During the first half of 2007, I jotted down some impressions on live performances I've seen. Since I've started a blog, I've dumped them here, for what they are worth.
I went to two nights: Monday June 18, and Wednesday, June 20, 2007. These nights seemed awful light on straight-ahead jazz. An attempt to get a more diverse and younger crowd? I thought this was great, but I think many in the crowd did not (see notes below on bewildered audience reactions to Skerik and Palermo). Maybe the festival committee should split the difference, have an adventurous opening act and a more straight-ahead headliner? And, for criminy, is there any way you can just do without the "jazz lite"/"smooth jazz" garbaggio? I avoided those acts like the plague they are.
Monday, June 18, 2007. Two out of three not only ain't bad, it was great in this case. Opening act The Blue Method was a hell of a lot of fun. Big man lead singer Brian Williams can belt it out just as well as he can back off into a gentle falsetto. Talented musicians. The lead guitar by Michael Patriarca was some great blues action. Even more mind blowing was Tom Long, who seemed to be a nothing-special rhythm guitar player out in the wings - until he picked up his sax - wow! That guy can play!
Next up was Skerik's Maelstrom Trio. Poor T-Mac had to leave for a bit to do a phone conference. He missed the most interesting act of the two nights I attended. A trio of sax, organ, and drums, these guys wandered from an opening Clifford Brown piece to a Medeski Martin and Wood-type funky organ jam (including all three members on keyboards at one point) to a wild and wooly punkish free jazz piece with plenty of squeaks and squawks by Skerik on sax. Great stuff. A lot of people left, some covered their ears - a bit too freaky for conventional jazz fans?
Last band up. The Mahavishnu Project. A Mahavishnu Orchestra tribute band, recreating the sounds and feel of guitar legend John McLaughlin's fusion group. I suppose if you are really into this kind of music that the band accomplished that. Again, Poor T-Mac. He made it back just in time for this. Seriously overblown and overly serious fusion/art/prog-rock, "so 70s" - it struck me as a jazz-fusion version of Spinal Tap (so much so that I kept waiting for the miniature Stonehenge to descend from the rafters). I'll stop there. This review doesn't need to be any meaner about people who take their music so seriously. Sorry.
Wednesday, June 20, 2007. A good night of music. Opening Act The New Mastersounds laid down some seriously thick funk. These Brits have spirit and real talent. Their instrumental funk was fun and had the crowd up and dancing. Two nights, two great opening acts!
The headliner was Ed Palermo's Big Band. After his opening piece, a nod to Clifford Brown, and one Frank Zappa piece , Palermo proudly announced to the audience that they were in for 90 minutes of nothing but Frank Zappa. Well, if that didn't get about 20% of the audience on their feet - to leave! "Helen, I don't think they're giong to play any Dorsey - let's go." What these folks missed - an amazingly creative set of arrangements of Zappa pieces by a group of very talented artists. Palermo managed to take some guitar heavy pieces and rearrange them for horns. The show was mostly instrumental, but there were a few pieces sung by a lead guitar player (like Po-jama People). Unfortunately, I had to leave a little before the end myself, but T-Mac (Zappa freak) caught it all.
Wednesday, April 18, 2007. Avant Gentleman's Club. Mats Gustafsson, sax; Ingebrigt Haaker-Flaten, bass; Paal Nilssen-Love, drums. These guys leave it all on stage. Shaun Brady of Philadelphia City Paper describes them: "This is muscular, balls-out aggression, and their versatility is all the sweeter when it's wielded in the name of brutal abandon." They played pieces from their last album, Garage, and from their new album (that I don't have yet), Action Jazz. Punk rock energy in a power jazz trio. The club is not much more than a garage, a small clubhouse in an old brick building in west Philly with a stage in front of th e boiler room. Perfect for music this raw and intense. About 70 minutes of intense muscial energy.
The Scandinavian Jazz Supergroup. Tuesday, February 6 and Wednesday, February 7, 2007, 8pm, International House of Philadelphia (not to be confused with International House of Pancakes). Fredrik Ljungkvist, saxophones; Magnus Broo, trumpet; Havard Wiik, piano; Ingebrigt Haaker-Flaten, bass; Paal Nilssen-Love, drums. An arsnova workshop production. Brief review: T-Mac and I went to both night's shows. Amazing. Perhaps the best live shows I have ever seen. I guess this qualifies as composed jazz with a free jazz attitude. Commanding musicianship, tight group playing, and creative arrangements. The shows included pieces from their last few albums, Happy New Ears, The Bikini Tapes (I assume - I don't have this one), and Boom Boom. The shows flowed from delicate to surging intensity to bombast, sometimes in the same piece. The musicians really look to enjoy playing this music with each other.
Friday, January 12, 2007, International House of Philadelphia. David S. Ware (tenor sax), Mat Maneri (viola, violin), Keith Witty (bass) and Whit Dickey (percussion). This was one of the most eagerly awaited shows on my concert wish list. It was a train wreck. What happened? I saw Ware at VisionFestival in NYC a few years ago. David S. Ware Quartet with William Parker (bass), Matthew Shipp (piano) and Guillermo Brown (drums). The Quartet show was a great memory, a truly incredible saxophonist with a world-class band, way up high on the list of shows I have seen. I still get chills thinking of their rendition of Surrendered. This one was different, very different. Talented musicians, but something was not working. Ware seemed really agitated with his bandmates. They almost seemed to be ignoring each other at times. I got bad vibes and left the show very disappointed.