In This Sacred Basement / Motor City Day 2

So I sit here it the Vanguard waiting for Geri Allen to start her set with Tain.  I got here with intent on being first into the club(which I was) because I heard last minute that Marcus Belgrave would be joining the trio this evening.

It seems that I can’t escape Detroit!  Marcus and Geri were one of my kicks to get deeper into the Jazz world.  Marcus teaches at Oberlin Conservatory, which is just outside of Cleveland, so I had a lot of early experiences with him.  He came to Toronto and introduced me to Robi Botos for the first time.  His record of collaborations with great Detroit pianists is what introduced me to the great Geri Allen.  It seems I’m not the only one this team influenced; Jacob Sacks was telling me that he listened to these two played live, and how fondly he remembers them.

On the duet record, they play a mixture Geri’s originals, standards, and tunes by the magnificent Lawrence Williams, not-quite legendary Detroit drummer.  His compositions are some of the most brilliant harmonic inventions I’ve ever heard, and I plan to devote some serious time to studying them.  He’s a true original.  In addition, Geri’s composition Dolphy’s Dance most certainly changed the way I thought about the possibilities of the eighth note line, and also about harmony in general.

The reason I came to this in particular is that this the same band as a CD called the Nurturer(minus Robert Hurst and Kenny Garrett), made mostly of Lawrence Williams originals.  If they play any tune from that record, I’m going to flip out.  If Tain and Geri go into the vamp from “No. 3”, I may just ruin the performance for everybody but me.

Speaking of Tain(end forced segué here) my second day in Detroit started with him.  He gave a talk with Tony Allen about his ideas from the drum show the night before.  Tony also gave some insight about how he started the Afrobeat movement. Basically, he was just playing high-life when he went into the shed for a while and came out with some different high-hat stuff.  He just “figured some shit out”.  Simple answer, but probably true.  When you mix high life with Max Roach and Art Blakey, that’s pretty much what you get.  I know almost nothing about high-life, I plan to check some out.

I then saw two shows by modern jazz acts: one by the young vibraphonist Warren Wolf from Baltimore, and one by trumpeter Sean Jones, Cleveland native.  Sean was playing with a whole bunch of Philly guys, including the fantastic pianist Orrin Evans.  As far as new-ish style jazz goes, this is my stuff.  Hard swinging not afraid of modulation or polyrhythms, tight, and rhythmically interactive to the max.  I haven’t had the chance to really hang with Sean in Cleveland since he’s been spending more time there, but I’m hoping to.

That night was supposed to be my favorite show of the festival, Jason Moran.  He gave a fantastic talk with Dave Holland(pro tip: if you haven’t checked out the Overtones quartet yet, get on it now.  It’s ridiculous in the best way possible.)  Afterwards, I talked to him a bit about Jaki Byard, and how I would love nothing more than to get some lessons with him.  I’ll keep you posted on that, I haven’t contacted him yet.  Needless to say, I’m more than excited.

However, his concert was not to be.  There was a crazy lightning storm, and perhaps due to the recent deaths in other outdoor festivals(Ottawa and NY state), they stopped the concert.  However, my faith in Jazz prevailed, as I said to myself, “they can’t possibly just end the night by going back to their hotel rooms.”  I got front row seats to the 11:00 jam session at 8:00, and waited.

Sure enough, at 10:00 they announced that Dave Holland’s Octet would be performing about six feet from us.  The show was incredible.  Having those guys play right in front of you is not something that can happen in this day and age.  They weren’t even on a stage, just eye-to-eye with you.  In that sense, it was a throwback to the old times.  I can’t count how many people have said that they “saw Thelonious Monk, and I could have touched him!”  They’ve always said that with such awe, and now I kind of know what they’re talking about

The music however, has very little to do with the old days(save for the soundcheck, an impromptu version of “Chelsea Bridge”.  Killing).  Dave to me kind of exemplifies the modern sound as it relates to time signatures and harmony.  His tunes don’t really carry a character for me, because so many different elements of the sound have been stolen by young musicians.  Also, the main soloists in his band kind of typify the modern musician(in Toronto at least) on their instruments.  That’s saying something for Dave.  It’s quite an achievement to have your voice be so likeable that it’s been stolen into anonymity.

Dave of course, was a magical figure that night.  It seems to me that he always know what to play.  Contrary to what Miles said to him(“you are a bass player, you know”), he seems to have figured out the instrument’s role in his mind.  Every little fill he played inside of Nate Smith’s space seemed to be perfectly placed within the ensemble.  He is also amazing at accompanying.  During Nate’s rough-and-tumble solos, he always anticipated and accented everything you wanted him to.

On the theoretical side of things, he also made me further realize the force behind the long 7/11/13 what have you.  I suppose he is one of the most prominent users of odd-meters since Max Roach, so it makes sense that the common way of thinking about odd-meters should fit so nicely in his music.  Most of the people who taught me that music are listening to Holland to figure it out.

As this Elmo Hope record comes to a close(so killing that they’re playing Elmo in here, and featuring the late great Frank Foster), I have to cut this already too long post.  Later tonight, I’m going to see Liebman’s big band with Tim Ries.  I wish I could see Geri tomorrow night, when it’s purported that she’ll be subbing out Kenny Davis with Christian McBride, but unfortunately, the realities of the NYC life won’t allow that financially.  Save your money, kids.  I’ll tell you how this gig turned out in a few days.

“I just was like, I don’t think that people are playing everything they can on the high hat…  Then people came up to me and said ‘Hey Tony man.  What the [expletive] are you doing?’” –Tony Allen, on creating Afrobeat

-Martin

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~ by Martin Porter on September 11, 2011.

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