Monday, June 23, 2008

Freedom of Expression: Marc Ribot, Anthony Coleman and Brad Jones Tear it Up, Evan Parker Puts it Together

It's time for another free jazz round-up, everybody! After the overwhelmingly positive response (Well, actually, there were no comments... but on the plus side, there were no negative comments!) from the first one, a joint-review of new albums (or reissues) from the Free-Form Funky Freqs, Fieldwork, and Matthew Shipp from a month or two ago, I decided that as soon as I had enough obscure free jazz to write about, I'd jump on it immediately. For those of you who have not heard of Marc Ribot, Anthony Coleman, or Brad Jones, the three of them have played together sporadically over the past twenty years (and between the three of them have played with a lot of people in both the jazz and rock worlds), and after a few years of not playing together reunited at The Stone on Saturday night. Evan Parker is a brilliant European saxophone player who made his name by releasing one of the great solo saxophone records of the seventies, simply titled "Saxophone Solos," and his band on the new "Boustrophedon" is rounded out by a 14 piece orchestra that includes Roscoe Mitchell and Craig Taborn amongst its ranks.

To be frank, Saturday's concert at The Stone (John Zorn's cramped, non-air conditioned mecca for experimental music in New York City), featuring Marc Ribot, Anthony Coleman, and Brad Jones, was not for everybody. In fact, it probably wasn't for most people. All three of my friends wanted to leave at one point or another, but I wouldn't let them drag me out. The music was abrasive, occasionally boring, audience-bating- everything that can make a great free-jazz concert fall apart- but for some reason, the stars aligned and it just happened to hit the spot perfectly. Ribot, Coleman, and Jones tore music apart at its seams and made no effort to sew it back together; the three "songs" (I put "songs" in quotation marks because each piece was more of a lengthy improvisation than a standard) floated around the room, sometimes turning into outright noise with Anthony Coleman's prepared piano acting as a percussion instrument and occasionally anchoring the groove. The best "song" of the three was the second; it began as a folk dirge, complete with open chords and a triplet feel (although it changed arbitrarily between 3/4, 6/8, and 9/8), staying there for a while until moving into a lengthy portion devoid of time and finally move into a pulsating section that could only be described as funky Stravinsky. The concert clearly wasn't for everyone, and many people walked out. But man is it fun to just see great musicians bang on shit and see what kinds of cool noises they can make every once in a while.

Evan Parker takes the opposite tack on "Boustrephedon," recorded at a concert a few years ago; as opposed to simply deconstructing and rearranging music and rearranging music with life-affirming zeal, Parker is more interested in finding the meeting point between the worlds of free jazz and avant garde classical music. Some passages in "Boustrephedon" are clearly composed in some fashion (either written out or dictated), and in "Furrow 5" and "Furrow 6" there are moments in which entire segments of his 14-piece orchestra play in tandem. These backing figures- if you can even call them that- add a different back-drop for the soloists to work with, and in that sense they serve to make the music more interesting. The soloists themselves are all incredible, with a particularly interesting solo from clarinetist John Rangecroft towards the beginning of "Furrow 4." The portions during which the band freely improvises as a whole are just as cacophonous and dissonant as one would expect from a group like this, although anybody who actually goes out and buys and Evan Parker record probably knows what to expect. While, again, it's not for everybody, "Boustrephedon" poses an interesting answer to the question "How free should free jazz be?," and for those who are interested in this sort of music it's definitely worth listening to.

But that said, it doesn't offer the same catharsis as hearing a bunch of great musicians bang on shit and do things they aren't supposed to do to their instruments. Seriously, what a great concert. Next time I'll either have a joint-review of Moss' new self-titled album and Cassandra Wilson's "Loverly" or a review of Marc Ribot's new album with his band Ceramic Dog (whose 10 o'clock show at The Stone I would have gone to if not for my wussy friends).

No comments: