Saturday, September 05, 2009

Checked out Chicago Jazz Fest today... it was nice to see William Parker jamming a 2PM side-stage duet with Hamid Drake. (He was playing again at 7PM on the main stage, presenting "the inside songs of Curtis Mayfield" with an octet featuring, oh, Amiri Baraka and Dave Burrell, but for some lame reason I couldn't stay.) This 2PM deal was billed as an "Art of the Solo" presentation, with Parker presumably giving a lecture, demonstration, Q&A, that kind of thing, but when I got there he had the one and only Drake setting up with him, and began the show with some casual and funny remarks about how it was actually going to be an "Art of the Duet" presentation, going on to say that (I'm paraphrasing) "it's significant to be talking about the art of the solo here in Chicago, because the AACM always stressed the importance of developing a solo repertoire, no matter what your instrument. That way, if the piano player doesn't show up, or the trumpet player doesn't make the gig, so what? You're still cool." He talked about how we always expect the bandleaders to be the horn players or the piano players, but "what if all the bassists and drummers went on strike... what would they do then?" He summed it all up by saying, "So, bassists and drummers are extremely important. How do we know? Because trees don't grow from the top down. They grow from the GROUND UP." (This guy would get along with Joe Carducci.) And then he said that they were going to play, and they might stop and talk some more, but that they would probably just keep playing instead, and that maybe when they were actually done they would take questions from the audience, but that he couldn't understand why music would make anyone want to ask any questions, except for one: "Why questions?" And with that, they launched right into the funky, hypnotic, feisty, drony, completely freestyle duo music that they do (check out the Piercing the Veil album for an example), and they did it for a long time. Parker plays his bass like a massive four-piece drumkit, a constant one-chord/universal-chord style, and Drake either pushes it along massively or lights it up with streaks of fire.

Playing simultaneously on the next side-stage over, requiring a little bit of back-and-forth, was Nicole Mitchell's Black Earth Strings. Ever since I saw her lead a large group through an unreal hour-long tribute to Alice Coltrane at Millenium Park's Pritzker Pavilion two years ago, I've been a big fan. This Black Earth Strings group was smaller, more airy, feathery, and etheral, with Mitchell's flute, Renee Baker's violin, and Tomeka Reid's cello fluttering and dancing all around each other, playing intricate bustling melodies and breaking off for careening solos, held down and moved along by the excellent rhythm section of Josh Abrams (bass) and Shirazette Tinnin (drums). I was a little frustrated by the sound, like the band was playing great but having trouble punching through that trademark wind gusting off the lake, but I still think this is what cosmic jazz sounds like today and I really want to hear them play again, as well as check out their new CD Renegades on Delmark Records.

Fred Anderson Trio, Chicago Jazz Fest 2009, photo by mediageek

After that we sat on a blanket and ate up all our snacks while the inevitable Afro-Cuban salsa/jazz fusion band took the stage, absolutely bothering no one, not even myself. I was just lounging, killing time until 5PM, when the main stage at the Petrillo Music Shell was kicking off its evening schedule with a performance by the always-killer Fred Anderson Trio, this time with Drake (again) on drums and Abrams (again) on bass. They came out and basically played for 40 minutes non-stop, starting with an unaccompanied solo by Anderson that cut right through the picnic-blanket crowd chatter, not with honking and screaming, but with forceful punctuation, sharp tone, and deep extended thoughtful melodic lines. You know, Fred Anderson style. Then the rhythm section came in and you know they were good, Abrams with his pulsing guimbri-influenced lines and Drake just being Drake. I've seen him play a lot but he took a drum solo about 10 minutes in that was next-level even for him and basically got a standing ovation. And like I said, they just didn't stop. I'll admit that the momentum came and went, and the transitions between solos, duos, and trios weren't always sharp, but in a way that made it better, because whether he's at the Velvet Lounge or here on this big summer-fest stage in front of a few thousand people, Fred Anderson just shows up, gets into it, and doesn't look back. And the shorter second piece they played was really sublime, Drake coming out front to sit with a big tar drum and sing African style, Abrams driving it with another guimbri-style line, and Anderson sagely hanging back and playing sweet melodic color low in the mix. All in all, it was a beautiful day in Grant Park and the music was perfect... the Chicago Jazz Fest continues to be a sweet end-of-summer ritual in this town.

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