One of my first quarter ’16 goals was to go out and hear more music. I fell out of the habit four years ago when I took a full time job in retail then stayed out of the habit because of lower body injuries that made going down steps difficult if not outright traumatic. I’ve been consistently healthy for the last six to eight months, so much so that going out after a retail shift is redemptive rather than taxing. So it was great to hear three amazing pianists in the last ten days—all in gigs that took place after a retail shift–and that’s despite missing a gig by working late in retail.
My keyboard week began on Wednesday at The Stone on the second night of Matt Mitchell’s weeklong residency there. I’d admired Mitchell’s work with Tim Berne, Dan Weiss and Rudresh Mahanthappa, but I’d never seen him lead a group. This evening he was playing with Snark Horse, a quintet he co-leads with drummer Kate Gentile; other members include saxophonist Jon Irabagon, trombonist Ben Gerstein, and guitarist Mary Halvorson. The music reminded me somewhat of the Art Ensemble of Chicago (no, they weren’t face painted, silly wabbit). My most vivid memories of AEC is in how they took discreet rhythmic figures and built them from solos and duos to quartet and quintet play and that as the show progressed, and how the music moved from abstract to foot tapping accessible. Initially as Mitchell’s charges engaged this strategy with Gerstein playing off of Gentile or Halvorson and irabagon developing charged little figures between them, I thought it was a way of moving the bass responsibility around, but as the show progressed, the duets built and thoughts about a bassist vanished. Instead the lasting takeaway was five stellar players meshing in unique and compelling ways. I need to track down a copy of Mitchell’s latest recording, Vista Accumulation.
I missed Mitchell’s set on Friday, which was frustrating since I consider proximity to The Stone one of the big reasons I still live in the East Village, but retail work ran way late. It ran late on Sunday too, but that didn’t keep me from dashing across town to hear the final set of Myra Melford’s Snowy Egret at the Village Vanguard. I had wondered how the band would fare in their debut engagement at the august club but I got part of my answer before the music started. Club owner Lorraine Gordon was seated on a barstool with that beam she gets when she likes what she’s just heard. I’ve seen that beam dozens of time, but it’s no guarantee; sometimes she looks like it’s just another day at the office. Once Melford began her set, I began beaming too. Her group is also a quintet with cornetist Ron Miles, bassist Stomu Takeishi, guitarist Liberty Ellman and drummer Tyshawn Sorey. In the early going I began wishing that Myra would do a series of duet concerts with Tyshawn; their rapport was amazing and yes, nearly telepathic. But as the show wound on, I realized that after playing two sets a night since Tuesday, the entire band was on another level of interplay. The narrative followed the same pattern as Mitchell’s but with more interaction. Myra played a week at The Stone last year, so here’s hoping that there’s an East Village to West Village bandwagon going on.
Monday night after retail I schlepped uptown to the Park Avenue Armory for the inaugural concert of a new series curated by Jason Moran, and the pianist played solo. Although I’m a big fan of Moran’s trio The Bandwagon, I don’t think I’ve heard him play a solo concert. He played very stately and elegant pieces at first, which was a pleasant surprise. I’ve come to regard Moran’s music as a soundtrack for postmillennial New York City, where he turns quirky rhythms into the most natural sounding sequences, an homage in ways to Randy Weston, Andrew Hill and Jaki Byard. The rhythms arrived in his tribute to Byard and the two tendencies merged nicely in his closing number, Duke Ellington’s “Single Petal of A Rose.”
On the way home, I’d realized that I had regarded these shows as redemptive, but now they felt absolutely uplifting. The next goal will be to witness more cinema.