With an ever growing business to tend toa new performance space and a bigger concert season, festival programming and CD and DVD production, Jim Staley's appearances in New York are generally limited to one or two a year at Roulette and are often in duet with Ikue Mori, John Zorn or some other stalwart of the early Downtown scene. On March 17th, he put in his appearance with another vet of the scene, Zeena Parkins and dancer Jennifer Monson. The quick set bore all the marks of the aesthetic they both sprang from: falling in and out of synchronicity, unusual dynamics and quick changes. Parkins and Staley can both be surprisingly abrupt in their changesan idea can feel just barely developed and then be scrapped for something new, not even something opposite but contrarily different, which then quickly expands to fill the sonic space. Monson, likewise, created little physical events, strained crawls and rolls (she was almost always below knee level). At its best, abstract improv can seem preplanned, if not telepathic, and the one long piece had the feel of an open rehearsal of a composed dance. In addition to her electric harp, Parkins made use of electronic soundbeds and both Monson and Staley backed off at times to let her take over. Staley, for his part, is the rare improviser who makes powerful use of the same vocabulary year after year. He does little to alter his soundeverything he does is in the individual choices he makes.
~ Kurt Gottschalk
KTU at Knitting Factory
The sounds emanating from a mohawked Finnish singing accordionist, accompanied by a King Crimson rhythm section, are exactly what one would expect. Or perhaps the exact opposite? The group KTU (pronounced "K2 )Kimmo Pohjonen, Pat Mastelotto and Trey Gunnopened an evening of music at The Knit March 12th called the "Finnish Moosic Tour," playing a 40-minute set that showed how many different traditions are present in the Northern Scandinavian country. Equal parts jazz, punk, prog rock, folk and electronica, the resulting melange was visceral and distinctive, something Gunn and Mastelotto, guitarist and drummer respectively for '90s King Crimson, were particularly suited to propel. But it was Pohjonen that drew the most attention, for reasons both superficial and deep. Though his growling chants and forceful stage persona were stirring, it was his accordion playing, augmented by electronics, that was most compelling. Alternately taking the role of a piano, guitar, horn or drone instrument, the strident tones and bombastic flurries were a far cry from the instrument's traditional warmth. The songs were discrete but functioned in a similar fashion to a DJ-created playlist at a dance club, with lots of repeat and conquer and movement in microtonal spurts. For all this energy and intricacy, the largely Finnish audience was absolutely impassive, absorbing the radiated energy without reflecting any back to the trio.
Randy Weston at Jazz Standard
The long piano intro that Randy Weston opened his first set with at Jazz Standard (March 22nd) was nothing if not encapsulatory. The rumbling, celebratory exposition initiated what would be a particularly spiritual performance, made more so by a particularly spiritual guest, saxophonist Billy Harper, augmenting Weston's trio with bassist Alex Blake and percussionist Neil Clarke. For three songs, all referencing what is Weston's musical foundation (African Village Bed-Stuy, African Sunrise and African Cookbook), the quartet explored an earthy and exuberant dynamic as much about rhythm as traditional jazz harmony. Just because it was at Jazz Standard didn't automatically call for Standard Jazz. The rhythms percolated, emanating from Weston's thick chord voicings, Clarke's triumphant percussion and the meaty, almost primeval slaps of Blake's bass. Blake often stole the show, be it during long vocalized solos or in tandem with Harper's rich tenor. In an hour that would see most bands playing at least five or six pieces, the trio of tunes were presented in long, sprawling versions, with Weston informing the proceedings with unexpected colorations. His playing at times shares a sensibility with another pianist who too uses Africa for his titles, Abdullah Ibrahim. But Weston likes to vary his dynamics more and uses the piano as another percussive instrument, melody implied and vivacity in the forefront. At over 80 years old, Weston exudes joyous sincerity.
~ Andrey Henkin
Ray Bryant at Rubin Museum