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Matthew Shipp Charges Ahead With Two Rather Different Rhythm Sections

Regardless of what I or Wynton Marsalis might want, we’re going to be hearing more and more collaborations between jazz improvisers and beat doctors. I just hope most turn out to be half as satisfying as Matthew Shipp’s Harmony and Abyss, where (as on the equally fine Equilibrium) the beats are supplied by co-producer FLAM. Especially augmented by a drummer as resourceful as Gerald Cleaver, Shipp’s compositions and attack are so polyrhythmically charged and percussive to begin with that the extra beats just ratchet up the intensity. With FLAM slyly altering the decay of Shipp’s pinging, Morse-code piano, “New ID” is as much about pitch variation as it is about rhythm; it could be something by James Tenney, but with urgency and humor. My other current favorite is “Virgin Complex,” where FLAM’s mechanical whoosh blends handsomely with William Parker’s regal bowing. Heady stuff, though admittedly more conducive to nervous pacing than dancing (more my style anyway). Those who prefer their Shipp straight up will want to search for The Trio Plays Ware, an Italian import featuring David S. Ware’s rhythm section (Shipp, Parker, and drummer Guillermo E. Brown) having a go at his tunes without him. The most immediately appealing of these are “Dinosauria” (bluesy) and “Godspelized” (rollicking), but the one that stays with you the longest is “Doa Forms”—a handful of Asian-sounding scales that elicit from Shipp probing and reflective lines that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Kind of Blue.

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Loud-Blowing Free Jazz Gives in to Subtle String Pleasures

From 1990’s Great Bliss through 2000’s Surrendered, David S. Ware established himself as the most erudite of ’60s-rooted free saxophonists. But since then he’s felt the need to diversify; as he admits in his liner notes to the just released Threads, “there are enough records with me blowing my brains out.” After all, even his most unreconstructed peer, Charles Gayle, has felt the need to take an occasional breather on piano or violin. And Ware’s quartetmates have been networking like mad: While Ware has appeared on 16 records since 1990, pianist Matthew Shipp has 50, and bass maestro William Parker 150. Ware’s own recent records have been his most atypical: Corridors & Parallels rides on the electronics Shipp and drummer Guillermo E. Brown dabble in, while Freedom Suite remakes Sonny Rollins. But those albums were still dominated by the loud guy blowing.

Threads is something very different. The quartet mushroomed into the String Ensemble by adding Mat Maneri on viola and third-stream hip-hopper Daniel Bernard Roumain on violin, while Shipp diddles the strings patches on his synth. But this isn’t a sax-over-strings thing. Ware plays on only the three shortest cuts: two brief duets with drums that would be side-ending codas on an LP, and the dense opener, “Ananda Rotation.” The other three are stretched out on minimal skeletons: the delicate “Carousel of Lightness,” the gentle roll of the title cut, and the exotic vamp of the Parker-propelled “Sufic Passages.” The pleasures here are awfully subtle for free jazz, not to say inscrutable, but for all Ware’s devotion to meditation, this isn’t New Age either. Rather, it suggests another one of Eno’s green worlds, lushly overgrown and just a bit ominous.

But what Threads really lacks is one of the main reasons for listening to jazz: virtuosity. Ware’s duets give you a taste of that, but his fiddlers should check out Billy Bang on Parker’s Violin Trio record, Scrapbook. Bang’s acidic tone cuts more grease than any fiddle’s since John Cale was in the Velvet Underground, while Parker and drummer Hamid Drake astonish. Parker and Drake have been quite an item recently: Two of their best are Piercing the Veil (Aum Fidelity), much more than a bass-drums duo, and . . . And William Danced (Ayler), a quickie blowing session with Swedish alto saxophonist Anders Gahnold. But Bang steals the show with the articulation and dexterity you hope for in a great saxophonist—like for instance David S. Ware, when he speaks with his own voice.

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Money Jungle Music

Take the A train rumbling through Matthew Shipp’s piano: repeated fistfuls of Johnny Staccato chords, gunmetal black-and-white flesh tones, Weegee-board edges jutting out at ramrod left angles, no 52nd Street exit in sight but out the window maybe a ruminative Siberian death march or two through “Summertime” or “Autumn Leaves,” grand 19th-century storm clusters crashing into 20th-century seawalls of silence, systematic fingers besieging sleek architecture like carpenter ants on a wood binge. Let’s call this Money Jungle Music—full of static runs, urbane claustrophobia, and weird repose, issuing from an all-night lounge where the ivory tinkler makes the distance between Erroll Garner and Cecil Taylor seem as short as the fuse on the man who keeps requesting melancholy-baby selections from the Anatomy of a Murder soundtrack.

Shipp’s tightly wound jazz is abstract the same way any good late-Fuller/early-Godard gangster-reporter-director comes across as the distillation of uncounted tough-guy postures, profiles, gimmicks: a walking, ticking confrontation between melodrama and incredulity. Tersely didactic, his brand-spanking Nu Bop goes for a shock-corridor effect that condenses jazz vamping as monomaniacally as the first Ramones album stripped the British Invasion down to barest obsessive essentials. Nu Bop‘s subway-tunnel clattershot is achieved without recourse to guitars, machine-gun horns, or a massive attack of synthesized beats’n’loops. The electronic treatments dabbed on by Shipp’s co-producer-programmer Chris Flam amount to a light impasto of computer-generated landscaping and a touch of subliminal cosmic slop, no more pronounced or obtrusive than the pianist’s deep fondness for his sustain pedal. “Space Shipp” and “Rocket Shipp”—the same riff/rhythm/conception given the once-over twice—mostly arrive at their power-trio force by acoustic means: hyperpercussive keystrokes, William Parker’s hard-nosed monster bass, Guillermo E. Brown’s harshly syncopated, chain-gang-on-parade drum routines. Elsewhere there are short injections of Daniel Carter’s sax and flute, which (except for a dream-interlude duet with Parker on “X-Ray”) only pour a little localized color/anesthetic into the mix. Everything here is dedicated to getting the texture of things just so—and binding it to a clanging pulse that isn’t techtronica-derived so much as techtronica-friendly: a sonic palette folks raised on the Chemical Brothers, Aphex Twin, and Fatboy Slim can dig without compromising Shipp’s native-son audacity.

Nu Bop‘s intent is to reclaim a place for jazz in the hipster underground, plugging into some motherboard of Cool that would serve as the ne-plus-ultra-modern equivalent of the moment circa 1947 or so when Bud Powell and Raw Deal film noir and the pre-beatniks and post-cubists were all loosely fellow travelers on the road to a darker, destabilized tomorrow. If the album nonetheless feels boxed-in, that’s because there is no comparably New-ish Wave to hook up with these days—it’s every artist for him- or herself, and let history bury its own friggin’ dead. Once “Select Mode 1” and “Select Mode 2” rework the main theme for the third and fourth time around on a disc that clocks in under 40 minutes, the shortest attention spans have had the whole repetition-compulsion drill driven home, to the point where Nu Bop starts to feel less like a slam-gambit of an album and more an extended single featuring multiple versions interspersed with a batch of crafty, throwaway B-side miniatures. (Even the Ramones were able to vary a one-note thesis with more subtlety.) In all fairness, Cecil and Ornette have spent the last 30-odd years recapitulating the same adorable pet licks ad infinitum, so if Shipp wants to dance on your head with one of his own, it’s hard to begrudge the guy. And maybe tossing us a brilliantly warped demolition-cum-renovation of a standard would be just too easy, old-fashioned: on this air raid, no prisoners, no interrogations.

Shipp has been David S. Ware’s right-hand man in the tenor saxophonist’s indomitable quartet for more than a decade, fastidiously gathering intelligence on free-jazz purism and classicism. Last year Ware’s Corridors & Parallels (Aum Fidelity), with Shipp moving to synthesizer, laid a fair amount of Nu Bop‘s tonal groundwork. But for all those gamelan-orchestral, atomic organ-grinder squiggles and bits, the ever combustible Ware’s avant-romantic flights placed the album squarely on the doorstep of Throwback City: abounding echoes of Coltrane going agape-crazy or Gato Barbieri completely communing with the cries of sweaty wide-screen lovers. Ware’s furiously rhapsodic elegy—nostalgia for a golden age that never came—has an open-ended beauty while Shipp’s futurism-is-now project goes for a microscopically calibrated functionality. His music’s clean lines and rigorous designs suggest something of a good Bauhaus-keeping aesthetic: sturdy and/or delicate pieces of finely tapered furniture, indicated by past prescriptive titles like “Algebraic Boogie,” “Syntax,” “Inner Order,” “Self-Regulated Motion,” and 14 separate layers of “Strata.”

Few, however, manage to put their ideas into practice the way Shipp, as artistic director of Thirsty Ear’s Blue Series, has been able to stamp the label’s jazz arm with his own sensibility. The releases he’s produced or shepherded there since launching the series in 2000 have carved a niche for themselves as instantly recognizable as ’60s Blue Note or ’70s ECM. (In fact, it amounts to a rapprochement between Afro-modern and Nordic chamber modes.) He’s even collaborated on the ingenious calligraphic-geometric cover-art graphics that set apart the Blue Series—no artist photos or liner notes, a minimum of credits, a flat, handsome laser-printout look that packs all the identifying details of a highbrow bar code. In marked contrast to the old free-school approach of Aum Fidelity, where along with Shipp many of the Thirsty Ear crew (William Parker, Roy Campbell, Matt Maneri) cut their teeth, an almost military discipline predominates. The twin poles of Shipp’s quartet releases, the relatively straight-ahead Pastoral Composure (with trumpeter Campbell) and the more abstruse New Orbit (Waddada Leo Smith doing valve honors), are models of shrewd, efficient introspection. But shying away from sprawling, emotive gesticulation makes Campbell’s It’s Krunch Time feel slightly attenuated, dampened—like cramming Kevin Garnett into a compact car. Craig Taborn’s Light Made Lighter is too beholden to Shipp’s schematic approach, but that seems to work fine as sweetener on the Webern-baby-burn violinist Maneri, whose Blue Decco sounds about as close to carefree as brooding gets. Tim Berne’s The Shell Game departs from the formula to make its own prog-rock/art-funk gravy, consisting of drawn-out saxophonic crop circles, quaint-as-a-ring-modulator electric piano, and plate-scraping continental drift. Wild card of the bunch has got to be Spring Heel Jack’s oddball collaboration Masses: Instead of the expected dance-mix samplings culled from your favorite Thirsty Ear releases, this is a hardcore dose of atonal impressionism featuring a lineup of Squeak-King All-Stars.

Funnily enough, it’s Aum Fidelity that has jumped into the remix-crossover scene with Black Cherry by Organic Grooves, an engaging rewiring of a William Parker/Hamid Drake bass/drum Piercing the Veil as ambient techno (be-blip?). But dance beats or not, it looks like Shipp’s Nu Bop signals a new round in the great snipe hunt for that creature called fusion: Already in the Thirsty Ear pipeline is a Guillermo Brown groove-thing called Soul at the Hands of the Machine, which strives mightily to update electrified Miles for the Rave Age. And further down the road (and off the beaten track), there is the William Parker Quartet’s amazing, goofy-sublime Raining on the Moon: a different kind of symbiosis with singer Leena Conquest, going back to the future in search of a missing jazz link to the soul-poetry of Van Morrison. Like Laura Bush said recently about Dostoyevsky’s novels: “All one summer when I was a schoolteacher in Houston, I read ’em around the swimming pool, so even though they’re set in very cold Russia, they have this sort of bio-humidity about them that I remember.”

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Go Tell It on the Mountain

Let’s be bold: The David S. Ware Quartet is the best small band in jazz today. I realize that I will almost certainly hear another quartet, or trio or quintet or octet, this week or next, that will make me want to backpedal. But every time I see Ware’s group or return to the records, it flushes the competition from memory. Besides, hyperbole is so much fun and I do it so rarely, no? Thus, with the first set of last week’s two-night Blue Note gig resounding in my ears, along with an imminent new CD, Corridors & Parallels (Aum Fidelity), I effortlessly banish from consciousness every other bandleader who might inspire a like-minded leap of faith and stoke the experience of listening to Ware and wanting—in that interval at least—to hear nobody else.

His sound alone is enough to clear the room of contenders. It is huge, big enough to house a large family, several pets, and half the holdings of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Size is not and has never been a sine qua non for tenor saxophonists; Coleman Hawkins had an extrovert sound and Lester Young an introvert sound, and yet they are equals in God’s view. Nor is size per se of much value if it isn’t unique, personal, inviolable. Ware’s sound is virtually unrelated to the roomy traditions of soul tenors, honking tenors, or deep-chested boudoir ballad tenors. It derives from the classic, free, often vociferous tradition of Ben Webster as filtered through the 1960s trinity of Rollins, Coltrane, and Ayler, all of whose shadows can be traced—Rollins in Ware’s capacious low register, Coltrane in his high overblowing, Ayler and Webster in the grit that coats his every note with a sandstone finish, all four in the euphoric tenacity he calls bliss.

Shadows, however, are only shadows. Ware’s distinct sound and Holy Roller fervor were already evident when he was 25, performing in Cecil Taylor’s unforgettable 1974 Carnegie Hall big band. He became more assured through subsequent touring with Taylor’s working unit and Andrew Cyrille’s Maono, promising a formidable career that suddenly petered out. For several years, he drove a cab and worked out his next move, which took shape in the late ’80s, when he organized a quartet for a record date. He chose pianist Matthew Shipp, who was completely unknown, bassist William Parker, with whom he had worked in Taylor’s band, and drummer Marc Edwards, whose chair was subsequently taken over by Whit Dickey, Susie Ibarra, and, at present, Guillermo E. Brown, the quartet’s most aggressive percussionist to date. A series of astonishing albums followed, among them Flight of I, Third-Ear Recitation, Godspellized, and Go See the World.

Although his style combines high-energy free improvisation, brazenly distended ballads, and “godspellized” bliss pieces, Ware communicates easily and readily, his improvisations suggesting a nearly vocalized urgency intensified by a virtuoso attack. Too much downtown time got him pegged as a shocker, but in fact he has always had broader appeal; it simply has not been exploited. Rollins praised him in interviews, and after Columbia distributed two of his DIW CDs, Branford Marsalis signed him, making Ware the only artist he brought to the label during his tenure as an executive. Two superb albums followed: Go See the World and Surrendered. Neither was publicized in any way. Then Ware was jettisoned, though waddaya wanna bet both CDs will be issued in a few years as classics with alternate takes and acerbic liner comments about Columbia’s stewards of the early 2000s.

Meanwhile, the Ware Quartet became home base for a small jazz industry, as Shipp and Parker pursued even more record and performance projects—ranging from solo recitals to big bands—than the leader. Like the extracurricular activities of Miles Davis’s second quintet, their outside work differs greatly from what they play with Ware. Take for example their current CDs. Piercing the Veil, Volume 1 (Aum Fidelity), by Parker and Chicago’s spellbinding percussionist Hamid Drake, is rollicking entertainment—not what you’d expect from a bass-drums duo. Yet they double on so many winds, flutes, and bells that the variety is almost as relentless as the wit and high spirits. According to Steven Joerg, the brains behind Aum Fidelity, the second volume, due next year, will be volume one remixed in a “DJ/club style.”

Shipp’s latest String Trio album, Expansion, Power, Release (hatOLOGY), with Parker and violinist Mat Maneri, is—no hyperbole here—an enticing, irresistible work that is certain to make many of the year’s best-of lists. It was recorded in late 1999, before last year’s stunning New Orbit, but completes his cycle of six Hat Art CDs. Call it his Bernard Herrmann project, although all the music is original. The 14 brief selections are held together by a mesmerizing ostinato figure in the Herrmann style that might have served Vertigo perfectly. In this it carries on from Shipp’s preceding Hat disc, Gravitational Systems, a duet with Maneri—specifically “Forcefield,” a six-note ostinato loosely reprised here in “Waltz” and “Speech of Form.” The principal vamp this time is an eight-note variation, heard on the opening “Organs” and, later, “Functional Form.” These recurring, repeated, appealing figures lend unity to an album that achieves a rare level of emotional satisfaction. It offers anomalous delights as well: Shipp’s candid nod to early Cecil at the top of “Combinational Entity,” Maneri’s unaccompanied solo on “Pulse Form,” and the closing groove track, “One More,” which might have been called “One More Time,” considering Parker’s bluesy basswalk, Shipp’s rocking and rumbling chords, and Maneri’s solid elaboration, including a few glisses that sound more like swipes.

Ware’s forthcoming Corridors & Parallels (the release date is September 18) will be controversial, as it omits one of the quartet’s central pleasures—Shipp’s piano, sacrificed to the introduction of Ware’s Korg synthesizer played by Shipp with settings devised by himself and Ware that range from organ tonalities to hurricane winds to Sun Ra tinkering to funk, Afro-Cuban, and Afro-Afro rhythms. Consisting of eight main selections and three short untitled transitional pieces on which Ware does not appear, the paradoxical net result is a first-rate Ware showcase—even though he makes his first entrance five minutes into the disc. At that point Shipp—in his organ mode—mostly lays out, and tenor, bass, and drums lock down for the relatively conventional, aptly titled “Straight Track,” an exuberant instance of Ware’s capacity to avoid cliché while upholding passion and clarity. Parker snaps the strings so hard you can almost feel them slap the wood. Shipp returns toward the end, piling on the rhythm, and joining in a nicely abrupt finish.

“Jazz Fi-Sci” is less successful, a disjointed back-and-forth dialogue between tenor and synth that offers a certain gimmicky pleasure, but smacks too much of foreplay interruptus—just when you think Ware will finally take off he halts for a synth interlude. “Superimposed” is a mini Ware festival, boasting an elaborate hoot of a solo, played (without dubbing) against synth rhythms that suggest a whole tribe of percussionists. The euphoric edge is fully extended until the humorous wind-down—Ware sounds as if he’s running out of fuel. No less pleasing is “Sound-a-Bye,” in which he creates barely mobile melody out of what is essentially a three-minute drone, continuing after the others fade away and then fading himself. It’s completely convincing and like nothing else I can think of. More ambitious is “Corridors & Parallels,” with its synth whistling, funk, zooming arco bass, and a bristling Ware, who enters like an electric shock and essays a thrillingly upbeat holler of a solo that produces an oddly liturgical feeling—sort of “Ascension” meets “He Loved Him Madly.” After its mere eight minutes, you feel washed in the blood of the lamb. Even the layered fade—with Brown’s backbeat lingering the longest—works.

“Somewhere” and “Spaces Embraces” are three-minute toss-offs—the first all creaky synth, arco bass, and swirling snares, and the second a vain attempt by Ware to salvage the disc’s one meretricious misfire and losing to old-hat sci-fi synth banality. Then he comes roaring back for a masterly performance in his best fire-and-brimstone manner. “Mother May You Rest in Bliss” is both fresh and familiar, built on foundations laid by Rollins and Coltrane, erected anew on Parker’s buttressing bowed bass. It’s raucous pop gospel, flowing with melody, harmony, and wind chimes. As is often the case, Ware becomes more ardent the longer he goes, the more agitated he becomes. Only the brief rhythm transition disappoints—what you want here is a cannonading Shipp piano solo—but Ware returns for the amen chorus.

At the Blue Note, the quartet was its old captivating self, everyone stretching out, each solo a short novel without a single longueur. Working from his usual book, he began with a 30-minute “Surrendered,” which opened and closed with Ware’s incantatory song and had Shipp kneading the piano in a chordal solo, which led to display work on bass and drums, including a high-hat fantasia. They continued with a fast, intense, and unified “Lexicon” (Go See the World); the very blissed-out “Sentient Compassion” (Third-Ear Recitation), complete with almighty cadenza; and the less blissful but more punctilious set closer, “Bliss Theme” (Great Bliss). Best small band in jazz today.

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Jazz and Then Some

If the David S. Ware Quartet cannot sell out the flagship club of a festival sponsored by the phone company, then new jazz has a major problem on its hands. Playing at the Knitting Factory Friday night, the group clashed like stallions, rancorous and terrifically intense. The fractal roar that erupts out of Ware’s saxophone seems to come less from breath than from sheer force of will: a long unaccompanied solo, ending in a spiral around a single note, drew audible gasps. Then guest Alex Lodico picked up his trombone, blew Ware’s note back at him— flatted and blatted — and went into a solo of his own that tried to unseat the alpha male. Ware is one of the most important new avant-jazz leaders (“new” here meaning “of the last 30 years”— things move mighty slowly in these parts), and his band includes two of the others, William Parker and Matthew Shipp. So maybe it was the festival’s stratospheric ticket prices that kept people away, or maybe they just couldn’t bear the James Earl Jones voice-over that introduced every show at the big venues. But there were empty seats.

As somebody who’s come to improvised music via alt-rock, I want fresh stuff all the time, so I mostly stuck to Bell Atlantic’s artier, louder, and more listening-intensive shows. (But not “out,” as Parker insisted at his Little Huey Creative Music Orchestra’s Saturday-afternoon roof-raising at the Tonic: “If you love your wife, you don’t say ‘My wife is out‘.” Fair enough. Of course, Tonic wasn’t part of the BAJF, but that’s another story.) And this festival has fabulously catholic booking policies. There was more pop than usual this year, it seemed, but what the gene pool gains from Sonic Youth and the Dirty Three is worth the inclusion of, say, the Toasters.

The BAJF’s smaller rooms had some of its more frontier-minded young bands. Over at the Lotus Club, Sideshow’s kinetic new-music reinterpretations of Charles Ives songs made 100-year-old compositions into fresh-cut brain-twisters. And a couple of shows in the Knit’s downstairs Old Office gave a glimpse of the German new-music scene they’re hoping to pump up, or cash in on, with a Berlin branch of the club. The most interesting-sounding scheduled acts from that bunch never turned up, but Shank’s PiL-ish electric bass and trombone-through-effects built up a woozy throb that made the best use of new technology I saw at the festival.

The New Thing’s old wave ripped it up, too. Pharoah Sanders was a marvel, shaking his bells through extended jams with a two-percussionist quartet (including a bass player who kept busting out into song) and occasionally standing up for crinkle-cut sax blurts— plus a bit of croaky but inspired call-and-response singing with the audience. And the week’s nicest surprise was Equal Interest, uniting violinist Leroy Jenkins and wind-instrument switch-hitter Joseph Jarman, both AACM veterans, with much younger pianist Myra Melford for a series of ravishing notated pieces that started with solemn tone rows and opened up for elegant, speckly rapid-fire solos. Even when she was karate-chopping the black keys or pulling at a harmonium’s bellows, the drones at the core of Melford’s playing refracted the older men’s fluttering improvisations like the surface of a still pond.

With all these exotic neighbors, John Zorn’s Masada came much closer than usual to passing for a straight-up jazz quartet Tuesday night. Masada essentially treat their venue as a rotating fifth member, and it took a while for the Angel Orensanz Foundation’s echo-heavy converted church to establish rapport with them. So the group’s affectionate flexibility carried the show, drummer Joey Baron swung firmly but politely, and they stuck to the looser, mellower end of their book until Zorn poured an alto bloodbath over the end of the late set.

The next night, a quartet with Dave Lombardo (ex of Slayer), Fred Frith, and Bill Laswell (who should
really lose that beret) brought out Zorn’s worst tendencies— formless shrieking endlessly testing audience endurance— though all the Xtreme Noiz Dudes wearing Mr. Bungle T-shirts ate it up. Frith spent most of the set being drowned out; Thursday night, though, he pulled off a magnificent, playful improvised duet with Joey Baron at Angel Orensanz. A virtuoso of tone, Frith constructs extended arguments from the guitar’s less-used bits— tuning pegs, unamplified strings, paintbrushes (well, his gear includes them). Sometimes you know it’s a guitar; sometimes it’s a set of versatile electric pickups with some wood attached. He led, Baron followed (visibly itching to go bang but keeping it down), and they got a standing ovation.

On the Is This What They Call Jazz Over There? front, Osaka’s bizarro Boredoms bummed out a big crowd of devotees. Their new lineup relies on duration and repetition, a blast on record. But in the boomy South Street Seaport Atrium, with three drummers prolonging climaxes for 10 or 15 minutes straight, it was numbing. French prog-rock heroes Magma, on the other hand, had the clock on their team at their first NYC appearance in 25 years or so. I spent half an hour (meaning the first two-thirds of the first song) snickering at their excesses (extended tweedly solos, a row of vocalists harmonizing in the language that drummer Christian Vander invented, Vander’s geekgasm faces) before I noticed my middle and ring fingers curling into the international “this rocks” sign.

The biggest rock buzz, though, came from the New York Art Quartet’s 35-year reunion Sunday night at the Seaport Atrium. They had the makings of a great rock’n’roll band: a charismatic vocalist (poet Amiri Baraka, who introduced himself with an EEYAAARRRGH that swiveled heads throughout the Atrium’s food court), energetic (free-form) beats (from the masterful Milford Graves, who also contributed some speaking-in-tongues and a bit of interpretive dance), and hoots of delight from a very young crowd (most of whom wouldn’t have thought of coming if Sonic Youth hadn’t been headlining). The Youths themselves, with Ikue Mori sitting in on extra percussion, make a better guitar band than a jazz unit: their songs were confident and idiosyncratic, their improv-based piece pretty dismal. Still, they’re pointing their fans toward the fringes they love, which addresses the problem of the moment more directly. There’s no shortage of excellence in the trickier reaches of jazz right now— just of people around to hear it.

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Hard Bop

Dwayne Burno had an awed look on his face for most of the second set Thursday night at the Vanguard. He was stationed right behind his boss, Roy Haynes, and the drummer’s every flam and fillip made the bassist wince: “Ooh, that shit’s nasty.” The 72-year-old percussionist is a stimulus monger, delivering his lines with a volcanic imposition even when ching-chinka-chinging in support of the youthful colleagues he keeps on retainer. At one point an extended cornet passage by his son Graham turned wobbly. Dad righted it with the flick of a wrist and the crash of a sock cymbal. Whenever Haynes hits his drums, certitude and declaration are in the air.

With its uproar usurped by ’60s new thing and ’70s loft lingo, bop’s status as an insurrectionist idiom is sometimes forgotten. That notion never leaves Haynes’s mind. Like his new Dreyfus disc, Praise, the Vanguard set united hard-swinging tempos and classic themes, indicating the main stream is where he does business. There were no rules broken or conventions upended; the quintet’s designs were club-gig commonplaces, rife with first-me, then-you soloing schemes. Theoretically tedious, right? But as saxist Ron Blake got sweaty with elaborate r&b motifs and pianist Dave Kikoski dedicated himself to an evening of vehement romping, the group signified authority and distinction an other way: by playing the hell out of every tune.

On “Inner Trust” the leader shouldered all the flailing action of his crew while simultaneously issuing them warnings and challenges. There’s a diabolical choppiness to his expert sense of time, and his mallets and brushes continually stirred the pot, even during a piece refined enough to accommodate Ornette and minuet. Haynes has made a career of virtuosic impudence, pushing Bird into fleet offensives in the early ’50s, and driving Trane toward unholy rapture a decade later. Here his provocations were virtually quantifiable: every caustic splash and gleeful thud caused his assistants to dig in a bit deeper.

With guys like Tony Williams and Art Taylor gone, jazz drumming is at a loss for a flamboyance that attracts rather than repels. With charm and humor, Haynes plants the flag of sophisticated aggression in the ground of every hill he climbs.—Jim Macnie



A Run for Your Money


There were a lot of superstars in the house Sunday night at Tramp’s, but it was Run’s house. Don’t get me wrong, before the “old” guys restored our faith, we got plenty of ’90s hip-hop: “Hey, sound man” whining, mysterious equipment fuck-ups, interminable waiting, and unadvertised “bonus” opening act Sunny Black. Elusive producing genius Large Professor put in a good 20 minutes with his crisp rhymes and oblique funk, but his show was all too new-school: Why did he complain we couldn’t hear him? We could. Why did he bitch that “The Mad Scientist” was “supposed to” come out on Geffen when it did, two years ago? We forgot these questions when he closed with Main Source mainstays “Fakin’ the Funk” and “Looking at the Front Door.”

At midnight, out of the blackness came the blackness—Jam Master Jay in trademark black fedora, black T-shirt, and black leather suit, hyping us up, making us beg for our heroes. Showbiz was in the house and not a moment too soon. DMC is leaner and meaner, Run’s got a few extra pounds, but, oh my, what a difference a mission makes. BOOM! “King of Rock”! BLAOW! “Rockbox”! VREET! The greatest hip-hop act ever? Hey, Chuck D and I think so. In 1983, they brought hard beats, empty space, and yelling to rap music, fast-forwarding the genre into a five-year burst of creativity sustained by the realization that you can rap about any subject over any sound. And it gets deeper the harder you lean on their songbook—no bitch rhymes, no gun talk, an early turntablist, and the rock-in-my-rap Reese’s that’s never been bettered.

Run ran the show, doing a light-speed a cappella that brought the crowd to its toes (we were standing already), name-checking “Krush Groove,” and making sure we knew the turntables were “turned on.” His m.o. was more Motown than Rawkus, leading us swiftly from “Sucker MCs” into a freestyle over “The 900 Number” and then into “Here We Go” and “Beats to the Rhyme” in under 10 minutes. More than half the songs ended on the downbeat with a unison stab and the lights going dead, some thing that takes, um, a few rehearsals. (NOTE TO HIP-HOP PERFORMERS—LOOK UP “REHEARSE”.) DMC didn’t shout, oddly, or even rap audibly, but when he took his shirt off, it was obvious he hasn’t been eating donuts since “Down With the King” dropped in 1993. (Run said a new album is coming out next year on Arista—”We aren’t on Profile any more. We went from the pit to the penthouse.”) And DMC looked awful cool standing there in his Cazals, arms folded. Pure Las Vegas hokum? Nostalgia? Crystal Ship? Maybe, but it felt more like a challenge to current hip-hop to stand up, make its name, and claim a voice that doesn’t depend on envy, fear, or titillation for its volume.—Sasha Frere-Jones

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Ware It’s At


David S. Ware got signed to Columbia earlier this year. All it took was two decades of high-energy, high-quality free jazz, and 14 years behind the wheel of an NYC cab. You thought rockers had it tough.

On Sunday, the tenorman—towering, impassive, dressed in a blue wizard’s robe—stepped into as much limelight as an avant-gardist can expect: a packed house at Fez. His all-star support—Matthew Shipp on piano, William Parker on bass, Susie Ibarra on drums—set up a hypnotic, gently swinging vamp. Ware grooved with them, extended into swooping melody, which he fragmented into a series of furious runs, before blowing it all up into one massive, unwavering scream. One by one his band dropped away from the groove. Ibarra went first, hammering the beat out of shape; then Parker and Shipp grew busier and more abstract. Ware sat down, and the three of them pounded and whispered together for 20 more minutes.

For the rest of the night, the band pushed in every direction (including, at times, nowhere). Ibarra clanked gongs, played her brushes against the air, and engaged Parker in brisk rhythmic chatter; Shipp spread chaos and receded to find lyricism. It was jazz that swallowed all aesthetic distinctions. The quartet’s new album, Go See the World, does the same. Bluesy and experimental, it shatters the classic Coltrane sound into new possibilities.

Can this penetrate Uptown, or the mainstream? Unlikely, but there’s something here for everyone. Ware goes for extreme sounds, but he also reaches for beauty. On Sunday he led the band through “The Way We Were.” He shredded it, turned it in side-out, then came back to give Hamlisch’s poor little melody a blast of soul. If he can do that, he can cross any boundary.—Steve Tignor



Clowning Achievement

Those of us who love Chris Knox have learned that we have to put up with certain idiosyncrasies—like the fact that he doesn’t know how most of his own songs go. Sunday night at Tonic, the New Zealand pop godfather had lyric and chord sheets for every number, which didn’t prevent him from blowing a chord every minute or two, stopping, cursing, cracking some jokes, groping for the right notes, and picking up at whatever peak he’d left off.

As a solo artist (much more than with his long-running duo Tall Dwarfs), Knox is obsessed with pulverizing the mystique of performance. This is why he starts every show by changing into his shorts on stage, why he ceremoniously announces his drum-machine settings, and why his audiences need to watch out for bodily fluids. A new arrangement of “Voyeur” became an excuse for Knox to molest everyone within his headset mike’s radius; one unlucky bald gentleman got his head licked.

Most of all, he scribbles all over his own work’s polished surfaces. Aside from a couple of death-obsessed new ones that he played straight, song after song flew off track so that Knox could riff about opening for Jonathan Richman, mock his own lyrics and arrangements (“Imagine bag pipes!” he cried), or make up a new American national anthem (“The U.S.A./Is a really really really really really really really good country”). His greatest hit, the immaculate love song “Not Given Lightly,” derailed right before its climax into a speech about its discographical history, then a gleeful self-parody about how much money it’s made him, and finally a long, improvised jingle about Tonic’s need for a liquor license. Knox is a born entertainer, and it’s not like his clowning isn’t a treat. But his songs deserve more of his respect.—Douglas Wolk



Let’s Get Serialist


Dear Beck:


In this document, “Searching High and Low: Long-Term Marketing of the Telephone Plastic,” commissioned by you, DGC Records, and Viacom, the Consulting Group likens your arc to that of David Byrne, who led the group Talking Heads, and now performs as a solo artist. In this Appendix, please find the conclusions of a Committee dispatched to Mr. Byrne’s recent show at the Knitting Factory, to anticipate the hidden landmines as you grow your brand.

Mr. Byrne performed with the Balanescu Quartet, a serialist string group from Romania, and three musicians (bass, singer, programmer) of indistinct ethnicity. The singer was resplendent in divergence, revisiting and revising nearly every phase of his career in only a dozen songs.

To recap, Mr. Byrne began his arc with high-art castings of low-art elements, including covers of “1, 2, 3, Red Light,” an appreciation of K.C. and the Sunshine Band, and an enforced association with Jon Bon Jovi’s cousin. After his acclaim on the cover of Time magazine, the low elements waned. His current set thrived when the low elements were most apparent: less in his covers of Cesaria Evora and Karftwerk, and more in a version of Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody,” which clashed teenage desires with the Quartet’s harsh, staccato melody lines, and in a reprisal of “Memories Can’t Wait,” which the Committee agrees describes a bad experience with LSD.

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Sneaky calls at the back of the room for Mr. Byrne’s early, impactful songs suggest that you can anticipate a lifetime of requests for “Loser.” As Mr. Byrne introduced a song he wrote with the Brazilian art singer Caetano Veloso, a fan shouted, “David Fuckin’ Byrne”—we again commend the Client for choosing to market under a mononym.

In conclusion, the Group recommends that the Client maintain a high/low ratio not lower than 30:70 and not higher than 55:45, and recommends against returning Time magazine’s calls.

    On behalf of the Committee,
    Rob Tannenbaum

 

P.S. Mr. Byrne wore a collared, four-button turquoise suit in a retro-thrift style. The Group will forward the designer’s name and media contact within three business days.