Friday, February 28, 2020

2 Nights 4 Trios 1 Duo

Try to tip over a tricycle, a three-legged stool, or a tripod and you will connect to the sturdiness of the trio format, especially when it comes to the rock or jazz configuration of a rhythm section plus a lead instrument. Over two nights in the last week I had ample opportunity to experience the wonders of trios in very different settings. And then there was one wacky duo just to keep me on my toes. 

UV-TV at The Broadway (2/21/20)

UV-TV: Rose Vastola, Ryan Hopewell & Ian Bernacette

I was just saying I hoped to see UV-TV in concert soon, now that they’ve moved up here from Florida, when they popped on Bandsintown! And they were just as good as I expected, with Rose Vastola’s taut and tense bass lines holding together Ryan Hopewell’s poly-rhythmic drumming and the colorful sprays of sound from Ian Bernacette’s guitar. Vastola and Bernacette traded off vocals for extra variety and they played a new song that could be the one that puts them over. But get in on UV-TV now before you’re behind the curve. 

Swear Tapes
The Lifters
First up at The Broadway were Swear Tapes, the band led by Jim Barrett of Bass Drum of Death, and their jangly, slightly off-kilter indie rock was full of heart and slightly bruised, like a Paul Westerberg ballad. Check out their terrific new song, The Gall.

The middle child in the lineup, The Lifters, also had touches of The Replacements, along with Ramones and a strain of midwestern "rawk" that, along with the garbled stage announcements, added the levity implied by their name. But don’t think they weren’t utterly committed because they meant every word. If they come up with more stuff as good as Are You Ready For The Good Life they’ll make an even more lasting impression. 

Bearthoven at Le Poisson Rouge (2/27/20)
Karl Larson, Pat Swoboda & Matt Evans

Bearthoven's recording of Scott Wollschleger’s American Dream was one of the best albums of 2019 so I was ON IT when I heard they were playing two new pieces at LPR. First up was the world premiere of Uniforms by Shelley Washington, the composer, saxophonist and founder of Kinds of Kings. Aside from a recorded narration at the start, which seemed intrusive, Uniforms proved to be four movements of exquisite chamber music. During the sections that percussionist Matt Evans played vibes, there was a precision to the way his instrument matched Karl Larson's piano that, when combined with Pat Swoboda's active work on bass, hearkened back to both the Second Viennese School and Afro-Cuban jazz. The angular rhythms became even more pronounced when Evans switched back to drum set, almost placing us in a 1970's jazz loft yet never losing the European structure. While Washington is pulling from different traditions, Uniforms still felt like an assured statement of her own musical identity and I can't wait to hear it again. 

The second piece Bearthoven offered us was the NYC premiere of Michael Gordon's, Mixed Tulips - you gotta check out the teaser trailer - which they played on the road a few times before bringing it to LPR. This extraordinary piece is one of the best things I've heard from Gordon, a stunning deployment of the trio that had Swoboda on five-string electric bass and Evans on prepared percussion. With a good amount of the 25-minute piece in phrases built on 16th notes, the excitement never let up, and it was easy to see why Larson called it "ecstatic music." There was also a bit of King Crimson's menacing swing when Swoboda unleashed on bass, strumming it and really letting that extra low string growl. Special note must be made to Evans' work on the drums, which were covered with black cloth and prepared with small things that pinged and thwacked. To be honest, even though I was sitting within a yard or two of him, there were moments when I had no idea what he was doing to make the sounds I was hearing. The only reasonable conclusion I could draw is that he is one of the best drummers alive - and he would have to be to play with Larson and Swoboda. There is a quality the playing of all three members of Bearthoven that goes beyond virtuosity into pure expression. No wonder Gordon verily leapt onto the stage to join in the loud ovation for the performance. 

Larson told me after the show that they will definitely record Mixed Tulips but that they're still getting comfortable with the piece. Lord knows what it will sound like when that happens! In the meantime, keep an eye out for New Topographics, the debut solo album from Evans, which is coming in April.

Karl Larson

Pat Swoboda

Matt Evans
Kicking things off at LPR was Popebama, the wild and witty duo of saxophonist Erin Rogers and percussionist Dennis Sullivan. But unless you've seen Erin Rogers play and heard her absolute mastery of extended techniques, saying she plays saxophone is about as descriptive as saying Jimi Hendrix plays guitar. Sullivan was the perfect match for her, whether combatively triggering sounds for her to mimic or being her partner in crime as she pulled his violin bow across a cymbal or he slapped a bucket on the bell of her tenor. A clue to their methodical madness was in Sullivan's description of the how the text for the last piece came to be. Called Shedding Weight, it used YouTube's attempt at close-captioning Mark Applebaum's notorious Aphasia as a source of random language. While cerebral in conception, Shedding Weight is purely visceral in experience and, like everything Popebama does, both dazzling and hilarious. I'd catch them at your next opportunity, a sentiment that goes for all the ensembles described above.
Popebama: Dennis Sullivan & Erin Rogers
You may also enjoy: 
Shamans Of North Sixth 
Concert Review: Jack In The Crypt
Concert Review: A Braxton Spectacular at Miller
2019 First Quarter Report: The Concerts

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