We were able to catch only Finlayson, of Steve Coleman’s Five Elements, who led a quintet with the fiery Jacques Schwarz-Bart on tenor, Vijay Iyer on piano, Reggie Washington on bass and Damion Reid on drums. Sporting an extraordinary (and I mean extraordinary) haircut, the trumpeter played one fiery original before bringing Hargrove up to join for a swinging piece called “Boston Trailer Park.” Hargrove then displayed a lovely singing voice on the plaintive ballad “Prisoner of Love" (shades of Billy Eckstine). But before Finlayson could call the next tune, Hargrove launched into “Rhythm-a-Ning.” Here’s where the leader issue got sticky. Finlayson appeared a bit miffed as the band reluctantly joined Hargrove on this unplanned detour through up-tempo rhythm changes. Things got back on track with a thorny, mid-tempo funk chart called “Reorientation Conversation” and a rubato epilogue which closed the set. A superb player, Finlayson is far more introverted than Hargrove. This pairing didn’t allow his talents to shine through as brightly as they might have.
Jonathan Kreisberg — The guitarist has a weekly Wednesday gig downstairs at La Lanterna , a small café/bar/restaurant in the West Village. We heard him there with bassist Gary Wang and drummer Mark Ferber, all playing with passion and abundant chops on tunes like “Just In Time,” “Nefertiti,” “Secret Love” and “How About You?” Kreisberg also sounded superb on ballads like “Moon River,” “Prelude to a Kiss” and “Blue In Green,” often smuggling in original conceptions in the form of vamps, unaccompanied interludes and other surprises. Although they weren’t regulars on the gig, Wang and Ferber got deep inside Kreisberg’s head and displayed a remarkably quick response time. Kreisberg had just come off a recording session with his breathtaking quintet, and in late October he joins the Criss Cross family via a trio date with Larry Grenadier and Bill Stewart — both of whom of course made up Metheny’s rhythm section for a time.
Liberty Ellman — The guitarist has a brand-new release on Pi called Tactiles, and he celebrated its release with a fiery gig at the Gallery. Eric Harland and Stephan Crump play drums and bass, respectively, on the record (along with Greg Osby on three tracks), but Ellman had a different and equally powerful live rhythm section in Brad Jones and Derrek Phillips. Mark Shim brought the session to a rolling boil with his throaty, high-velocity tenor. Ellman’s writing has never sounded better: witness the shimmering ballad harmonies of “Body Art,” the rapidly unfolding lines of “Ultraviolet,” the slow, suggestive dance of “Rare Birds,” and the convoluted grooves of “Grass Loops” (which didn’t make it onto the album). Guitar-wise, Ellman was lucid and energetic, spiking his raw single-note phrases with unpredictable changes in timbre. At times he sounds like a funky incarnation of Joe Morris.
Matana Roberts with Henry Grimes/Miya Masaoka — This lineup, scuttled on August 14 thanks to the blackout, was finally able to take place at the Jazz Gallery toward the end of October, and it lived up to its initial promise. In a format unusual for the Gallery, the evening began with an electro-acoustic improvisation by Miya Masaoka, o.blaat (aka Keiko Uenishi) and Pamela Z, followed by a Q&A with the audience. The event was held under the banner of the Creative Music Convergence (formerly Coalition). Salim Washington served as moderator.
We learned during the Q&A that Pamela Z, on voice and electronics, came on board at Masaoka’s request, just as Masaoka was heading out the door to the gig. The results were quite fresh, even a bit spooky at times. Uenishi’s cryptic, whispery voice samples meshed with Z’s sonorous vocal tones and Masaoka’s deliberate clicking, scraping and strumming on the koto. The volume was low, and the amount of space left between events was considerable. Close attention was required, and rewarded.