Friday, April 22, 2011
The Bad Plus and Joshua Redman: Opening the airlock
I have seen probably 20 or more free-jazz performances that quickly ramped up to a blaring peak, stayed there for a half hour or so and petered out. As a listener, it's hard not to grow numb to this kind of thing after a while.
Last night's 10:30pm Blue Note set by the Bad Plus with Joshua Redman climaxed with an expressionist freak-out, but crucially, it was brief and strategic. The band was playing Reid Anderson's "Silence Is the Question." They gradually climbed from sparse placidness to a shrieking, stampeding summit—two to three minutes long, I'd say—that was maybe the most concentrated blast of intensity I've ever heard at a live jazz performance. (Redman, especially, was merciless, easily holding his own among my collected memories of witnessing players like Brötzmann or Mats Gustafsson.) It was quite honestly shocking on a straight-up visceral level, as though the quartet had suddenly opened an airlock and let the terrible void of deep space rush in. The perfect sneak attack: not beating an audience over the head for a hour, but taking them on a long, varied, generally pleasant tour (the rest of the set was good—with Redman, overall, coming off as deeply engaged and thrilled to be there—especially versions of Ethan Iverson's "Guilty" and Anderson's "You Are," but the finale was on a whole other level) and then depositing them without warning at Satan's feet. I looked around the club, feeling almost sorry for any tourists who had accidentally stumbled in.
A quick, steady decrescendo, and the set was over. "That was the one," I saw Dave King say to Anderson, which I hope means they were recording. "That last part was perfect jazz," said Laal. Yes, it was.