18 June 2011

Where it’s at (DHJF-3)

It’s days later and I’m still mulling over Jason Moran’s concert at the Basement but I need to put this in context. And that context is Jim Black’s AlasNoAxis and the Dan Tepfer Trio and the broader context of the Darling Harbour JF.

Firstly, Dan Tepfer. He wasn’t playing at the DHJF, but he did come over to Australia to play at the Melbourne JF with Lee Konitz. LK got sick and that concert was cancelled. Cameron Undy and 505 were lucky enough to get an offer for the trio to play and I was lucky enough to be able to attend. These guys are obviously guns on the NY jazz scene, given their biographies, but none of my mates knew of them. The gig was something I loved but didn’t feel I particularly understood (more on this later). The piano was moody, impressionistic, lots of overhand technique, like a solo piano concert with embellishments by the accompanying bass and drums. This was patina, colours that flowed, solos that merged one instrument to another, a combined constant of improv, even medleys that paralleled this group style. Lots of delays and anticipations, so the one of the bar was seldom defined, and truncations and punctuations. Some singing, some minimalist bass, but also some devastating bass lines. And drums that were rudiment-rich on snare, and explosive in solos. Introverted, inward-looking concepts and playing, at both the individual and group levels. The tunes were originals but they also played Body & soul, Lee Konitz’s Subconsciously, a lovely Francophile Jacque Brel tune and Giant steps at moderate speed in 5/4. In the break, I came across Carl Dewhurst and mentioned my enjoyment but also that it left me bamboozled. I thought his answer was wise: “Just soak it up”. Dan Tepfer (piano) led a trio with Joe Sanders (bass) and Johnathan Blake (drums).

Secondly, AlasNoAxis. They had played at 505 the previous week but I didn’t see them and I know them only from some YouTube videos. But I chatted with Matt McMahon who told me of their workshop at the Conservatorium. He spoke of a long time playing together, close interactions, discarding of styles and expectations, chops that are way understated, solos that are pure melody rather than individual technique. All interesting and again a path in jazz at the moment. Interesting, new, inventive, but still leaving me somewhat at a loss.

Lastly, Jason Moran. I heard the trio at the Basement on the last night of this DHJF weekend. The last show: read ultimate! I was stunned, speechless; a block clicked into place. We can intellectually know music but of course we have preferences and loves and this is beyond quality. This had what I love: explosive energy, complex rhythms and strong grooves, knowledge of and connection to our jazz history, styles that merge in and out – stride, free, punk, funk – subtly, unexpectedly, but purposefully. Great skills, of course, but that’s just taken for granted. This is the expanse of 100 years of jazz blended, or to use that new term, mashed, into a homogenous, rich, varied whole. Interestingly, the history was overt with Jason playing a snippet or a loop of a historical figure to start. I didn’t recognise them all, but they included Billie Holliday, Fats Waller, Albert King, Mississippi Fred McDowell and perhaps Prince or funk. There was a glorious ballad against swelling and decaying synth tones in stereo [I'm now told it's a loop of Hendrix guitar, EP 20 Jun 2011] ; there were some live piano preparations, by hand or using a cowbell; there was unison bass/vocals later in the night; there were difficult and implied times and tempos that changed; there was just sheer exhilarating, ecstatic release. Overwhelming skills that saw stride decay into free with a slide of fingers over the keyboard, all the band thrown in together, correct, mostly precise, occasionally a bit rough, but I’m sure some roughness is in no way discouraged. Roughness is nothing where purpose is involved. There was mention of Jackie Byard as his teacher. And, I thought, pride in jazz’s black and blues history. This was magnificent and I remain in awe of the performance. Jason Moran and the Bandwagon are Jason Moran (piano), Tarus Mateen (bass) and Nasheet Waits (drums).

So what have I understood? Something I’ve known but had demonstrated intensely over this fortuitous weekend. I can admire the introverted, classical-influenced styles of Euro jazz and its ilk, I can love a beautiful melody and perfected performance, but my great love is energy and syncopation and release in rhythm but also in melody/harmony, because dissonance is just the pitched version of syncopation. Thanks Jason Moran and his mates for this clarity. Overwhelming.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

From Downbeat news: "Jason Moran Wins DownBeat Critics Poll, Posted 7/1/2011. Jason Moran scored a triple-crown victory in the 59th Annual DownBeat Critics Poll, winning honors for Jazz Artist of the Year, Jazz Album of the Year and Pianist of the Year." I feel lucky to have seen Jason and Bandwagon at such a significant time. Lucky! Eric