Tuesday night, I saw the best music that I’ve seen since coming to New York.
The first thing that this illustrates to me is my tastes. When I saw Cecil Taylor play a solo set, it was absolute magic. There was no doubt in my mind that he is one of the most creative and brilliant people to ever play music. However, I enjoyed this band much more, because it was swinging, it involved heaps of interaction and there was a history and legacy in the band.
The band I’m referring to is Oliver Lake’s Trio 3, with the powerful and awe-inspiring rhythm section of Reggie Workman on bass and Andrew Cyrille on drums. Joining the trio (which has been playing together for years) was Jason Moran, a pianist whose interests line up perfectly with the three musicians he was playing with.
My five favorite pianists are probably Thelonious Monk, Duke Ellington, Billy Strayhorn, Erroll Garner, and Bud Powell. These men are all undeniable as pillars of Jazz, men who changed the landscape forever(well, maybe not Erroll). However my personal favorites are Jaki Byard and Mal Waldron. Reggie Workman and Andrew Cyrille played with Mal for years in his trio, sometimes joined by other giants like Steve Lacy (incidentally, this trio was one of Cecil Taylor’s favorites for years). Jason Moran is Jaki Byard’s most celebrated disciple. As for Oliver Lake, we had a conversation about how much he enjoyed Mal’s playing and writing, and how he played only once with Mal, a duo gig in Chicago. He said that it was one of the only gigs he’s played where playing exclusively the other person’s music didn’t bother him at all!
Over the whole evening, many things stuck out and amazed me, but on the top of the list was Reggie Workman, who has in one night become my favorite bassist in New York City(sorry Buster Williams, I’m sure you understand). His tone was deep and earthy, and his articulation allowed him to create completely unique personal statements, coming out of Mingus or Richard Davis’ school, but so entirely Reggie’s. His technique allowed him to grab anything that he thought of, and his grasp of extended technique could be compared to someone like the great Mark Dresser or Henry Grimes. However, whereas the Mark sometimes uses these techniques to help create and define his idiom, Reggie used them in a way that just made them sound like just another tool in his toolbox. There was no line between “normal” playing and extended technique, the ideas just flowed freely. Also, merely watching Reggie play the bass was an experience. He had a way of grabbing double stops or long intervals, and using glisses in a way that not only sounded natural, but looked natural. Seeing impossible things done well as though they were a walk in a park is always amazing to see, but seeing these things done by a 75 year old man is a different story(again, bringing echoes of Cecil Taylor).
And his beat and his hookup with Andrew Cyrille was definitely the overarching highlight of the evening. It was incredibly dancing, swinging beat, obviously, but it also came with a fluidity that one can’t find anywhere else. The entire rhythmic relationship was built on listening. When one had an idea that lasted longer than the four allotted bars, he would just finish the idea, and the other would compensate where appropriate, creating bars that were 7 beats long at the end of four bars of supposed 4/4, which didn’t bother Oliver at the front of the band either. Everything was taken in stride, both musicians ebbed and flowed as if they were playing straight 4/4.
Someone bringing a metronome to this gig might as well be bringing a paperweight. At very few intervals was the band metronomically correct. Every beat flowed with the other members of the band, and through some magical process, they came out completely together. I’m not merely talking about their relationship to the beat, but each individual view of what the value of a quarter note, is for example. I can’t imagine how they made it work as they did, but the two obvious options are massive ear, or reckless abandon and complete connection to the music and their instruments.
For example, one of Andrew’s tunes that they played was in a swinging six(I asked to see the chart after the gig. Jazz nerdery at its finest). However, about four bars in, Reggie decided that he was going to play the written bass line somewhere around 11/8. The band was visibly uncomfortable with the tune from the start, which made this quite an interesting thing for Reggie to do, certainly not what I would do on a gig where a tune is in a high speed wobble. However, the band worked Reggie’s decision into the music and continued to make it one of the most interesting tunes of the night. They took an element that was entered by a band mate and turned it into the essence of the performance, which is what I think music should be.
In front of this magical hookup was Oliver Lake, with his magnificent tone and brilliant beat of his own. The best parts of the night in my mind were when he momentarily put down his lightning fast Dolphy and Ayler-like flurries and screams and played simple melodic lines right into that maelstrom of rhythm going on behind him. The only word I can find to describe the connection in those moments is “deep”. His feel was unlike anything I’ve ever heard live. This, along with his massive tone and swing feel made it pure magic.
Other moments that got me were watching each member during the intense free sections, where each was playing unpredictable, fiery rhythms in one glorious cacophonous tantrum. As I was watching Andrew play during these sections, I realized that he was actually not playing very loudly. I thought to myself “How interesting that one of the originators of this type of playing plays so light behind the heaviest type of playing.” He was not like a bulldozer but like a dancer, jumping around his set, quickly but quietly. The effect was amazing, like the perfect distant thundercloud to the tempest that was the rest of the band.
Jason Moran performed his duties admirably. Trio 3 has a history of hiring pianists to accompany them, including Geri Allen and the noted Swiss pianist Irène Schwiezer. Whenever a guest pianist plays with the band, they bring compositions, so that every member in the band presents original music. It was of course interesting to see how The Trio sounded on Jason’s music and how he sounded on their tunes, but it was also interesting to see how Jason interacted with the rest of the band. He is very knowledgeable about the period of music that these three musicians came out of, so it kind of surprised me that he needed a full set to warm up and get comfortable sticking his neck out in front of the rest of the band(as anyone would, playing with musicians like that for the first time). Once he got comfy however, he fit right in, at times channeling Geri, Jaki, and Muhal, mixing it in with his own personal flavor, which is becoming more and more unmistakable the more I hear him.
At one point in particular, during the only ballad of the two sets, Jason went into Jaki’s harmonic space completely, using his voicing style, his harmonic sense and resolution. It was really quite something. The connection he has with his former teacher is quite strong indeed.
All I can say to end this is that if you ever get the shadow of a chance, see this band play. Included in it are all of the pillars of tradition, the earthy folk tones, and the futuristic innovated mindsets that define Jazz music. There is a lot to be learned by seeing this group of masters, and even more to enjoy.
“No, it’s just in 6/4. A lot of moving parts though…” —Andrew Cyrille, about the tune that I was strongly and consistently counting in 11.
Also, just in case you don’t know why Jaki Byard is my personal favorite, here’s a little something(also with Reggie Workman) to inform you.