Pete Cosey's Children of Agharta Play the Lower East Side
Cosey opened with an ode to the "People of the Sun" in which he, invoking a style reminiscent of that great wave of spiritual jazz that filled up the last few years of the sixties, laid down some space-age lyrics while beating and squeezing on a stringed diaphragm drum. Next, when the band launched into "So What" Cosey did not fail to disappoint on guitar. When he led on guitar, he screamed out lines that belied the deliberate pace in which Mr. Cosey speaks and presumably lives. It wasn't just the lead work that made his guitar craft so outstanding: gushes of warm delay snaked around his lines, produced by and feeding back through the vast assortment of electronics arrayed at his fingers and feet. Melodies we thought evaporated into the stale air filling that cellar on the Lower East Side would, like phantasms, return from out of the ether, beacons escaping the limbo between Mr. Cosey's amp and Club Cave Canem's sound board.
His comping also warranted remark; Cosey's warm eleventh chords cushioning Dave Liebman's jagged flights on soprano saxophone lent the soloist an ample landing pad. And on top of this guitar, DJ Juice fit right in. Sometimes we did not even notice the DJ-he simply faded into the sound canvas, something remarkable for such a novel jazz instrument to achieve. His scratches waned in and out, weaving around the nadirs and peaks coming from Cosy's guitar, never interfering, always in a supportive role.
The band may not be to everyone's liking; it's sort of the anti-Marsalis. To appreciate this sort of music requires expanding the concept of what makes an instrumentalist musical: it's about chops, but there's less room for the individual, it's more communal. For this band, it wasn't just the technical prowess of Melvin Gibbs pushing out dub-infused bass lines, or Rosado's masterful turntablism, or Lewis' understated drums that made the band so special. It was also the way they interacted with feedback and scratches sculpted into faint birdcalls and echoes hovering somewhere above the stage. There was no sampling going on onstage, but the sound gestured towards the sort of thing the best hip-hop producers put together. In fact, the band closed with an encore pulled from Public Enemy's It Takes a Nation of Millions.
Children of Agharta is the sound of pushing on with creative music-making and casting away preconceived ideas and reservations about what jazz is supposed to sound like. In that way they really do continue with Miles Davis' life work. Unfortunately, that sort of project has fallen on hard times these days. With the difficulty that less traditional jazz has finding a stage in the ever higher rent Manhattan clubs, perhaps there is a little more room for adventure in Mr. Cosey's hometown of (as he pronounced it) Chicaahgey.