Archive for June, 2012

Free Jazz at Vision Festival (Part 2)
June 21, 2012

Rob Brown and Daniel Levin
Kidd Jordan Quintet
Vision Festival 17 @ Roulette
Brooklyn, NY
Sunday, June 17, 2012

After Burnt Sugar’s army of musicians, Rob Brown and Daniel Levin stood as a gentle comment on minimalism’s freedom. Their duo of tenor sax and cello engaged in an elaborate dialogue, not afraid to leave space, or let their interlocutor speak at length, enjoying a momentary monologue.

Their melodic lines intersected in the air like the imaginary trails of two insects flitting about, demonstrating the beauty of chaos theory.

At other times, one would accompany the other. Levin detuned his C-string, turning his cello into a bass. He plucked strings with both hands to give a more layered accompaniment, more orchestral but still with a rounded levity.

Brown accompanied by playing one note, repeatedly, in differing, jarring rhythmic patterns, using tonal shifts to alter the texture and add additional movement. Brown’s method was effective, but he returned to it too often, and at times, it sounded as if he retreated to this repeated note technique when he was at a loss.

Brown and Levin’s brilliant conversation was the prize of the evening. And perhaps the most impressive aspect of the duo is their ability to improvise form. Each piece they began struck out into new territory, and they negotiated together the direction and shape of the piece, giving cues to each other and the audience signaling when the life of this music was reaching its end.

The Kidd Jordan Quintet closed the evening with a ferocious set. Jordan was a powerhouse on the tenor sax, ripping through phrases until the scales themselves were enervated, and his piercing squeals soared like rockets.

J. D. Parran filled the bottom end with a strong bari sax tone. He doubled on bass clarinet and wooden flute, adding a new spectrum of colors to the group’s already saturated sound.

Charles Gayle twisted atonal lines on the piano and pounded away in high and low registers, mashing the keys with full palms, pushing his own body off the bench. Gayle switched to tenor sax for the last song, joining Jordan’s wild sound.

The raw strength of the quintet, however, was also their weakness. The muscled force of the group was simply overwrought.

On drums, Hamid Drake played on top of everything. His creative spirit continually wrestled with his juggernaut style. Eventually, Drake’s playing was like adding too much fuel to the fire — it snuffs it out. I had trouble hearing anyone else, especially William Parker on bass.

The excitement of the first three minutes became stagnation. Without dynamics, loud is meaningless.  But then, that seems to be Kidd Jordan’s message, the reason for his quintet. The contrast is the silence after the music.

Free Jazz at Vision Fest (Part 1)
June 19, 2012

Ingrid Laubrock
Burnt Sugar
Vision Festival 17 @ Roulette
Brooklyn, NY
Sunday, June 17, 2012

Ingrid Laubrock’s quintet explored a broad but detailed soundscape. Painting with a wide palette of sound, Laubrock used subtle tonal changes and percussive, breathy rhythmic figures.

On drums, Tom Rainey controlled many of the textures. He created literal textures of sound by rubbing his hands over the drum heads, the dry friction producing squeaks that gave a new element of physicality to the drums. He held multiple drum sticks loosely over the snare and shuffled them as they rattled continuously as if in free-fall.

The rest of the band, Mary Halvorson (guitar), Kris Davis (piano), John Hébert (bass), played cautiously and judiciously, almost hesitant at times, from Laubrock’s complex charts. They altered their instruments’ tones, Davis with a John Cage-esque prepared piano muffle and Halvorson with a slide as if bending beams of light.

Laubrock was at her best playing eruptive melodies mixed with pops and squeals. The intensity of these lines contrasted like a horizon of fire against the conservative, almost sullen shapes that formed the bulk of her compositions.

Next on stage was Burnt Sugar, an ingenious project that combines free improvisation with more traditional forms in a variety of styles, funk, R&B, soul, swing, bebop, and groove rock.

The personnel was vast: Greg “Ironman” Tate (conductor, guitar), Lisala, Abby Dobson, Mikel Banks (voice), Lewis “Flip” Barnes (trumpet), Micah Gaugh (alto sax), V. Jeffery Smith, Avram Fefer (tenor sax), Dave Smith (trombone), Jason DiMatteo (bass), Jared Nickerson (electric bass), LaFrae Sci (drums), and others, a sax player, a keyboard player, two more guitarists, and a percussionist.

This throng of musicians is Tate’s playland. In snazzy duds, he directs the band with fluid arms and hands as if he is throwing clay, sculpting a giant urn on the potter’s wheel of sound.

Tate’s mind is a premiere arranging mind, full of creative surprises, lifting the horns up, defining a rhythmic figure for them, cutting out percussion, leading the singers through harmonies of liquid vowells, dropping everything down to a capella.

While their size enables them to touch every color in the sky, when the whole band improvises together, they reach a critical density and their sound turns into an unpleasant overload.

I heard the keyboard player only once. I never heard the third guitar player. And, Tate would do best to lay down his guitar and conduct the whole time.

Lisala stole the show when she started the fourth song with a series of yearning blues lines punctuated by huge hits from the band. The song transitioned into a 60s spy-themed uptempo, and then out of nowhere dropped into a low, dirty swing, Lisala’s lusty vocals soaring over the band.

Check back soon to hear how Rob Brown and Daniel Levin and the Kidd Jordan Quintet finished off the evening.

Roots Rock in Brooklyn
June 16, 2012

The Pete Sinjin Band
Bar 4
Brooklyn, NY
Friday, June 15, 2012
9:00 – 11:00 p.m.

Otsego took the stage with a variety of instruments, acoustic and electric guitars, banjo, violin, harmonica, piano, electric bass, and drums. Their textured folk rock instrumentation could have been improved perhaps only by substituting upright bass for electric.

By the second song, Otsego settled into a steady tempo, the strong bass drum inspiring foot stomps on every beat. Though a little tentative, you could tell they were having a good time. Even band members who were not mic’d were singing along at times, taken away with their own music.

The six-piece band demonstrated the breadth of their talent by switching instruments. The fiddle player picked up the banjo. He traded the banjo for the acoustic guitar. The harmonica player jumped on the piano. Four of the six sang.

Yet, the variety of instruments was somewhat undermined with a rhythm guitar-heavy mix. The color of accompaniment is in the banjo and harmonica. The intrigue of counter-melodies is in the fiddle and lead guitar. Partly the soundman is to blame, but better equipment, for example, using pickups instead of mics, would have helped.

The true potential of Otsego is in the song-writing and the vocals. Several songs wound themselves into a circular repetition of memorable and heart-heavy lines: “I would still take a bullet for you.”

The up-tempo songs featured back-up vocalists doubling the melody and shouting back, call-and-response style, approaching the Avett Brothers’ paradoxical mixture of violent cheer — that aggressive, almost dangerous, slap-happy drunken revelry. The highlight was the three-part harmonies on the ballads.

Otsego crafted their set well, ending with a genre-bending cover and a drinking song. The lead singer and rhythm guitar player went “Mutemath” at the end of the show, pulling out drum sticks and doubling on toms and cymbals.

Pete Sinjin and his band followed with a four-piece country rock set. The lead singer played acoustic guitar and sang with confidence about hard-won love: “My mouth is full of blood, but my heart is full of poetry.”

The bass player was solid and so was the drummer, although he could have backed off on the snare during the more gentle moments. The lead guitarist was a heavily bearded gentleman who had that desirable tone, gritty overdrive with bright reverb.

What set The Pete Sinjin Band apart was the lead guitarist’s work on the electric slide guitar. He could solo, play counter-melodies, accompany, and explore the soundscape with effects, all of it tasty and tasteful.

On the corner of 7th Ave. and 15th St. in Brooklyn, Bar 4 offers a conservative but solid list of beers on tap and hosts music events many nights of the week. It’s a cozy place and boasts a piano on the modest stage. Friends and family gathered on couches in the front while others lined the bar and stood in the back by the foosball table. Take the F or G train to 7th Ave.

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Pete Sinjin
Bar 4