Saturday, November 20, 2010


It's one thing to hear musicians on a recording but sometimes when you experience them live, you gain an entirely new appreciation for their work. I've heard CDs by Wadada Leo Smith, Vijay Iyer, John Lindberg and Pheroan AkLaff in all sorts of settings but just hearing them live as Smith's Golden Quartet was a revelation. This band has a dazzling, explosive power to it from AkLaff's savage yet melodic drumming to Smith's steely, demonstrative power on trumpet.

     I'd always thought of Smith as a player who dealt in small notes and silences but here his playing was forceful and fiery. In a pre-concert talk he said his music was influenced by the blues and Miles Davis. You could hear both. There was a mournful blue touch in everything he played and Miles was there especially in his muted work and the way he shot out streams of notes over the occasional spate of electric rhythms from Iyer's electric piano and Lindberg's bass effects pedal.  The other major surprise to me was AkLaff who regularly worked his drumming into a nuclear frenzy but was always controlled and maintained the sense of the compositions.

The size of the audience was also heartening. This concert was held at the Coolidge Auditorium in the Library of Congress.  It was an auditorium that held a few hundred people and the place was packed. Every seat was taken and there were a bunch of overflow patrons around. Okay, so the concert was free but we are not talking about household names here. Jazz, especially this forward looking sort, is considered to be a marginal music yet this show drew a stunning number of people. It makes you think there's some hope yet.

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