepfer would do tasked with presenting his music alone. But what I did catch was a slice of modern jazz artists having fun working out something presentable — and that wasn't bad either.
Rez Abbasi packed Smalls as full as I've ever seen it.
Rez Abbasi packed Smalls as full as I've ever seen it. Patrick Jarenwattananon
Thursday, Oct. 8
Rez Abbasi Group
The kind of jazz that guitarist Rez Abbasi documents on his new album Things To Come doesn't always translate well to record. I liked the CD myself, though it took me a few listens; it's immensely difficult to make intricate, dense postbop come emotionally alive in a sterile modern studio. ("Boy music," the Boss Lady might have called it.) But at a packed Smalls last Tuesday night — literally standing room only, with the crowd trailing up the staircase — Abbasi's complex music was immediately full of energy and surprise.
L-R: Johannes Weidenmueller, Rudresh Mahanthappa and Vijay Iyer enjoy a down moment when the bartender decided to start the dishwasher.
L-R: Johannes Weidenmueller, Rudresh Mahanthappa and Vijay Iyer enjoy a down moment when the bartender decided to start the dishwasher. Patrick Jarenwattananon
Here was music which preserved the distinct identities of its parts: Dan Weiss' drumset thwacks, Vijay Iyer's bursts of pointy pianism, Rudresh Mahanthappa's spitfire spirals on alto. (As an aside, where else but New York do you get three heavily buzzed-about South Asian Americans making modern jazz with a Hindustani classical vocalist, a German bassist and a drummer with a Jewish name who happens to be a tabla master?) For a cast known largely for its jazz take on Indo-Pakistani classical forms, this stuff was primarily rooted in something more classically "jazz" — although Abbasi's solos, and the addition of Kiran Ahluwalia's non-tempered wordless vocals on some tunes, certainly gave away hints of something from the subcontinent. One such moment clearly came at the end, when Abbasi and Ahluwalia (who are married) performed a short acoustic guitar and voice duo meditation on the album's title track. After the fire and verve which preceded it, here was a strange, haunting sort of palette cleanser — a fitting denouement to a set filled with bustling activity.
OHHAI Linda Oh. Patrick Jarenwattananon
Thursday, Oct. 8
Linda Oh Trio
The Jazz Gallery
For my money, I can't think of a better debut album this year than bassist Linda Oh's Entry. It's one thing that she's a remarkably strong player, capable of powerful double stops and rapid fingerwork; it's another that she's imagined such engaging material for only trumpet, bass and drums. I remember thinking something similar about Esperanza Spalding's 2006 debut Junjo, also a trio disc. Here's a player with a slightly different skill set — not so much with the singing and Brazilian-isms, more pounding and interactive rocking out — but similarly promising upside.
I was going for "moody" here with Ambrose Akinmusire, but I got "too dark" instead.
I was going for "moody" here with Ambrose Akinmusire, but I got "too dark" instead. Patrick Jarenwattananon
Oh writes simple themes and riffs, but has clearly found the right people to flesh out that simplicity. Everyone wants to hire Ambrose Akinmusire for his colorful imagination delivered through a tight, focused tone (which occasionally admits a smear or slur into it too); Tommy Crane is antic and fantastic. On tunes like "201" (two-zero-one), a blues which didn't reveal itself as such until the improvisation hit full steam, Oh did a rare thing: play a non-boring bass solo, extending forms and bar lines wherever necessary. She also presented a new composition called "Iniquity," with electric bass and a sampled loop, and on the trio's version of the Red Hot Chili Peppers B-side "Soul To Squeeze," the slow and delicate built to full-on headbanging intensity. Born in Malaysia and raised in Australia, Oh announced that she'll soon be taking the trio on an Australian tour. It seems about right that the acclaim for her project will soon become international too.