Lex van Rossen, Getty Images For the music obsessed, every year has a musical…
- Posted on Oct 22nd 2010 9:30AM by Tad Hendrickson
The two remained in touch throughout the years and there was talk of playing together, but it didn't happen until 2009 as part of the Made in Chicago Festival. After the performance, both saxophonists agreed that they needed to do something more. Flash forward to New York City's Jazz Standard and the two are on the final night of a scintillating run from Oct. 14 through 17 that celebrated the release of 'Apex.'
As with the album, the two saxophonists are joined by pianist Jason Moran, bassist François Moutin and drummer Damion Reid (Jack DeJohnette played on half the album, subbing for an ailing Reid). On paper this looks like an all-star band, but really it's a tangled New York jazz scene kind of thing where everyone but Green had played together in various groups, and Moran actually has played with both saxophonists and appeared on Green's 'Another Place' from 2006.
The early set on Sunday opened with the first four songs from the album. The brief 'Welcome' began with an open Middle Eastern line that hangs in the air until it resolved by going into an Albert Ayler-esque march that was the seamless jumping-off point for 'Summit.' Here the two horn players traded lines and play in unison, and it's a perfect introduction to how the two are alike and unalike. Tonally speaking, Green's sound was brighter and more crisp, seemingly jumping off the bandstand. Mahanthappa's, on the other hand, was smokier and more nuanced while still filling the room. After everyone solo-ed, the band circled around to the march again, putting an emphatic exclamation mark on a dazzling first 15 minutes of the set.
The aptly named 'Soft' followed with a nice bass solo. The tune recalled the soulful songcraft of Atlantic-era Coltrane, with elegant melodies and rich harmonies that provided a broad canvas for improvisation. After the first solo established itself, the bass seemed to anchor the quiet section, but then Moran and Green starting piling on triplets and eighth notes for a chaotic middle section that was jarring (in mostly a good way) as it destroyed the spell of the opening. Then things settled in for the final section, seemingly with a fresh canvas once again filled with possibilities.
From there the band went on to what was the best and most confounding song of the night, 'Playing With Stones.' With long horn lines that again recalled North Africa and the Middle East out front, the tune's meter was nearly impossible to figure out (I would later find out from Mahanthappa, who composed it, that it's a "21-2 with a hiccup"). It was impressive to see the rhythm section, and Reid in particular, manage the odd pulse on his kick drum, never flagging and sometimes pushing the other players if they seemed to lose the thread. At times during the set he resembled a polyrhythmic mechanical monkey, leaving his head and body completely still amid the flurry of limbs, never was it more apparent than here.
The band finished out with Green's 'Eastern Echoes' and 'Who.' Both seemed to build on the ideas already put forward earlier in the set, melding hints of South Asian and North African compositional structures, as well as finding a solid balance between knotty compositions and soulful balladry. They always seemed to find that sweet spot between not going far enough and going too far.
Perhaps it's the dual leadership of this group that gives the music its tasteful zing. Rather than trying to outdo one another on some macho ego trip, the band's music and its two alto players play with respect, both for each other and the music itself. With an album fast-tracked for year-end accolades, the two altos will likely get a chance to share their music with more fans as word spreads of this incredible project.
Here's what our friends at All About Jazz have been up to:
Dan Willis: The Voice of a Tone Poet
Kenny Werner: New, Transcendent Sounds
'The Satie Project,' Dan Willis and Velvet Gentlemen
'No Beginning No End,' Kenny Werner
'Songs From the Breastbone Drum,' Domina Catrina Lee
FREE MP3 DOWNLOADS
'Transit,' Nat Janoff (from 'Come Together Move Apart')
'Second Gymnopedie,' Dan Willis and Velvet Gentlemen (from 'The Satie Project')
'Tight Like This,' Brad Goode (from 'Tight Like This')