Ho Ho Ho

If my first show was half Christmas, and my second was no Christmas, my third was all Christmas.

As one may remember from this summer, I am a dyed-in-the-wool fanboy of Matt Wilson’s, and on Thursday I got my ultimate festive dreams fulfilled by seeing the tree-o in person, front row seats.

Again, I must comment on the vibe and the humor.  I didn’t take a picture of the stage, unfortunately, but just imagine a pink tinsel tree, Matt in a Christmas vest, multiple singing animatronic Christmas characters, a toy piano, and multiple monologues on the meaning of Christmas.  Hilarious at first, with Matt and the band smiling at every moment, laughing at the ridiculous situation they had placed themselves in(in front of a sold out crowd, interestingly enough.  NPR crowd?).  On the surface, it would feel like a shtick gig, but then the music started.

Instantly, the hookup between Matt and Paul becomes the forefront.  Paul’s great melodic basslines, amplified by the pianoless format came to the front quickly as well. The tunes, although funny and abstract at times, show an incredibly deep level of musicianship.  Serious musicmaking, but with totally relaxed undertones, aimed at pleasing an audience, both on the level of musicianship, and on humor.  Also perhaps in this case on the level of the Christmas spirit as well, who knows?  Funny, the Wynton and the old guard talk about playing to audiences, and other more Avant Garde musicians have talked to me about adding more humor to a music that has become more and more serious*.  And I assure you that no musicality was sacrificed in this project.  I as a musician with few sentimental feelings towards Christmas felt that this concert was a top-shelf example of improvisational art, exploration, and cohesive group playing.

Jeff, with his mix of mid 60s Sonny Rollins meets Albert Ayler meets Ben Webster meets his own special sauce always gets me going right from the start.  Listening to him lately(new record, “Sunwatcher”, with Buster Williams and Matt.  Hot damn.), it’s surprising that more people haven’t assimilated the Sonny in between “The Bridge” and “East Broadway Run Down” more.  I find it to be at least tied for the best Sonny, and it’s edgy, but in direct contrast with Coltrane and Wayne at the time, which is what I like to hear.  McGinnis and Cords showed shades of it as well, so maybe it’s slowly becoming a thing.  I saw a young cat who couldn’t play changes totally ape the beginning of Sonny’s solo on “All the Things” from “Sonny Meets Hawk”(an early and very important record for me), so who knows?  Tim Ries knows Jeff from way back, I’ll ask him if he has always sounded like that.

Between the John Zorn jokes (he put out a Christmas album that starts with the same song as Matt, and also includes the super-obscure Claude Thornhill piece, “Snowfall”. Matt didn’t pull any punches, but all in good fun) and the elf vocoder, the sense of community was high at this gig as well.  The afterhang(get used to it, I’ll be using it to death) was fantastic, even for me who has never really met the band.  Matt gave several shout outs to musicians in the audience with recent releases from onstage, and received Paul and Jeff’s gift of the new Albert Ayler boxset onstage as well.  You could feel the love.  The community is so important.

Side note: I may have lied in the last post.  I think I need to buy this boxset and go through a serious Ayler phase before hitting Braxton.  It wouldn’t be right not to, and I think this boxset is a beacon.  Also, I’m from Cleveland and feel like a chump for not knowing enough(hardly anything, actually) about Ayler.  THEN I’ll get into Braxton city.

So buy this record, or any other Matt Wilson quartet record.  They’re great, and they don’t get much appreciation.  I’ll be going to Arts and Crafts in February, and Trio M in May.

*This is a huge nut to crack, but one that I plan to crack in the future.  My goal is to lessen the stress of the perceived n-chotomies in Jazz to strengthen, if only in my own mind, the community.  It’s a lofty goal.  You’ll see glimpses of it, but it will be a while before I can make a well informed attempt at surveying the situation and posting meaningful thoughts.

Merry Christmas everyone.  Feel lucky that you love music and get to play or listen to it whenever you would like.  I certainly did, this year especially.  My move to NYC has been the most important and meaningful thing I’ve ever done.  I feel that by taking the plunge and putting something on the line, I’m truly living for a purpose.  To all thinking about it: I have never been happier than when I followed Billy Hart’s advice: “If you want to play the music, move here tomorrow.  There is no point in waiting.”  It will be hard, there will be challenges, but I wouldn’t trade a second of it.  Plus, us jazz musicians take care of our own, something I’ve learned in a huge way since I’ve come here.

In the New Year, I plan on covering a wide range of topics.  I’m not sure if I’m going to post a schedule, for fear of running out of time and not delivering, but I’m going to continue reviewing gigs, probably start to speak on some records, post some transcriptions, and keep all who are reading informed of my experiences as a musician in New York(with a day job, but you have to start somewhere).  Please keep reading, there’s nothing quite like being read and told that you’re interesting.

There are a couple gigs I’m seeing next week, I’ll keep you posted.  Bad Plus and John Zorn are the best bet.  Maybe some Johnny O’Neal?

Thanks for reading.

—Martin

~ by Martin Porter on December 26, 2011.

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