13 December 2007

Review: Ribot|Frisell|Krantz

7 December 2007

OK, this might get a little long and a lot silly... so you've been warned.

You know how a lot of semi-cheesy yeah-we-all-love-'em 80's flicks had some sort of super-amazing move that no one ever thinks can be done? And then they're pulled off and like, holy shit! Well, last Friday night, I had the guitar-god equivalent of Maverick's inverted dive with the MiG, Thornton Melon's Triple Lindy and Daniel Larusso's crane technique to win the All-Valley. A downtown Manhattan triple bill that didn't seem possible and yet, was so tempting to try, I just had to kick the grin off John Kreese's face when presented the opportunity.

Ribot... Frisell... Krantz. All three. In one night. Are you freakin' kidding me? If you know these guys, then you know. If I were to keep a list in my back pocket of my top five guitar players (and I am not above maintaining such a thing), there is no doubt these guys would be on it, if not numeros uno, dos and tres. I will be telling my grandchildren about Pearl Harbor Day, 2007, the day my brain got the kamikaze treatment.

To think, it might not have happened at all. I'd been feeling like dog poop for a few days to the extent where I took my first legit sick day in probably a year on Friday. I already had my ticket for Bar Kokhba, so I sucked it up in a Nyquill stupor and made it out the door not knowing just how I'd fare once I was on the train. A long midday nap had done me proper and I felt a surge coming on. Maybe, just maybe I'd make a night of it.

John Zorn's Bar Kokhba was playing their first of two Hanukkah-ish nights at Abrons Arts Center (last visited upon for another amazing Zorn-heavy evening). This was the "old material" night, Saturday the new stuff endeavor. We were there when the doors opened and sat pretty much D.F.C. and didn't have to wait too much longer for the ensemble to fill the stage. To look at them -- Zorn as conductor, Mark Feldman on violin, Greg Cohen on bass, Erik Friedlander on cello, Joey Baron on drums, Cyro Baptista on percussion and, a little transcendence I like to call MRibot on guitar -- is not to sense that you may be looking at one of the most talented bunch of musicians money can buy. No, the words schlep and schmata come to mind, with Marc taking the prize for the "most likely to have just rolled out of bed" look.

But the music, oh that music! How would you describe Bar Kokhba? In words, I mean, not with the general expression of a jaw dropped to the ground. There are boundaries out there, lines and demarcations: east/west, loud/soft, new world/old world, religious/secular, fast/slow, classical/jazz/rock. It's not that this band exists on one side or another or represents one slice of the Venn diagram. It's like all those lines are there inside the music itself. There is a Judaism in the music, but it is telling that this group is lead by a man in tsitsit but play quite readily on a Friday night. There is a sit-down chamber music atmosphere to the group and yet the most distinctive sound is a reverb-laden surf guitar. There are many dilemmas in music, but with this band, the music is the conundrum. All that and just about as beautiful as you can imagine music ever being.

I could go on, Ferdmania went on Saturday night and did a pretty good job capturing it with fresher ears than mine. So go check that out. This is mostly about Marc Ribot who tops any list of mine. It just doesn't get any better. I always say that with Marc each gig stands alone but takes on so much more when considered as just one set of one lifelong gig. Context matters and it doesn't... you're never getting the full picture in one sitting and yet whatever you're getting is always enough. Friday night was Marc Ribot: Pure Ecstasy version. His first real solo came in the second number and I have no trouble saying it was the best guitar playing I've seen in the past 12 months or maybe more. It started quiet and light and reverberating like nothing else. This is surf rock Ribot at its finest, you could march a small army of musicians through the reverb when he's playing like that. It crested in a quick flurry, settled back down in some insanely gorgeous fingering, came back to a dipsy doodle high, dropped back and climaxed one final time. I got the chills -- literally goose bumps on my pasty whites -- no less than two times during that solo. That playing set the pace for the entire night: intravenous, straight to the brain and man, did I have the jones, bad!

I think for pure adrenaline and rush, I enjoy Electric Masada more than just about any band out there, but there's something about Bar Kokhba. It's the talent for one. You'd have trouble convincing me there's anyone better at each slot. But it's more than that, it's the way they bring something different out in each other. The strings somehow temper the urge in Marc or Cyro to go kinda crazy, like they dress up nice. At the same time those guys bring out a little more swing in Friedlander and Feldman as Zorn pushes them to pluck there way like they're almost rock stars. The energy between them is the greatest kind of tension, like a friendly game of capture the flag as the violin and cello capture the electric guitar and bring him to their side of the field, only to be captured back by the bopping Baron on drums or off-kilter percussion who bring a little wailing Friedlander back for good measure. Fun to watch, Friday is the kind of set that would never translate fully in recording. Awe-inspiring to listen to. The Abrons is a perfect spot for this kind of show. Good shit.

The played exactly an hour of "classic" material off the must-have Circle Maker disc and then were coaxed back for an encore where they played a couple of "new ones" with a shrug from Zorn. The second of these -- called "91" or something equally as nameless -- was epic, a composition to outdo much of Zorn's countless other Masada songbook tunes. Wrapping your mind around this music is like wrapping your mind around the laws of physics or basic axioms of mathematics. Beauty at its most fundamental. There's a slight chance I got my $20 worth.

So, I really should have gone home at this point, Friday or not, I was holding back painful chest-congested coughs and releasing them between each song. But Pandora's Box was opened and my mind was hopping with possibilities. My real hope was to check out Elvis Perkins, one of my real discoveries for this year, at Bowery Ballroom. I knew it was sold out, but it was a quick walk from Abrons and what the hell, maybe I find a ticket outside. Of course, we know how this turns out, but there was nothing brewing over there. It was about 10:05 at this point and the permutations were cycling in that little devious portion of my brain that Morning Neddy hates so much. Things would have to work out perfectly... what the hell! Set up the high dive, I was going in for the Triple Lindy.

I fast-walked it to the Grand St. subway stop (it's always best to let the MTA decide your fate in these matters, worst thing that happens is you're out $2), the train came immediately. Hopped out in the West Village and was at 55 Bar at 10:20. There was a line there which was obviously people waiting to buy tickets for Wayne Krantz's late show. The early show was just getting rolling and there were about 10 people standing there, at least half of which didn't seem to have any clue about how things were operating there. I was growing impatient but couldn't get anyone to move at a pace of my liking. Finally, at 10:30, I got my ticket to the late show and had about 1 hour to kill. Ribot > Krantz was a thing to behold, but holy shit, was this really happening? I jetted over the couple blocks to the Blue Note where there was a similar sized line waiting just as the guy at the door was saying "standing room only left, $20 to stand at the bar!" The music hadn't started yet, even though the 10:30 set time was a few minutes behind. He let a group of 4 in, then a group of 2 -- "the music won't start until I say it does" -- 4 more, then a single... a couple people left but it was becoming increasingly clear that it was going to happen. It was me and then two guys behind me, the last 3 in the door.

Bill Frisell, Ron Carter, Paul Motian... are you gleeping fer real!?!? Standing at the bar wasn't really all that bad. There was actually a clear shot to the stage, a speaker just for us and a straight shot for the exit to make sure this trifecta was pulled off properly. Just the notion that I was standing in the meat portion of the most delicious sandwich ever concocted by 6 strings had me giddy for the entire set. The three men... legends?... came out shortly after the doors closed. I ordered an obligatory Basil Hayden's that cost nearly the same as my admission price and sipped it most delicately. Bring it on!

In short, Ribot is my favorite... but no one guitar player is as impressive inside the jazz idiom as Bill Frisell. I love Bill in so many lineups and while this isn't my favorite, it is probably the purest and the most talented. I would place these guys in a league with the Jarrett/DeJohnette/Peacock trio (and probably no one else) as the quintessential jazz combos out there. They actually give off a similar vibe to those guys. This is not a trio that is concerned with what they are playing at all -- the songs are standards or sound like standards, the sounds of "American music" in quotes, italics, underlined and bold faced -- but rather how they play. And let me tell you, they play quite amazingly. Frisell fits into the narrative here, but I was mesmerized mostly by Ron Carter the whole set. Such pure melodic bass playing, he was a legend showing the legends how it's done. Songs would begin with such a benign drive and then suddenly disassociate, water splitting into hydrogen and oxygen and then those atoms splitting into electrons, protons and neutrons and then on down until there was just pure energy, not associated with any form or element whatsoever. The music was free from any mooring and yet constantly, well, amazing. Ribot and company melted my brain and Frisell and company heated my liquid neurons until they evaporated into the air with them... the music so light and gaseous, a vapor filling the room.

I ducked out one song til the end because: Krantz beckoned. Of the three guitar giants described herein, Wayne Krantz is likely the one you may be least familiar with. It's a shame of sorts, but really it's part of the appeal. Wayne Krantz is a guy, a master of the electric guitar, but it's also a type of music and one of the greatest secrets I've ever been lucky to be privy to. I've spun tomes of superlatives trying to capture the Wayne Krantz experience, see here or here or here for an example. Krantz was a Thursday night ritual for so many years when seeing music felt like my job and everything else was supporting the habit in one way or another... then when those days fizzled into real life, he/it was a luxury good, a special treat when the timing worked out right... then he decided it was time to move on and I couldn't even arrange it so that I was there to bid him a proper adieu. So, when he gave it the ole Jimmy Chitwood "I think it's time I started playing ball again" call for a two night stint at the old 55 Bar, I put the date on the calendar and hoped against hopes. Maybe I'd make it out for Thursday, but when it came I was too under-the-weather to even consider it.

So, it was with some luck and much gratitude to the music gods that I found myself there for the last of four sets; making my way into 55 Christopher with barely a minute to spare; the musicians taking their place at the end of the cozy room; the unholy trinity being realized here on earth.

Wayne Krantz -- you are fucking nasty, nasty, one crazy fucking kind of nasty. It's hard to imagine that the same instrument that Ribot and Frisell used to part clouds in the sky and let me envision a little bit of my own heaven was used by Krantz to rip open the earth below me against the grain and show me a bit of fiery, evil hell... but in a good way! Take Bar Kokhba and draw a line around it and you have the Frisell trio, skirting the edges of all that fleshy interior. Take BK and invert it, take the negative, turn the blacks to white and the whites to black and you've got Wayne Krantz.

On Friday night Wayne was joined by Cliff Almond and Paul Socolow on bass. The trick to Krantz's music is not in the way the guitar playing leads the music but rather how the guitar, bass and drums mash up together like red yellow and blue to make brown, glorious, glorious brown. I don't think I've ever seen this formulation of the Krantz trio before, of course, I'm partial to the sublime K3 combo of Krantz/Lefebvre/Carlock, but this is as close to that as I've ever seen. The band was on fire! From the first lick, they hit the ground at 120MPH and didn't slow, cease or abate for a full hour of boot-through-the-skull shredding. Like I said, this is a genre unto itself, existing in the rock/jazz/funk realm and yet not quite willing to be lassoed with words in any coherent manner.

The "songs" are merely serving suggestions, ways in which the music gets started and then, just like Frisell lead his gang, they split in two and then four and then 16, until the original themes were minced or pureed or completely liquefied. The thing that separates the way Krantz and company do this is that it is at such a breakneck speed and at such a volume that your brain and body have trouble dealing with it. I've oft described the "Krantz laugh" which is what your body involuntarily will do when it reaches its breaking point and needs to reset. At some shows you clap when you've been impressed, but with Krantz, simple applause will not cut it and instead you will hear random bouts of laughter in the audience around you at various points in the show. Quite often the giggling is coming from your own mouth, with your conscious self quite unaware. I guess you could describe the experience as orgasmic. I've seen Wayne plenty of times in the past and Friday night was as good as it gets, just one long connected train of notes applied directly to the cortex. Socolow doesn't quite bring out the electronica-bent that Timmy does, but rather digs underneath the guitar and just inflates it with billowing bass blowouts, keeping it in the deep registers before exploding with a flurry of higher notes. Almond was perfectly hyperkinetic all night, if Krantz played a million notes over the course of the set, Cliff hit his drums a million and one times just to be safe. There is a slight chance I soiled my shorts at some point during this last set of the night.

The only downer of the whole night was the bitchy staff at the 55 Bar. Won't go into detail, they've always been a bit on the whiny side for me, but yo, frumpy looking waitress, lose the attitude!

Then, with nary a "it's been great being back" or "maybe I'll play again soon" kind of glimmer of a comment, Wayne said thanks, the lights were promptly turned on and the evening came to an abrupt end. Obviously, Mr Krantz was not aware of his role in the great one man guitar crusade I had just finished. He must not have felt my bare foot slap across his face as the judge declared "point! winner!" Cause if he had, he most certainly helped me lift my trophy with a "you're alright Larusso." Maybe I'll get more of a reaction in the sequel...

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