Friday, April 11, 2008

Thursday night double bill

It seemed like a good idea at the time.
I was going to work somewhat late, then bounce to Jazz Standard for the late set of the Dave Douglas Sextet and follow it with an even later evening excursion to the Village Vanguard for the Adam Rogers Quintet. It didn't work out as planned but it was okay.

Walking into Jazz Standard to hear Douglas, I was reminded of the last time I heard him there. I went with an old pal, who has been in and around the biz for years. Douglas group played a fine set to my ears, but my friend was unconvinced. "Some of those solos," he said. "I feel like I heard them too often at Knitting Factory."
It's been years since Douglas was a regular at the Knitting Factory though I first became acquainted with his work when the performance space/club was on Houston St. So the remark carried some weight. Did Douglas spend so much time varying the groups that he plays in that his solo style had ossified.
The Sextet Douglas presented Thursday night was proof of his still restless mind. DJ Olive was on Turntables, Brad Jones played an acoustic bass that was amplified to give it a mean rip snorting sound that might be more at home in a funk or backwater country band, Marcus Strickland was on tenor saxophone, Gene Lake laid a ferocious backbeat, and Adam Benjamin supplied the necessary Fender Rhodes keyboards.
The Fender was necessary as the music often feels like an updating of those rare few but utterly vital early '70s electric jazz recordings. Olive works more as an additional source of percussive sounds rather than textural ones. With Benjamin, Strickland and Lake all clustering short staccato figures over Olive's beat and Jone's atmospheric grunts, the music had a techno feel that should delight any fan of LCD Soundsystem (James Murphy fans would also like Bad Touch the cooperative quartet featuring drummer Ted Poor, saxophonist Loren Stillman, guitarist Nate Radley and keyboardist GaryVersace).
Did the solos sound similar to last time, initially yeah, they did. But as the set wore on the performance began to take on a personality all of its own. Douglas soloed but in shorter bursts than before. It was terse music that needed to generate excitement to work and with each of the six working within the surprising novel framework of the group, they did. I almost skipped the Vanguard just to let this music echo in my head.
But I'm not one to quit while I'm ahead (actually I'm not one to quit period).
A quick cab ride later, I was in the Vanguard for Rogers, a guitarist who has had several standout sideman gigs. My favorite in fact is a live at the Village Vanguard date with saxophonist Chris Potter called "Follow The Red Line." This week is his Vanguard debut as a leader and he brought along a stellar band, pianist Edward Simon, bassist Scott Coley, saxophonist Mark Turner, and drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts.
Rogers music offers bright clear melodic lines at the outset of each tune, but they retreat gently into abstraction by mid song. His tunes come with titles like "Confluence" and "Continuance." These aren't pieces about deep laments and emotional highs; they are about abstract thoughts about emotive highs and lows. Most bands would have struggled with the complex music, but this quintet brought it off nicely. Watts was consistently a pleasure (made me wonder if he's exerted an influence on the exceptional young drummer Tyshawn Storey), there were great duet moments between Tain and all three members of the front line. Colley matched wits well with Rogers on two occasions. However, by midset there was a sense that this was one of those nights were the band was--cliche alert--a little less than the sum of its parts. I could see what frustrated Nate Chinen on the night he attended.
Rogers and his bandmates make powerful but proudly insular music and some of that insularity is prevented me from fulling appreciating the force.
It was an awkward nightcap but two sets of music like this is never a bad time.


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