Happy New Year

Time to get the resolutions in order: no more dangling minor 9ths! (Well, maybe that’s going a bit far. Better to just stick to losing ten pounds or so.) Better yet, try to get to some different venues for improvised music and see what makes them tick. It could be a great thing to do between now and the next winter solstice, which I’ve heard will be a pretty major resolution. But I won’t give too much credence to apocalyptic predictions, they seldom come to pass.

Last night, however, I heard a set at The Stone that might make one of mine hit its mark. The first half of January 2012 is being hosted by Stefan Winter, who founded JMT records in 1985. Besides launching the recording careers of Steve Coleman, Greg Osby, Cassandra Wilson, Robin Eubanks, Gary Thomas, and Jean-Paul Bourelly, JMT (now called Winter and Winter) also championed many “downtown” artists, such as Tim Berne, Mark Feldman, Mark Dresser, Bob Stewart, Craig Harris, and Herb Robertson. Jane Ira Bloom and Fred Hersch recorded their classic As One album for JMT and the late Paul Motian introduced his bassless trio on the label with Monk in Motian (which featured Dewey Redman and Gerri Allen as well).

Some Gear for Herb Robinson

Photo courtesy of Cheryl Pyle

It was trumpeter Herb Robertson who invited me to perform with him, bass trombonist Dave Taylor, saxophonist Adam Niewood, and drummer Jay Rosen in the opening set at the Stone on Thursday (Jan. 5). We played one long piece, Beyond the Threshold, composed for the occasion by Robertson. It was written in a combination of graphic notation and multiple-choice directions that focused on specific uses of textures but no specific technique. Each part included a single or double note to be used as a recurring motive throughout the piece’s aleatoric realization. Robertson and Taylor’s use of mutes and growls was nothing short of extraordinary; even when Taylor drops his mute on the ground (intentionally) it is recognizable as his, and Robertson has extended the idea of “mute” to include megaphones and paper plates.

The second set featured a group led by drummer Jim Black and featured saxophonist/clarinetists Oscar Noriega and Chris Speed, guitarist Brad Shepik, and bassist Trevor Dunn and was listed as a tribute to Paul Motian, who passed away last month. Their program included works from Motian’s quintet with Joe Lovano, Jim Pepper (or Billy Drewes), Bill Frisell, and Ed Schuller, as well as material from the Lovano-Frisell-Motian trio and from Motian’s Electric Bebop band, of which Shepik and Speed were both members. I first heard Jim Black in 1991 while he was touring Europe in a duo with saxophonist Lee Konitz. That was the only time he and I met before last night, so we first had to laugh at how we’ve both evolved into bigger (and better!) people, before he stated the obvious, how no one, no matter how well versed in Motian’s drumming, would ever come close to sounding like him. (Motian is to drumming what Thelonious Monk is to piano playing.) Black is a consummate musician, though, and studied the original recordings as well as the volumes of “bootlegs” available of the material. Instead of attempting to play in Motian’s style, Black played the melodies of the music with the band in his own way, which is powerful, virtuosic, and metrically diverse. The result was a performance of some of Motian’s best known works—“The Owl Of Cranston,” “Conception Vessel,” “Mumbo Jumbo,” “Blue Midnight,” “Look To The Black Wall,” “From Time To Time,” “Circle Dance,” and “Drum Music”—that captured the spirit of Motian without being derivative of him and lent the air of legitimacy to my very safe prediction.

Sadly, Stefan Winter took ill in Europe and could not be in New York for Thursday’s concerts. I was told he is much better and will be flying in for the rest of the series. I suggest trying to catch some of it. I know I will.

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2 thoughts on “Happy New Year

  1. cheryl pyle

    dear ratzo, so great to hear this band live and see you. thank you again for the amazing set at the stone .
    merry new and more great music in 2012 -peacelovemusic to you and yours, rhsc nyc

    Reply
  2. Herb Robertson

    Hey Ratzo!

    Thanks so much for the really nice write-up!
    It was such a pleasure to have Adam, Jay, Dave and you realize my composition. Hope that we can play again and document more music with this group. all best, Herb

    Reply

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