Monday, June 09, 2008
No names: Little Women + Ideal Bread
Jazz is a music polluted by names. This might seem like a fine, irrelevant or wrongheaded point, but it actually might turn a lot of people off. There's something awesome about a band name--The Misfits, Samhain, etc. It's like the name of a gang, or a sports team. A personal name could signify anything: a politician, a captain of industry, etc. Unless you happen to have a really awesome name (one of the few aesthetic virtues I'll concede to John Zorn), it's just not all that cool to perform under your official title in the world. Not that there aren't a million rock musicians who do this, but there are far less jazz musicians who go in for the band-name thing (without the crucial distinction of affixing their name to the beginning, i.e., JoBob Jenkins's Rebop Allstars).
Anyway, not to overstate things, but the topic's on my mind since I saw two outstanding jazz groups this weekend, both anteing up rock-style and going by a bona fide Band Name. I feel much cooler writing that I heard great sets by Little Women (pic'd above) and Ideal Bread than saying the same about Travis Laplante, Darius Jones, Ben Greenberg and Jason Nazary; or, for that matter, about Josh Sinton, Kirk Knuffke, Reuben Radding and Tomas Fujiwara.
Li'l' Women I heard as part of a concert that I also participated in. This took place Saturday at the awesome mansionlike Bushwick home of several of my friends, where there were some art installations going on; wish I had the link to the related website, but I can't dig it up. Anyway, my recently formed band Blouse--me drumming, Laal Shams on (unholy, shrieking) vocals and, in this incarnation, Tony Gedrich on bass--made our live debut and put on what I felt was a successful performance. In any event we had a lot of fun. Several other great sets occurred--including a new duo featuring Alexander P. from the excellent Animal, with whom STATS shares the Tommy's Tavern "stage" this coming Friday the 13th.
Anyway, the Women were the headliners though and they killed me the hardest. If you've not experienced them you should hear them live, definitely (they're at Zebulon in Wmsburg this coming Wednesday, 6/11), though their debut CD/LP, Teeth--available via the Sockets label-- ain't shabby at all. Basically this is noise-punk-jazz, performed by individuals who understand--would you believe it?--noise, punk and jazz. Crossover/fusion/what have you, it's more difficult than it sounds. You've got Mahavishnu Orchestra... and maybe that's it, in terms of ensembles who have truly comprehended and internalized the whole balls vs. improvisational acumen thing; it's rarely happened RIGHT since hardcore blew things wide open. No particular need to flog this horse more, but no, I'm not a Naked City fan.
[After thinking a bit on this, I feel that I also ought to mention Last Exit, whom I enjoy but not to the degree that I feel I'd want to, given my deep love for both Sonny Sharrock and Peter Brotzmann, as well as Black Flag, who most certainly got the punkjazz thing dead right on works such as "The Process of Weeding Out." Coptic Light, sadly defunct magmalike free-rock trio, also deserves mention for furthering the concept of modern fusion.]
Little Women though is an extremely HARD band. Last night in an unforgiving concrete basement, they were punishing. The music is built of spastic splatterpunk riffs--intricate yet whiplash-bestowing--played by the quartet (Laplante on tenor, Jones on alto, Greenberg on guitar and Nazary on drums), followed by various group atomizations. There are elements of necromantic Free Jazz at work here, certainly, but what really excites me about the band is the way they emphasize all kinds of subgroupings and plotted freedoms.
Last night, for example, we got some absolutely brutal and ultradense sound sprays from Greenberg (if you don't know him, he is and has been in like 6000 vanguard aggressive bands, e.g., Cutter and Zs and Archaeopteryx) duetting with Nazary. But the realest sparks I thought came from Laplante and Jones, who have an insane mental and sonic lockup. They "duo" in the way that soloists "solo," namely they've perfected a method wherein they can both rocket forward headlong and intertwine with absolutely sound logic yet without obvious response cues or cliched interactivity. They play OVER each other more than WITH each other; watching them play--often actually staring each other down---is like watching two rams in one of those epic eternal headbutt battles. Constant, lavalike flow but both voices are there and distinct. Don't even get me started on the ultraperverse, somehow weirdly Pissed Jeans-esque sobbing-and-vomiting-into-upturned-horns piece they use to end their sets. Last night, Greenberg hit the lights during this and it was like an actual haunted house. Scary and incredible, the REAL punkjazz and most certainly an example of a moniker-earning BAND rather than a collection of players, etc.
If Little Women is subversive/confrontational/marauding, Ideal Bread has a certain reverent quality about them. And it makes sense given that they are indeed a tribute band, playing Steve Lacy's music exclusively. Their debut CD-R (pic'd above), gettable from KMB Jazz, is one of the few tribute CDs I've ever found truly worthwhile (see also, uh, Lacy's Reflections) and in general really something else--I state that a tad more eloquently in the latest issue of The Wire, with Carla Bozulich on the cover--but they were, as one would hope, even better live when I saw them tonight as part of a KMB festival at the new Douglass Street Music Collective (formerly the Center for Improvisational Music). (Gotta give brief props to Ras Moshe, who was absolutely burning in classic free-jazz mold when I entered, along with the very sick and supple drummer Rashid Bakr, of Other Dimensions in Music fame.)
Continuing with Thee Theme of Thee Poste, Ideal Bread is most certainly a band. As far as I know the lineup has been steady for several years and these players really, really inhabit this music. Lacy--I'll spare you the whole "I'm obsessed" rant; lord knows I've been down that road--was an ultraprolific composer, but one who hasn't really been reckoned with as such, and as the Ideal Bread mission statement seems to go, the band is attempting to tackle that reckoning as Lacy did for Thelonious Monk. It remains to be seen whether Ideal Bread will stick it out as long as Lacy rocked Monk (over 40 years), but they seem well on their way.
I was surprised when I heard their CD that their Lacy predilections seemed weirdly identical to mine, in that they pay special attention to some of the obscure Lacy records that have knocked me down most, namely the astounding mid-'70s joint Trickles, and the astounding late-'70s joint Capers (reissued as N.Y. Capers and Quirks). Both feature Lacy outside his way-sympathetic stably staffed Sextet but in equally fruitful company. As on the CD, IB took on "Trickles" and "Quirks" tonight along with another favorite, the Johnny Hodges dedication "Esteem."
"Trickles," which opened the set, demonstrated the band's mastery of the material. The piece has this very strange, playful opening passage that on the original record is played sort of out of time, with the instruments hovering and floating around one another. IB nailed that section, perfectly capturing its weird weightlessness, and moved confidently into the manic marchy section that follows.
They really killed it on "Esteem" as well, a droning, luminous yet ominous piece that features one of Lacy's most arresting melodies; grand, imposing, somewhat terrifying. I noticed on this piece--which flowed uninterrupted out of "Trickles"--how naturally the improvisations grew from the heads. There was a sense of jumping into spontaneity, but doing so confidently, with a clear compass. Kirk Knuffke on trumpet took an incredible solo here--one of several throughout the evening--showing off his remarkably round tone and patient phrasing. Josh Sinton's statement was killer as well, focusing on an upper register of the horn that actually fell in the Lacy-an soprano range. But he also went for the burly bottom of the instrument, providing nice contrast. Drummer Tomas Fujiwara brought the closing head to an awesomely anguished climax with some muscular bashing.
Fujiwara and bassist Reuben Radding kept things extremely funky in general, trading fours on the last piece ("Baghdad," an unrecorded composition that was apparently Lacy's final tune) and Duo-ing in the intensely intertwined mode of Little Women's Laplante and Jones on "Quirks."
All in all, there was a simple lesson being played out, namely that really knowing the music frees you up to extrapolate from it. Ideal Bread is playing Steve Lacy's pieces, but it's also putting in the time to own those works and respond to them emotionally. Sinton and Knuffke especially emanated feeling; their solos gave a sense of meditating on and communing with the compositions. I really, really hope they keep this project up; selfishly, for one, because I adore Lacy's music, but also because it really seems to be getting them places as individual improvisers and yes, as a BAND.
Several more quick items:
*Vision Festival XIII looms. Schedule here. And warm up with some incredible footage of the 1985 Vision Fest here (Brotzmann, Ware, Wright, Gayle, Moondoc and more; holy moses) and here (Kowald, Gayle, Crispell, Ali).
*I adore the song "Don't Call Me in the Morning" (listen here) and the album "Free at Last" by Josh Fix, who is--deep breath--my girlfriend's sister's boyfriend's brother. This is unabashedly Big Pop of the sort that very few Cool people would ever want to admit to liking but secretly obsess over. It's like Elton John and Queen viewed through the lens of the Foo Fighters and Radiohead. Maybe? Or it's just incredibly skillful deployment of pristine tension-release song structure and artful bombast (e.g., boogie-time piano of the Billy Joel via Ben Folds varietal). This guy has like nine songs on a twelve-song album that you will not be able to stop singing no matter what and that is a pretty astounding feat. I'm really, really impressed with this stuff.
*Check out this somewhat underannotated but still quite intriguing audiovisual archive of Juma Sultan--whose most famous gig was playing percussion with Hendrix--which features a lot of nice loft-era free jazz live recordings that you can't find elsewhere. Check out for example what--if I'm reading correctly--appears to be a summit meeting between Sonny Simmons, Dewey Redman and the great Barbara Donald (scroll way down here for some thoughts on the former and the latter), and also a soundless yet still great clip of Rashied Ali with James "Blood" Ulmer.
*I was blown away by the sheer out-of-the-blue awesomeness of this encounter between Village Voice food writer Robert Sietsema and gris-gris voodoo bluesman Dr. John. I've always admired both these dudes (Sietsema for his vivid unpretentious prose, safari-like adventuresomeness and ability to induce mouthwatering) and Dr. John for his badass rakish mojo, and I'm just intensely delighted by the idea of these two chilling over way-spicy Chinese food.
*Speaking of dudes who expertly abet the Band in "The Last Waltz," dig this INCREDIBLE Van Morrison concert from 1974, streaming for free from a cool new site called--I'd never utter this and I'm even reluctant to type it--Wolfgang's Vault. You have to register but it's totally free. This Van hit in my opinion way outdoes the somewhat overrated "It's Too Late to Stop Now," featuring as it does songs from the holy pair of free-soul LPs, "Astral Weeks" and "Veedon Fleece" (I never thought I'd hear "Streets of Arklow" done live), not to mention a mindblowing cover of Dylan's "Just Like a Woman" and some hilariously surly audience upbraiding (skip to 5:08 in "Try for Sleep"), i.e. "If you shut your mouth you may get what you want. Otherwise, you're just, like, boring me to death and probably everyone else here." W.H.O.A.!!!