Lean and intimate yet affording a vast palette of possibilities, the piano trio has proved to be one of the most resilient and malleable units in modern music. From the elegant finesse of Bill Evans to the skewed-angle eccentricities of Thelonious Monk, down to modern innovators like Vijay Iyer’s rhythmic expansiveness and The Bad Plus’ droll provocations, the deceptively simple set-up of piano, bass and drums provides seemingly endless opportunities for exploration.
Over the last three decades, The Necks have taken full advantage of those opportunities. The Australian trio – pianist Chris Abrahams, bassist Lloyd Swanton and drummer Tony Buck – don’t just go deep; they’re sonic spelunkers, venturing into darker, more mysterious corners and finding unexpected treasures typically hidden from the light. They craft massive structures from tiny moments, typically taking the form of single, hour-long pieces that are allowed to grow and evolve at a relatively glacial pace.
Fresh off of a year spent celebrating its 50th anniversary, it would be easy to view the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) as a landmark of the past, a movement that set jazz on a new course and was absorbed into a redefined mainstream. But the Chicago-based organization continues to spawn new members with fresh perspectives on its “Ancient to the Future” mantra, which takes a far-ranging and open-minded view of the whole of jazz – and music – history as fodder for its sonic experiments.
Cellist Tomeka Reid is one standout among the latter generation, who has worked with founding members like Anthony Braxton as well as more contemporary standard-bearers like flutist Nicole Mitchell and drummer Mike Reed.
When Bobby Zankel ended his decade-long run of monthly performances at Tritone in 2011 (mere months before the South Street club itself went to a better place), the future of the saxophonist’s adventurous Warriors of the Wonderful Sound big band was unclear. The following year brought the first reinvention of the band through a series of commissioned compositions from jazz greats Muhal Richard Abrams, Rudresh Mahanthappa, and Steve Coleman.
A more radical reinvention came in 2013, when Zankel scaled down the band to a ten-piece and almost completely overhauled its membership. “The original band had run its course,” Zankel shrugs now. In its first two years the new Warriors maintained its vitality while making fewer appearances, though the more sporadic shows always made an impact: its unveiling at the 2013 Philadelphia United Jazz Festival; an inventive and surprising collaboration with hip-hop choreographer Raphael Xavier and Cuban-born percussionist François Zayas as part of the Kimmel Center’s inaugural Jazz Residency program; a tribute to “New Thing” pioneers Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor, and Sun Ra in a powerhouse double-bill with the Sun Ra Arkestra at the Painted Bride. Continue reading →
You couldn’t exactly call Miles Archer and Sam Spade one of fiction’s great teams; after all, Archer’s death helps to set the events of The Maltese Falcon in motion. Dan Blacksberg and Nick Millevoi’s partnership as Archer Spade has fortunately been more productive. Under that name alone, they’re a new music trombone/guitar duo; a commissioning entity that has generated works by the likes of Gene Coleman, Roscoe Mitchell, and Dave Soldier; and a concert series now entering into a new partnership with Ars Nova Workshop. Continue reading →
On Friday, November 11, 1966, when John Coltrane took the stage of Temple University’s Mitten Hall, he was at a stage in his evolution when music seemed to erupt forth from his body, and it was all he could do to place his horn in front of it to channel the torrent of sound. At times during this particular concert that didn’t happen; instead, he steps to the microphone and sings/chants/bellows in an almost primal wail, beating his chest for effect.
It’s rare in performance for an instrument to take the spotlight over the player. But that was almost what happened on Saturday night at John Zorn’s solo organ performance – part of the Ars Nova Workshop’s New Paths Festival – in the Girard College Chapel. The evening was in equal parts a celebration of the college’s grand Aeolian-Skinner pipe organ and a concise exploration of Zorn’s broad musical language.
Simply walking into the venue set the tone for the concert. “Chapel” is far too quaint a word to describe the massive space, which features dark marble floors and huge stone columns that line the walls. Looking up from your tiny place in the endless pews, you notice the building is wedge-shaped and the ceiling is very far away – it must be 100 feet above the ground. And that’s where the organ pipes are installed, above you behind gold-leafed latticing. The combined affect of the Greek-influenced architecture, the enormous room, and then, eventually, the thunderous volume of the organ is breathtaking. But it also makes you feel small.
Even the great John Zorn – the prolific, shape-shifting downtown NYC musician – was nearly invisible throughout the performance. From the pews, all you could see was a small dot of a head peaking out from the choir area in the front of the room. But sights were beside the point once the music started.
Zorn played continuously for a little less than an hour. The arc and movements of his improvisation were easy to follow. The performance began with the sound of distant church bells and these popped up throughout the evening, acting as both a thematic anchor and a structuring element. The bells eventually gave way to a low billowing drone that slowly evolved into a biting clustered fortissimo. It sounded like Zorn was pushing air through every single pipe on the organ. You could feel the seats in the balcony rumbling.
The performance felt more and more autobiographical as it unfolded. Zorn, with each movement, seemed to put another one of his compositional interests on the table: free jazz, Classical lyricism and counterpoint, film noir, heavy drone all made appearances. And underlying it all was a deep personal spirituality. The potency of Zorn’s performance combined with the sheer power of the Chapel’s organ made for a mesmerizing experience.
It felt like being part of something ancient. For ages, people have sat in large rooms listening to musical masters play huge pipe organs. J.S. Bach is probably the most famous organ virtuoso, but the instrument dates all the way back to Ancient Greece where they were played for the gladiators.
After Zorn’s performance was over, the audience rushed the stage to see the keyboard and take in the view of the chapel from the front. From beginning to end, the evening was awe-inspiring in the oldest sense.
An irreverent attitude towards jazz orthodoxy has always been central to the sound of Mostly Other People Do the Killing. But on its most recent recordings, the puckishly eclectic quartet has trained its focus on more specific, neglected areas of the music’s history. Last year’s Slippery Rock played with the tropes and sounds of smooth jazz for a set of music that was far from smooth. Now, with Red Hot, the band looks much further back to the less reviled but equally sidelined inspiration of traditional jazz bands of the 1920s.
“Most contemporary, common practice jazz draws on a pretty small window of stuff,” says MOPDTK bassist and bandleader Moppa Elliott. “The vast majority of stuff out there is some variation on Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers circa 1960, where you’ve got written material at the beginning and the end and a series of solos in the middle. I’ve never really liked stuff like that. A lot of vocabulary from both smooth jazz and early jazz has been omitted from canonized modern jazz because it doesn’t conform to what everybody has settled on as being the way you play jazz.”
However MOPDTK approaches playing jazz, “conform” would hardly be a word that comes to mind. Formed in 2003, the band consists of Elliott, trumpeter Peter Evans, saxophonist Jon Irabagon, and drummer Kevin Shea. Each member comes to the group with a stunning array of interests, from classic to avant-garde jazz and into punk and indie rock, free improvisation, and beyond. They combine to form something that’s both inventive and off-the-wall, looked on with suspicion in some circles due to their sense of humor but impossible to dismiss because of their virtuosic musicianship.