Ivo Perelman, ESG, Frank London & The Pharcyde
January 30, 2013
The leader of this quartet is actually its least-known member, outside of the hardcore free jazz zone. This gig arrived towards the conclusion of a fortnight's curation at The Stone by Joe Morris, who played upright bass for Brazilian tenor saxophonist Ivo Perelman. The other members were pianist Matthew Shipp and drummer Gerald Cleaver. An impressive combination of players, even before their first notes were sent running. Microphones were strategically placed, and maybe this set will be publicly released one day. That would be a good move, given the potency of the single improvisation presented. Around an hour's worth of fierce momentum, broken up into various subsections, but never relinquishing its linear push.
Initially, the vocabulary was not so removed from the expected roles for each player, but a variety of subversions were on the way. Perelman deliberately focused on a narrow mission of piercing, prodding, repetitive enunciations, highly rhythmic in their progress. Morris and Cleaver set up a blurring storm in the lower depths, whilst Shipp latched onto Perelman, underlining with extremely hard and dense ramming, interspersed with flights of steel-fingered soloing dexterity. His pointillist strikes were of the Cecil Taylor school, but dusted with blues or even gospel trimmings. The overall structure wasn't too far removed from bebop changes, but with the language and execution operating in a more extreme area. Perelman gave way to Shipp, then Morris soloed, followed by a brief lonesome detonation from Cleaver. Perelman became increasingly involved, his cyclic screaming getting so forceful that he began to shower the front row with spittle.
Cleaver introduced the first bout of unpredictability, setting up an intensely repetitive drum pattern that was equal parts rock and funk, hunkering down to his obsessive business. Once again, Shipp responded in kind, and Morris began to set up his own hard-fingered riff. Several times, Perelman's single-mindedness gave way to a restrained silence at the edge of the action, leaving the remaining threesome to brew, lending his reappearances a renewed energy. Shipp moved from brutally slamming rhythmic structures to unfettered single note trills, and it was this contrast that dominated the character of the quartet's improvisation. Maybe the single piece was just a touch too long and maybe Perelman could have periodically widened his vocabulary, but the main mass of this extended adventure vibrated with an immense creative power, emanating from a particularly exciting chemical combination of players.
The Bowery Electric
January 30, 2013
Post-punk Bronx funk group ESG has been together for 35 years, with a relatively brief dormant period in the late 1980s. In recent times, the group has become addicted to threatening repeatedly that a given show will be its last ever appearance. It's a retirement that seemingly never arrives. Last June, ESG heralded its gig at (le) Poisson Rouge in Greenwich Village as its absolute final show, then it was booked in at The Bowery Electric for another "ultimate performance," but had to postpone in the wake of the hurricane. So here it was again, a few months later, in a rather too cosy club, completely sold out and its audience barely able to budge. It's an efficient way to sell tickets, but can ESG resist playing yet another farewell gig when its audience displays such enthusiasm?
This review is as much concerned with event reportage as artistic assessment. It was almost physically impossible to move anywhere once ESG started playing, but a vantage point near the doorway to the basement space made a surprisingly good perch. Even if the view was often obscured by stray limbs, the club's powerful sound system threw the band's weight right to the back of the room, and almost up the stairs. Indeed, the stairway provided almost the only safe haven for dancers. Frustratingly, inside the joint there was no room to actually respond to the nervy ESG disco-funk twitch.
Drummer Valerie Scroggins remained the core triphammer device for rhythmic tension, working closely with Nicole Scroggins' sinuous bass lines. Renee Scroggins' ethereal, deadpan vocals still stand in the centre, her between-song patter sounding much more friendly and down to earth when set beside her singing tone of desolate alienation. The band no longer features a rhythm guitarist, so its sound has returned to a starkly minimalist evocation of seedy post-punk skeletal wired-upness, the epitome of dark ages New York at the turn of the '70s into the '80s. Most of its sleek steppers were delivered, including "Moody," "You're No Good" and "You Make No Sense." ESG will surely return!
Frank London & Jeremiah Lockwood's Songs Of Zebulon
The Firehouse Space
January 31, 2013