SCENA Jazz

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Suoni per il Popolo (Take 3)

BY MARK CHODAN

Charles Gayle (June 8)

As has been customary since its inception, the Suoni per il Popolo festival has hosted a strong contingent of American musicians. In that tradition, saxophonist/pianist Charles Gayle performed a solo concert at the Casa del Popolo. The first set featured Gayle on tenor sax. At age 72, Gayle has lost little of his ability to blow and overblow his reeds to produce the fiery brand of free jazz for which he is best known. It was a pleasure to finally hear Gayle's playing in its proper live context in order to fully appreciate the dynamics and multi-phonics of his playing, without the sonic limitations of the recording process (there is no shortage of Gayle recordings; check out his prolific output on the Knitting Factory Works and Silkheart labels.) The searing intensity of his playing was tempered by a well-grounded lyricism, but basically Gayle's approach to solo playing was similar to that in his usual trio configuration. The second set featured Gayle on piano. Gayle has been recording his piano playing more frequently these days, including two solo piano records (Jazz Solo Piano and Time Zones.) Possibly due to the less physically taxing nature of the piano, Gayle's piano set was the longer of the two. Gayle's technical proficiency on the instrument is impressive given that he most likely had no access to the instrument during his almost 20 years of homelessness. While his style is generally based in the church music of his youth, his idiosyncratic language is very much his own. While one may hear snippets of Monk-like knotty melodies or echoes of Jaki Byard, Gayle is an original and authentic voice on the piano. Overall, the concert was a mature and engaging statement by a gracious and humble musician, proving Gayle to be - beyond a doubt - a master musician in this vernacular.

David S. Ware (June 14)

A full house at the Sala Rossa heard reedsman David S. Ware perform a solo set, divided into performances on tenor and sopranino saxophones. The audience was given a performance that was very different from the Ware of his long-running quartet with Matthew Shipp and William Parker (and a long string of drummers.) While the Ware quartet was basically a traditional sax-plus-rhythm section approach, with Ware exploring with well-defined rhythmic boundaries, the solo performance was a different matter altogether. Without the foundation provided by the rhythm section, Ware was free to explore. The solo Ware was an exploration of harmony, phrasing and spiky permutations of notes. Musical cells were juxtaposed to create structures that would not have been possible in the quartet. These sketches provided a novel perspective into Ware's soul and mind. Following the performance was a question and answer session. Ware discussed his health (stable after his kidney transplant), choice of instruments, and general philosophy of musical creativity, one where musicians all dip into a cosmic pool of musical possibilities (a concept often discussed by Matthew Shipp and also associated with Sun Ra.) The discussion proved somewhat interesting, if sometimes ineloquent, but was marred by excursions into conspiracy theories. For those who may have been disappointed by Gayle not preaching as he is known to occasionally do in concert, Ware more than made up for it.

Farmers by Nature (June 21)

Montreal was Farmers by Nature's first stop on their tour promoting their new studio recording, Out of this World's Distortions. The leaderless trio is comprised of Gerald Cleaver (drums), William Parker (bass) and Craig Taborn (piano). While often cited as the modus operandi of musical collaborations in the avant/free scene, less frequently have we heard truly "egalitarian" approaches to improvisation, as opposed to variations on "leader with accompaniment." Farmers by Nature have realized this methodology in a way that is refreshing and captivating. Cleaver would typically set the stage for the proceedings by laying down a complex rhythm that was neither the open-ended percussion of a Tony Oxley nor the backbeat of a Hamid Drake. Instead, Cleaver provided poly-metric rhythms that allowed for Parker and Taborn to choose to propel the music forward or pursue countless other rhythmic possibilities. This is a rhythmic approach that Taborn is certainly comfortable with given his longstanding interest in counterpoint, as anyone who has heard his recordings as leader can attest. Parker was also free to interject and did so in the capacity of co-leader and not just as "the bassist." The ease at which the trio interchanged ideas was clearly the result of these mature musicians understanding each other and how to complement one another. It was interesting to see how this democratic approach also seemed to moderate the tendency to take off on flights of fancy (finding ways to avoid such over-indulgencies never hurts in jazz!) Instead, the group focused on creating a subtly evolving canvas where each musician was free to contribute to the shape and dynamic of the compositions. In the end, the results trump the methodology… And the result was almost two hours of music that was involving, thought-provoking and always interesting.

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