Monday, October 24, 2011

Cory Weeds / Mike LeDonne Quartet - Blue Horse Gallery - Monday, October 24, 2011

Cory Weeds & Mike LeDonne Quartet - Blue Horse Gallery

Cory Weeds / Mike LeDonne Quartet – Blue Horse Gallery

Monday, October 24, 2011

Perfectly Hank: The Music of Hank Mobley – Cory Weeds, saxophone. Mike LeDonne, Hammond B3. Oliver Gannon, Guitar. Jesse Cahill, Drums.

The tour is a celebration, an encomium, of the music of Hank Mobley. Mobley (1930 – 1986) was a hard-bop tenor saxophonist and composer who has been called "one of the more underrated musicians of the bop era." Mobley was known for his controlled and even “round” sound that emphasized cool subtlety over hot intensity.

I was here at the strong recommendation of Julian MacDonough, who said this was a show “not to be missed.” Julian was responsible, in part, in getting this tour to make a stop at The Blue Horse Gallery. I arrived early and was able to get close to the stage to take a look at the beautiful worn and sweetly fragrant Hammond B3 and the Leslie Speaker, with its signature Doppler effect. They both brought to mind precious objects from a bygone age, automaton music boxes, cabinets of curiosity, and German Wunderkammer. The Hammond was covered with autographs, giving it an extra layer of authenticity.

I found a seat in the substantially crowded room, which is fairly charged up with anticipation for a great night of Jazz. Mike LeDonne is known as a virtuoso on the Hammond B3, having played for years in New York with Milt Jackson’s Quartet. Cory Weeds is a jazz impresario who runs the renowned Cellar Jazz club in Vancouver. After a brief technical delay, the night started off with the song “Perfectly Hank” by Mike. The Hammond came on beautifully, seeming to hover around the backbeat with a lazy perfection. That sound with the Leslie, there is no denying, is just the essence of cool. Immediate associations with “Whiter Shade of Pale” to Booker T’s “Green Onions” and Tom Waits’ Heartattack and Vine. And, of course, jazz organists Jimmy Smith, Sonny Philips and Freddy Roach. LeDonne is just stunning, hands rifling over the keys of the Hammond like the gears of a carousel calliope, weaving in and out of the melody into surreal combinations of notes: giraffes emerging out of the surf on bloody half-shells, then back into the groove, surreal associations at the core of jazz, the eternal return to the melody and then the burst of self-assertion like a new star in the sky. Cory Weeds picks right from where LeDonne leaves off, echoing, amplifying and subtly commenting on LeDonne, branching off like a fractal, returning to the center. Oliver Gannon accents it all with elegance and Jesse Cahill is rock solid. There is a presence, and awareness, in the room of music being played with exceptional grace and skill.

The next piece starts off like freight train chugging rhythm, sax climbing up melodic scales, then the round modulated tones of the lead guitar, everything laying down the blanket rug for the organ, those undersea tones. LeDonne hitting the keys with a delicate, almost anticipatory phrasing reminiscent of Oscar Peterson. I half expect to hear the distinctive Peterson vocal grunts at the ends of the runs. Next piece is slowed down, brushes on the skins, breathy breaks, a sublime smoky sax solo by Weeds. This is the moment where the band really shines together, polished sound, easing the mind on the major notes that just tumble out of the stage like cows over the moon, fish over a waterfall, life becomes a surreal musical, everything with big eyes and smiles, archetypes of the American dream, hearkening back to the romance of some never was ever there time between 1939 and 1941. Hank Mobley's “A Dab of This and That” is a stand-out of the first set. Sharp organ rhythms that evoke the funk of Lee Morgan’s  Cornbread. Completely cornbread, blue light cooled down jazz funk with the Hammond organ cries and screams over the fat guitar riffs.

The second set comes on fresh with more intensity, fire bursting out of the kindling, red hot, fast, white heat, solo breaks sparkling and loose. Cory Weeds breathes out the very soul of the sound on the sax, notes trembling under controlled pressure. And then there is a Mike LeDonne solo breaking off into soft ivory notes that morphs into digital fragments that roll against each other inside the Leslie like debris from a beautiful wreck of music, the abandonment of structure that marks out the territory of jazz in the 20th century. This is followed by a beautiful ballad-type piece. Organ pumping. The slow undersea pumps and breaths of the Hammond before it kicks into the groove, Cahill lays perfect brushes on the snare, subtle guitar-work by Gannon, long sustained chords of the guitar bleeding into killer organ riffs, monumental heavy sounds like a cathedral springing up in your brain. Solid block beauty. Cory steps out while Mike LeDonne works on some kind of perfection.
The Blue Horse is soaking in all of the beautiful strange sound, muted tones, rounded corners of the sound. Imagine a jazz club from the 50s that you always wanted to hang out in. And although it seems to be in the most unlikely of spaces, the Blue Horse is starting to resonate with the dark and difficult spirit of jazz. Whatever that is. But it is good.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

KMRE Benefit II: Sugar Sugar Sugar, Black Beast Revival, Sir Reginold Cosgrove and His Nighttime Singers - The American Museum of Radio and Electricity - Thursday, October 20th, 2011

Sugar Sugar Sugar - KMRE Benefit - source

KMRE Benefit II: Sugar Sugar Sugar, Black Beast Revival, Sir Reginold Cosgrove and His Nighttime Singers - The American Museum of Radio and Electricity

Thursday, October 20th, 2011

Sir Reginold Cosgrove and His Nighttime Singers start things off. Ambient amp buzz frames the garage band rawness of the group. By the third song, “Itch,” they have got it all locked down. Jumpin G on lead vocals and guitars brings to mind John Doe around “Burning House of Love.” The Rookie nails down a flat 60s retro beat. The Shadow and Sweets anchor guitar and bass respectively while also trading off vocals. Halfway in and I am thinking of Sir Douglas Quintet and the 13th Floor Elevators. Jumpin G lets loose a few primal screams to a rockabilly backbeat, while the Shadow plays a searing lead guitar. And when Sweets sang a sass-filled song towards the end, I imagined that somewhere Wanda Jackson found herself smiling over the brief borrowing of her soul. By the end of their set, they were the embodiment of stripped down rock and roll: loud lightning burning on the stage.

Black Beast Revival start off tight as a noose around the neck, swinging the heavy sound out over the crowd. Snake-like smooth.  Bill Anker’s drumming resonating like tribal skins stretched over the apocalypse. Erin Anderson’s voice has a laid back cool that can suddenly erupt into a wail of fire. Brice Ervin on bass and Zack Van Houten on guitar setting up a driving beat for the open road, thundering bass and guitar leads that scream out of meth nightmares, like a string strung through the skull from ear to ear singing in the brain. Fragments of the Cult, Morphine, Jesus Lizard and Bauhaus splintering off the stage in  feedback drenched dreams of the end of things. Anker’s drumming is simply exceptional, the bones inside the music. This is highway music. Rumbling Harley motor bass. Van Houten’s screaming guitar amped up to high rpms. Anderson’s phrasing is superb: suddenly quiet like a serial killer right next to your ear, stranger on the road, next to you in the bus seat. Near the end of their set is a song with the skull banging rhythm, thundering bass, “Sympathy for the Devil” squeal of the lead guitar and Erin Anderson alternating between an incantatory tone and a tent preacher revival screams. This is religion. Get saved or burn at the hands of an angry god. It just got loud.

Last up is Sugar Sugar Sugar. Of course, it starts with thunder. First song, “Sweet On U.” Big J, Andru Creature and Lupe Flores setting up a James Bond Led Zeppelin fuzzed out bass groove on really good acid. Falsetto hiccup vocals. Lupe drumming with her entire being, inhabiting the drums. Andru there as the embodiment of a paradoxical cool heat, burning with the meaning of the music, the guitar a natural extension of his being. Big J backing it all up exponentially with the sound of fire. Clearly, a band that knows each other - a sound as tight as a diamond knot. Lupe drumming like a demon – imagine Kali with a garland necklace of bloody skulls, hair on fire pounding out the heartbeats of time. The audience gathered around the stage soaking up the spectacle, a sort of tribal ritual, shapes on the wall behind the Sugars like post-Hiroshima shadow dramas enacting something unsayable and strange. All in all, Sugar Sugar Sugar is just a great band burning bright with everything that a band should be: rock solid bottom line, hooks that hang in your brain, searing lead breaks and some sort of utter strangeness, an incomprehensible lyrical idiosyncrasy that makes you fall into the hot core of it all – with absolute surrender and joy. Arc light in the blue of dawn licking the pink centers of your brain. Cotton candy lit on fire and melting into your mouth. The last three songs had the crowd tranced out and blood simple, dancers just shivering on the floor and everyone’s skulls just nodding like dashboard Day of the Dead Calaveras. There is thunder on Bay Street. Yes, it got very loud.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

WWU Faculty Jazz Collective – The Blue Horse Gallery - Wednesday, October 12th, 2011

WWU Faculty Jazz Collective - source

WWU Faculty Jazz Collective – The Blue Horse Gallery

Wednesday, October 12th, 2011

I walk in to the Blue Horse Gallery to the slow padded mallet rumble and rhythm of Julian MacDonough’s drums and an unfurling series of smoky notes from Mike Allens’ sax. Just like that, the world seems to become deeper and richer, filled with the sound of talented musicians working out subtle equations of melody. There is a good crowd here. Attentive. Focused. Listening. Water and wine drinkers. The Professors, as they are called, are relaxed and smiling onstage. The music is excellent.

Adam Thomas, playing the stand-up bass, eases into Ray Charles’ “Black Jack.” Echoes of the ironic phrasing of Mose Allison in his voice. ‘How unlucky can one man be?” I am immediately struck by the level of discipline, control, tightness. At first impression, there is a formality even in the looseness of the performance. But after some time, what is apparent is a simply a higher level of musicianship than is usually present here in town. The next song is by Miles Black, who switches with ease from guitar to the old upright piano behind him. The song kicks off with a beautiful percussive intro, stand-up bass rumbling, the tension building between the two, setting the stage for the piano to step in. By the time Mike Allen’s sax appears, like a snake in the water, your head is sunk into the very heart of jazz. It’s so subtle, like a Zen joke about enlightenment. Makes you want to laugh out loud.

They segue into the Juan Tizol / Duke Ellington standard “Caravan.” Julian knocks out sharp rhythms on the edge of the drums, the sound of stick upon stretched skin. The classic exotic melody seems to catch fire, acquire a life of its own. The musicians play beautifully off of each other. Mike Allen’s sax stretches and twists the melody through time. Miles’ piano remarks in sharp staccato counterpoint response. Julian now playing with his hands, ancient intimate rhythms, ticking punctuation for questions of being that only music can ask, that the performance of live jazz, here and now, seem to particularly ask.

The second set starts off with soft brushes on the drums. Miles Black playing a piano sweet melody - reminding me of the introspective aspects of Bill Evans “I Loves You Porgy.” Bass slow and perfect. Something about the rolling time of the brushes. The languid spaces between the phrases. Mike Allen’s sax stepping in almost with a sense of humor, layering his phrasing with laughter. (Why is it that only jazz musicians seems to have a sense of humor about melody?) They follow this with an original, “Give Me The Moon.’ Siren whine of cymbals fading into leisurely time signatures. Breathtaking sax. Husky whisky sodden notes emerging from the developing structure of the song. Then a sort the melodic clarity. The song settling into its meaning. A sense of a slightly broken promise. The performance goes on into the night, another set, more songs. But it was right there, where the melody unfolded into something unsayable, where you wanted to stop thinking about it all and just let it be.

It’s a dead and beaten horse to say that the experience of jazz is a living thing. But you can wear out the grooves of records (or burn through your sound card) and never match the living performance of jazz. It is what the medium is about. You could go so far as to say you don't know it until you experience it live. You become part of it. Next Wednesday, head down to the Blue Horse for some great jazz by the Professors.