Paul’s Pals

Paul

I knew what I was getting into on the 26th when I sat down in my fifth-row seat at Symphony Space and saw the estate archive’s pictures of Paul projected on a screen in front of the stage.  The house filled up very quickly, even though I got there plenty early.  Three rows ahead of me was Roswell Rudd.  Ten back was Michael Formanek.  On the right aisle was Rez Abbasi.  You just knew that this show couldn’t disappoint, especially at the price of 15 dollars for those under 30.

The show started picking people directly from the top of the pile: Joe Lovano, Bill Frisell, Joey Baron, Ed Schuller, and Billy Drewes.  It was the first time I had ever seen Joe and Bill play together, despite seeing them dozens of times apart.  The rapport didn’t really get to me at first, instead I was mesmerized by the interaction between Bill, Billy, and Ed Schuller. Ed was playing bass in a way that you don’t hear unless you go looking for it, that sixties playing that reminded me of all of the famous 70s bassists when they were young, Dave Holland, Gary Peacock, and Steve Swallow, a dark outgrowth of Charlie Haden.  I love this kind of playing, and I’ve been deep in the records of that genre for months now, so I loved every second of it.  The push and pull of his beat and his excellent tone really made it.  Billy was great too, coming right out of the gate, fiery and intense.

The second performance was one of the contenders for best of the night, Masabumi Kikuchi solo.  It was stark, it was beautiful, and it was raw.  If you’ve never seen him play live, I’m not sure how exactly to describe it past that.

The next song was Marilyn Crispell and Gary Peacock playing Etude, one of my favorite Paul songs.  It sounded great, although I was not a huge fan of Crispell’s harmonic choices in her arrangement of the tune.  The harmonies made it sound like more of a Jazz tune than I would have liked, but Paul always said(I glean from multiple sources) that his songs were meant to go where the artist wants, that the individual should be in charge of the direction.  I also have a bit of a chip on my shoulder about Marilyn playing Etude with Geri Allen in the building, but that’s a fanboyish issue, nothing more.

They were joined by Lovano and Andrew Cyrille.  Peacock and Andrew’s hook up was something to behold, although Gary’s days of digging far into the beat with that wonderful earthy sound are over, it was still great.  Andrew and Lovano were on the same wavelength, although everyone who plays with Andrew seems like they’re on his wavelength.

Andrew stayed on stage as the band was traded out for Billy Hart, and a two drum duo improvisation ensued.  I’d heard about Andrew’s storied history with drummers like Milford Graves, and Billy’s stint with The Whole Drum Truth, but seeing it in person was something else.  It’s hard to write on, because it was just extremely communicative and layered rhythms, with both drummers so focused and aware of the other that it seemed like they had played together forever.  Always interesting to see two creative musicians play in a foreign format, making it work. I maintain that Andrew Cyrille has the quickest textural ears in the music today.  No nuance escapes his hearing.

Then Geri came on stage with Greg Osby.  Geri broke out of her post 90s comfort zone a bit more than usual, which I liked.  Billy was fiery as ever, poking and prodding the rhythm section.  Billy sounds especially good these days; in the last few months I’ve seen him four times, and he sounds better than ever, and I’m sure the company in the house didn’t hurt him then.

They were accompanied by Larry Grenadier and Greg Osby.  I’m usually not a screaming wild fan of Osby in situations like these, but I must say that he brought his A-game that night.  Weaving in and out of the tune and connecting quite nicely with Geri, who upped the ante as well.  Hearing Larry with Billy was interesting too, it’s not a combination you’d expect to see.

Billy’s band joined him next, and played one of their originals, “Duchess”.  I took the subway with Ethan after the show, and he told me that they were going to play one of Paul’s contemplative originals until Billy said “Come on man, Paul could swing his ass off.  You want to give him a tribute without swinging?”  The band sounded great as they always do.

The next tune was probably my favorite of the night, Abacus, as played By Ravi Coltrane, Joe Lovano, and unannounced guests The Bad Plus and Bill Frisell.  This tune made me realize that TBP could put a TON of people out of work if they became an accompanying rhythm section a la Kelly/Chambers/Jones.  The propulsion they gave behind Joe and bill in particular was at a level that you rarely hear, but still with the classic TBP sound and individuality.  Everyone sounded like they usually do, no curveballs, but it was radically different than every other time I’ve heard them play with others, including with Bill at Newport, in Toronto with Joshua Redman, and on CD with Wendy Lewis.

The value of having a tight trio like that behind two hyper-creative guys like Lovano and Frisell is money in the bank.  The beauty of it is that you could tell that Lovano—who is currently touring with Francisco Mela, Otis Brown III and Esperanza Spalding—was caught off guard by the approach the trio was taking.  Bill was loving it, and jumped right in when it was his turn, and it made for the most impressive and joyful solo of the night.  I’m going to keep waiting around for a TBP quintet record, but until then, I’ll be at least partially satiated by that one-time Abacus.

And that was just the first set.

The second set started with the old guard and finished out with the new crowd.  Masabumi and Gary Peacock came onstage and played duo, which I was looking forward to all night.  Masabumi didn’t have as much of the austere angularity that was there during his solo presentation, but the interplay between them was something to behold.  I feel like both of them were tiptoeing around, and that it would have broken out had there been a little more time for them to play.  I get the feeling that Gary isn’t faced with pianists even in the ballpark of Masabumi lately, and that when equally creative musicians play with him these days, they are usually coming to his playground, not challenging him as Masabumi is wont to do.  It was a nice glimpse of what could be, but as a standalone piece, it didn’t kill me.

Then the Electric Bebop Band came onstage, playing their eponymous tune.  Chris Cheek, Bill McHenry, and Billy Drewes were the front line, backed by The Guitarmy, Ben Monder, Steve Cardenas, and Jakob Bro, with the fantastic Jerome Harris on acoustic bass guitar. Matt Wilson filled in for Paul.  It was nice to see this band, because I never got to see it live.  Every time I saw Paul, it was a smaller group.

The next tune was for guitarists only, and I couldn’t have been happier about it.  When Bill walked onstage, my three favorite middle aged guitarists in the world were playing together.  Monder is the epitome of a virtuoso, playing the unplayable.  Cardenas is the straight ahead player that’s been thrown into uncomfortable situations his whole life and made it work.  And Bill is the one of the closest things our era has to a Thelonious Monk.  Jerome Harris shouldn’t be forgotten either.  I’ve only ever seen him in situations with other big time artists, the only other time was for Jack DeJohnette’s birthday, and he floored me then as well.  The other thing I realized is that Jakob Bro needs to go on a list for me somewhere.

They played “Introduction:Lament for Guitar”, and drew from it every last melancholy drop.  It was a beautiful chorus of mournful sounds, every guitarist putting their own touches on the music, letting their voice be heard through in the choir.  The thing that hit you immediately was the tone, the careful attention each artist was paying to their sound.

Bill stayed around and began the round of duets that was to follow.  The first one was he and Greg playing Sunflower.  Osby stayed on point throughout, and Bill continued to draw me in with his creativity.  He really is the kind of musician you could listen to forever, constantly moving into worlds that you could never dream of.

The next duo was Tim Berne with Matt Mitchell, playing Psalm, a lovely and angular rendition.  Tim always sounds great, and Matt and he have such a great rapport that the music played itself.

Then came another unbelieveable performance, the Bill McHenry quartet with Monder, Reid Anderson, and Andrew Cyrille.  There was nothing bad about this.  I’ll tell anyone who’ll listen that Bill is on the short list of my favorite tenors in New York.  The interaction of feels was amazing.  Ben has this place he sometimes goes to, but it has to be spurred by a specific something, and that something was Andrew Cyrille, punctuating Monder’s every word, keeping so focused on the moment (Ben Monder stomped the RAT behind Andrew Cyrille, so there’s that to add to the bucket list…). Reid interacting with Andrew was amazing too, bringing me back to wanting him to play with more people.  Hard to believe that this is a working (albeit in relative remission) band.

Then came the dark horse of the night, the performance that I never would have thought I’d like.  Petra Haden sang “Windmills of Your Mind” with Bill accompanying her.  Her voice was absolutely amazing, pure and clear, and she definitely has her father’s ear.  That beautiful crisp sound coupled with Bill’s shifting accompaniment were absolutely amazing.  I realized later that Petra works with Weezer(which is my REAL dark secret.  Can’t get enough. Every record memorized.) and I would say that she’s the female equivalent of Rivers Cuomo.  Phrasing, pitch, tone, all perfect. Amazing.

For the penultimate tune, Bill and Joe came onstage to play “It Should Have Happened a Long Time Ago”.  The softness and comfort with which they played the—and I don’t use this word often—haunting melody served as a reminder for why we all came in the first place. It was an amazing thing, especially because I never got to see the trio live.  I don’t think I need to explain the connection between the two.

For the final tune, most of the musicians came on stage to do a rousing “Drum Music”.  Usually things like this are just annoying, but this crowd of people believes in creativity and spontaneous improvisation that it worked, and was cohesive and interesting, despite having 15 people onstage.  Everyone was clearly having a great time.

The biggest thread through the whole performance was that the drummers in particular were having a great time.  Joey Baron was sharing looks with Bill the whole concert, breaking up in laughter when one or the other would play a specific phrase. Matt Wilson and Dave King always have a good time, but it seemed like they were pushed to the next height as well.

Seeing Matt Mitchell onstage made me realize that the most recent generation of Motian devotees weren’t there.  No Jacob Sacks, Thomas Morgan, Loren Stillman, or any of the younger generation.  Even slightly older “new” comrades of Paul’s weren’t there, like Tony Malaby, Jason Moran, or Chris Potter.  Although I wouldn’t dare complain about the programming of 3 and a half hours of practically nothing but legends, I think that it puts a date on Paul to not have the bands he was working with until his death.   I saw Annette Peacock recently, and the woman I was sitting with was talking about some of the people she loved, and how they had lost inspiration.  When asked which people I loved that continued playing their best until they left, the first name I thought of was Paul.  He never quit, and was just as creative and motivated as ever right up to the end.  To me, it’s a perfect topping on an already extrodinary artist and person.  To not acknowledge that in this huge concert seems to be a waste of an opportunity to me.

I’m truly thankful that I could go to a gathering like this.  Afterwards, the musicians just talked and talked around the stage, and Symphony Space was nice enough to not kick everyone out as soon as the gig was over.  Some were talking about Paul, some were talking about how great the gig was(there was a lot of “Oh man, we haven’t played in so long, come over on Monday!”), but everyone had a smile on their face.  It was a fitting tribute to a master musician who influenced many great creators that came after him.  We all miss Paul, for one reason or another.

(Brooklyn Jewish accent required) “Oh waaaaaow, I nevah saw Dewey with so much haaaair!”—An old friend of Paul’s that was sitting right behind me, commenting on one of the many archival pictures that they were showing.  She had a million one-liners like this, and was laughing with her friends the whole time.  I was doubled over during the set breaks.

 

—Martin

*DISCLAIMER: This is all I’m going on to try to remember the gig.  It was a while ago, and I put this post off.  I hit all of the parts that resonated with me, but there might be some things missing from my account. Feel free to spark my memory in the comments.

THE PROGRAM

MC: Josh Jackson (WGBO)

Conception Vessel

Bill Frisell, guitar
Joe Lovano, tenor saxophone

Dance

Billy Drewes, alto saxophone
Joe Lovano, tenor saxophone
Bill Frisell, guitar
Ed Schuller, bass
Joey Baron, drums

TBA

Masabumi Kikuchi, piano

Etude/Cosmology

Marilyn Crispell, piano
Gary Peacock, bass

Mumbo Jumbo

Joe Lovano, tenor saxophone
Marilyn Crispell, piano
Gary Peacock, bass
Andrew Cyrille, drums

TBA

Billy Hart and Andrew Cyrille, drums

TBA

Greg Osby, alto saxophone
TBA, piano
Larry Grenadier, bass
Billy Hart, drums

TBA

Billy Hart Quartet
Mark Turner, tenor saxophone
Ethan Iverson, piano
Ben Street, bass
Billy Hart, drums

Abacus

Special Guests with
Joe Lovano and Ravi Coltrane, saxophones

–INTERMISSION–

TBA

Masabumi Kikuchi, piano
Gary Peacock, bass

Mesmer

Electric Bebop Band
Chris Cheek, Billy Drewes, Bill McHenry, saxophones
Steve Cardenas, Jakob Bro, Ben Monder, guitars;
Jerome Harris, Larry Grenadier, bass;
Matt Wilson, drums

Introduction (Lament for Guitar)

Jakob Bro, Steve Cardenas, Bill Frisell, Ben Monder, guitars
Jerome Harris, acoustic bass guitar

The Sunflower/Last Call

Greg Osby, alto saxophone
Bill Frisell, guitar

Psalm

Tim Berne, alto saxophone
Matt Mitchell, piano

Fantasm

TBA, piano
Ravi Coltrane, Joe Lovano, saxophones
Bill Frisell, guitar

Endless/Morpion

Bill McHenry Quartet
Bill McHenry, tenor saxophone
Ben Monder, guitar
Reid Anderson, bass
Andrew Cyrille, drums

The Windmills of Your Mind

Petra Haden, vocals
Bill Frisell, guitar

It Should Have Happened A Long Time Ago

Bill Frisell, guitar
Joe Lovano, tenor saxophone

Drum Music

All Musicians

 

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~ by Martin Porter on April 28, 2013.

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