Undead Festival Roundup Day 4
The final night of the festival was the most interesting, and also the most lavish.
The concert was held at the new 92Y Tribeca stage, which is quite a lovely place. Tables were set up around the stage, giving the place a club feel, with nice leather couches and a full bar (At the Y! Back in my day, they only had pools and a gym.) I hope that concerts continue to happen there, as it is quite close to the perfect venue for a show like this.
The rules for the evening were as follows: Musician 1 goes onstage and plays 5 minutes of unaccompanied improvised music. After Musician 1 is done, Musician 2 joins them onstage and plays an improvised duet with Musician 1. This continues for five minutes until Musician 1 leaves the stage and Musician 3 comes on and plays a five-minute duet with Musician 2. This continues until Musician 16 leaves the stage after his five-minute duet with Musician 17, leaving them to play a final 5 minutes of solo music. The 17 musicians were picked by Adam Schatz (perhaps with some help from a Search and Restore panel?) and the 17 musicians were organized randomly.
The idea of a Round Robin concert is great for a number of reasons. One, it forces musicians into situations where they wouldn’t usually be comfortable. Two, it’s great for people who may not know too many musicians to get a sort of taste test of many musicians, which would cost enormous amounts of money and time otherwise. Third, the randomness of the situation is conducive to creating some really great spontaneous music that would not exist otherwise.
There are downsides, too, depending on how the event is set up. First of all, some musicians just aren’t into the same types of music as other musicians are. Usually that would be fine, but sometimes, musicians aren’t into creating conversations. Some of the most interesting times in the evening were when musicians coming out of different idioms just bit the bullet and met each other half way. However, when that humility didn’t surface, the music suffered. It takes a special sort of musician to do something like this well, or at least a musician willing to swallow some pride, or take some risks for the music. Ego has to be checked at the door more than it usually does.
Second, some may argue that the musicians are somehow cut out of the artistic process. Although Adam is the main orchestrating force, the random chance of the event kind of strips him, and therefore, anyone of real control. I personally think this is an awesome thing, but as I said before, without the right kind of musicians, the performance can suffer.
I don’t know much about the history of this kind of performance. I feel like Stockhausen and Earle Brown were the driving forces behind this kind of thing in classical music (PLEASE SOMEONE SET ME STRAIGHT IF I’M WRONG) and the only thing that this reminds of in the Jazz world is John Zorn’s Cobra project in the 80s. I don’t know if this kind of thing surfaced before that, I imagine that some kind of similar performance has probably been done somewhere on the AACM side of the game. This is an area in which I’m currently educating myself, so if it’s out there, I’m hoping to find it soon.
Much like the ideas with the MM&W shows, this forces musicians into confined spaces. I like that sort of thing a lot, and I found it interesting that so many musicians who enjoy freedom took part in something that was partially controlled in this fashion. I find that some musicians that are this deep into free playing don’t appreciate any restrictions. As I said, it takes a special balance for a musician to work perfectly in this situation.
Here is the full order of performers:
- Amir Ziv
- Amir Ziv + John Ellis
- John Ellis + Matthew Motel
- Matthew Mottel + Brandon Seabrook
- Brandon Seabrook + Bob Stewart
- Bob Stewart + Jeff Lederer
- Jeff Lederer + Marika Hughes
- Marika Hughes + Linda Oh
- Linda Oh + Mark Helias
- Mark Helias + Bill McHenry
- Bill McHenry + John Hollenbeck
- John Hollenbeck + Mike Pride
- Mike Pride + Loren Stillman
- Loren Stillman + Cooper-Moore
- Cooper-Moore + Miles Okazaki
- Miles Okazaki + Fabian Almazan
- Fabian Almazan + Graham Haynes
- Graham Haynes
The expected highlights most certainly included Mark Helias and Bill McHenry, electronic free artist Matt Mottel with Brandon Seabrook on bowed electric banjo, Cooper-Moore with Miles Okazaki, and anything with Jeff Lederer (total fanboy over here). Helias with Bill McHenry delivered in full, as did Mottel with Seabrook.
The thing that I wanted to hear most once I saw the order was for Cooper-Moore to play piano with Miles. Miles, although most of his music stems from forms and the like, comes from a mindset that encourages making music in any circumstance, and I figured pairing him with an AACM style pianist would bring out some fantastic things. However, Cooper played on two instruments of his own creation, and although the music didn’t suffer by any means, I didn’t get to see how Miles would react to that situation, something which I am sure would be magnificent.
Most of the unforeseen successes (at least for me) were due to my not knowing an artist at all. Although I expected the two drum team of Mike Pride and John Hollenbeck to be interesting, I didn’t expect it to be on the shortlist of best pairings of the evening. Both were extremely connected throughout the performance, Mike with his fiery playing and massive ears and John with his sixth sense for texture. John used a sensitive filtered microphone that picked up on the upper frequencies of different cymbals, creating different textures which complemented Mike’s playing. It was the first time I’d seen Pride, and I will definitely be keeping track of him from now on.
Another Dark Horse was tubist Bob Stewart, who showed his multifaceted playing by playing texturally with Brandon Seabrook and playing his deeply swinging, off-kilter melodic lines with Jeff Lederer (for my money, the best part of the show, but then again, fanboy). Great playing from a super mature player, and as someone who works at Lincoln Center, not someone you’d expect to be so open about playing in this scenario.
On a side note, can we please develop a mic system for the tuba that sounds good and is affordable ? Bob Stewart has one of the most revered teaching gigs in the world, and he’s still using the duct tape handheld mic method. Come on people, give the tuba some love.
The third unexpectedly fantastic pairing was Cooper-Moore with Loren Stillman. Cooper-Moore played what was essentially a one string bass, put sideways like a Chinese zither. What ended up happening was some grooving, bluesy playing from Stillman, feeding into the flawless time and feel of Cooper-Moore (if someone knows a short form for his name, now would be a good time). I know and like Loren’s playing a lot, but I didn’t expect him to shine as brightly as he did in this scenario.
It was great for me to experience all of this music in this setting. It was great to see that the musicians hung around afterwards. It was great to learn about all these people that I’d never heard of before (Amir Ziv, Matt Mottel, Marika Hughes, Mike Pride, Graham Haynes). It was great to see the disparity of styles that the musicians came from(Straight ahead, AACM types, contemporary Jazz stars, underground artists), and that they were willing to play together for what couldn’t have been that much bread. I hope that these kind of things continue, and more importantly, that this type of open thinking continues among concert promoters. It may have its problems, but thinking of interesting things like this could grow into some great things for Jazz promotion and lead to new and exciting things for both players and concert go-ers.
Sorry for both the delayed and long posts recently. Things are speeding up music-wise for me, and therefore are slowing down blog-wise. I’m continuing efforts to keep on top of things. I’m seeing more concerts than I can keep up with, so if I mention something in passing that you want to hear about, drop me a comment and I’ll write something about it. Lately, I’ve seen Marc Ribot with Henry Grimes, Cecil Taylor solo, Peter Bernstein Quartet, Jimmy Scott, TBP with Joshua Redman, Michael Formanek playing with two bands that he doesn’t usually play with, Tony Malaby with some Canadian cats, and the ever magnificent Ralph Alessi Quartet, in addition to my weekly doses of Dave Binney and Jacob Sacks, sometimes in curious situations. I also may have my first ever interview coming up, with a friend of mine who belonged to the early 60s Washington DC Jazz mafia, a group of young musicians that included Andrew White and Billy Hart who went to every show that came through town during that time. Hearing him talk about seeing the Coltrane Quartet as though it was a common occurrence, or hearing about his conversation with Eric Dolphy is something that you don’t get to hear about every day, and something that I think should be documented. He’s an architect living on the Upper West Side, and it really makes you wonder how much knowledge is hidden away in people like this.
“Perfect sincerity plus perfect simplicity equal perfect achievement.” —Josef Hofmann
A certain goateed Wisconsinite hipped me to Josef Hofmann in a big way. Listen to his recordings in the 20s, and then think for a second about the recording conditions in the 20s. This man is on a different level, even among legends. Hopefully more on that after I re-attach my ears.