Monday, April 14, 2008
Double-headed Sunday: Bloodcount at the Stone/Cooper-Moore Quartet with Cleve Pozar at Zebulon
witnessed two musical firsts tonight, at least with respect to me, that being Cleve Pozar--drumming with Cooper-Moore's band at Zebulon--and Bloodcount (piloted by one Tim Berne, pictured at leisure above) at the Stone. both strong, majorly enjoyable shows.
there was a palpable buzz at the Bloodcount show. the place was packed for the late set (which led to a taxing waiting period to get inside and a mad scramble for seats) and everyone just seemed really, really ready to check the band out. i'd venture that most of the folks there had a strong history with the band, them being the local legends that they are. over the years, i've known OF the band a lot more than i've actually gotten familiar with their music. i never saw them during their '90s heyday, and only own a few of their records, which have generally been overshadowed by my insane love of Tom Rainey, who can almost always be found playing w/ Berne in any situation other than B'Count.
that's not to say i didn't know what i was getting into. the concept of the band isn't terribly far off from what Berne does with, say, Hard Cell, a group with which i'm completely obsessed. and i've checked out these players in other settings--drummer Jim Black, for example, is the kind of player you can't exactly forget. (i remember hearing him with Dave Douglas's Tiny Bell Trio while i was in college.)
my general sense of what Bloodcount was about wasn't radically challenged by the show, but all the same, i was really psyched by it. in other words, Berne and the band--Chris Speed on tenor and clarinet, Michael Formanek on bass and Black on drums--delivered basically what i was expecting, but that something was pretty heavy-duty, and there are very few other outlets for it.
might as well get specific. i was nerdily gargling words around in my head during the set and i came up with a phrase that i think describes Bloodcount's concept adequately: (ahem) gradual coalescence. basically what i'm trying to capture here is this phenomenon in the group's music wherein one of Berne's patented prog-funk themes sort of appears on the horizon of an improvisation and moves closer and closer and closer until, bam, it's right in front of your face and the band is absolutely slamming away at it in perfect unison. no matter how many times they pulled this trick off tonight, i was totally, totally into it.
tonight i tended to notice Black or Formanek leading the way in this regard. the players would be busily improvising, obviously listening but not obviously responding to one another, and then the bass or the drums would slyly lock into a groove and it just creates this awesome tension because you know the rest of the band is going to jump on it, but you don't know when. Berne loves to mine that tension. it's a brilliant trick--having thematic material grow organically out of improv--but it's rarely done this gracefully. gradual coalescence, baby...
so the band behaves with such collectivity that you don't really think about the individuals that much while listening--esp. the saxes, which seem like this sort of two-headed beast--but let's face it, Jim Black is a pretty fucking badass drummer. i'm not going to lie: i have frequently taken aesthetic issue with him, but really it's more the many, many drummers who have stolen his ideas that bum me out. basically you cannot fault a dude who sounds that inimitably like himself. he took a long solo during one of the pieces and it was a scorcher. those dry Hot Fives-esque cymbals, that slightly flabby bass-drum tone, those comically puny high tom rolls, those pummelingly dense and fast floor-tom rolls, those parched and stuttery prog 'n' bass grooves. the signature is just there and it's just--well, it's there. and while Speed took some fantastic solos, the other real all-star moment from a single player was Formanek's unaccompanied section, during which he used the butt of his fist as deftly as his bow.
i believe four pieces were played--with the middle two sewn together medley-style-- and i believe they were all new. i couldn't discern any major differences between this new body of music and the old stuff i've heard: again, it's the sort of serpentine math-funk that Berne does so well. Berne--looking stylishly disheveled in a rumpled white shirt and jeans--was as dry and funny and self-deprecating as his liner notes when it came to banter; before the last piece, "It's a Machine's World," he disclaimed thusly: "There's a 96 percent chance we're going to fuck this up." [beat] "And a 97 percent chance you won't notice." he was absolutely right; that one was a seemingly flawless head-spinner, with the rhythm section and the saxes apparently on completely different planets orbiting each other contrapuntally.
the players stretched, but the set still felt taut. i've been going on and on about Berne on here recently, but the dude just sort of owns. i can't say how Bloodcount now compares to Bloodcount then, but you'd never know this was any sort of reunion gig--this band is existing in the now and you should go hear them if you get the chance. (they'll be at Barbes in June. all pertinent info here.)
the Pozar gig--previewed Time Out-wise here--was, in its own way, equally torrid. i'm sure i don't need to re-regale any DFSBP readers with my Cleve Pozar spiel. (see previous posts or my recent Perfect Sound Forever piece if you're lost.) contrary to the Bloodcount gig, i had no preconceptions at all, and neither, so i had gathered, did Cleve.
Cooper-Moore--an awesome, awesome, awesome griot-improviser-instrumentsmith-etc.; check my Time Out profile of him from a few years back for a primer--was the leader and this was an emotional reunion for him and Cleve. the two apparently had some sick duos going on in Boston back in the late '60s and early '70s, when C-M was still known as Gene Ashton. from what i gather, they had kept in touch over the years, but hadn't performed together for a long, long time (decades, maybe?). moreover, Cleve hasn't played out in NYC at all recently in any sort of jazz or experimental context, since he's been totally consumed with Cuban batá drumming, among other percussive pursuits.
there was a very congenial vibe on this gig, but things still got nicely gritty. the band was C-M, sticking mostly to the diddley-bow--a super-twangy, blurbly sounding one-string electric bass played with drum stick; the totally sick altoist Darius Jones (seen above in a pic snapped by Darcy James Argue at last year's Vision Fest; and who can be heard to oustanding effect in the brilliantly perverse avant-jazz-punk quartet Little Women); and the young keyboardist Michael Hardin, who definitely held his own, not to mention contributed several of the tunes.
of the pieces performed, there was a fiery vamp-based number by Hardin, a free duo improvisation between Pozar and C-M, and a gutbucket R&B-style piece to close out the set. it was great to see Cleve behind the kit; interestingly his playing was both very authoritative and very unassuming. he never seemed to be comfortable leading, but sort of laid back and moved where the music needed to go, whether that meant peppering the cymbals with knitting needles, bashing out accents in unison with Jones, yelling into the bottom of the snare or just holding down a nice shuffle groove. his chops and feel were outstanding; he just got a ton of sound out of the drums--a set which he built himself, btw--eliciting some really wholesome thwacks. he's a very disciplined player; during the duo piece, with C-M going absolutely nuts on the mouth bow, Cleve found a simple groove and hovered around it, giving the leader a nice platform to blast off.
C-M was his usual animated self, barking commands at the other players and egging them on during their solos. he gets extremely funky on that diddley-bow, and at one point he was moved to bust out a little anti-Bush rant/rap that was pretty righteous. Jones might have been the band's MVP though--he's just a torrid, torrid player, seeming to play straight from the gut. with C-M confined to a bassist's role, it was up to the saxist to really step out front and he was consistently volcanic and substantive.
at the end of the set C-M shared the warm tidbit that Cleve is, along with Jumma Santos, one of the musicians he thinks about every time he sits down to play. it wasn't just idle flattery either; C-M consistently cites CP's DIY ethos as an inspiration for his own maverick approach--check out the postscript of this online memoir for a taste of that.
got most of this set on video and i hope to be able to post some of it at some point. until then, i can only tell you that this was a very satisfying show and i hope Pozar and C-M keep up their revived partnership.