I was working the merch table and hanging out backstage, so I missed some parts of the performance. It's remarkable how good Gesù sounds from the back, too! When I was listening intently, I didn't miss a note. Jon Wikan's opening filtered, delayed cajón on "Phobos" came through clearly in the wings. The rhythm section of Gordon Webster on piano and Wurlitzer, Sebastian Noelle on guitar, Matt Clohesy on basses, and Wikan were the tightest I've heard them yet, nailing the rock-, funk-, and electronica-influenced grooves that anchor many parts of Argue's music.
The highlight for me was the new piece, "Chapter 1: Neighborhood," from the upcoming Brooklyn Babylon project. It introduces leitmotifs from the rest of the suite, each of which reflects a certain hallmark of Argue's compositional vocabulary: the opening, post-Minimalist E pedal in the piano and reeds, shifting towards an almost disco-like backbeat for Mark Small to soar over, which returns after a circus waltz with a sombre lining.
The soloists in the band are phenomenal, and are adept at structuring their improvisations around the long forms that Argue provides: trumpeter Matt Holman's solo on "Induction Effect" gradually twisted and turned its way out of the glowing brass and reed accompaniment, going into some nearly Lester Bowie-like sounds before landing on Clohesy's propulsive, funky bass groove. Trombonist James Hirschfield's solo on "Habeas Corpus (for Maher Arar)" captured the sobs, declamations, and testimony of those submitted to extraordinary rendition. Ingrid Jensen always stuns in her feature on "Transit," ascending through her whole range and continually ratcheting up the gears. I've been a fan of Argue's music for years and I know these tunes well, and yet when the groove lands in "Transit," mid-solo, I'm always happily surprised.
* = There was a "Secret Society North" performance a few years ago at Sala Rossa, where the rhythm section and the Canadian expats in the horns were rounded out by Montreal and Toronto cohorts.
I stuck around at Gesù for the concert of Rudresh Mahanthappa and Bunky Green. Mahanthappa's records are consistently fascinating, especially his collaborations with fellow altoists (Apex, with Green, and Kinsmen with Kadri Gopalnath). From what I heard of the soundcheck, I was very eager to hear it live. Also, I don't remember the last time - if there was one - that Bunky Green was in town.
They opened Mahanthappa's "Summit" with an E pedal that was somewhere between qawwali and Coltrane. Mahanthappa was smoothly bending notes, before it shifted up to F and into a fast swing. While Mahanthappa and Green blend fairly well on the album, at Gesù their sounds could not have been more contrasting. Green's sound was darker and a little rounder than Mahanthappa's, which was bright and came thrusting forward out of the bell. Throughout the show, Mahanthappa was visibly happy to be sharing the stage with Green, and was audibly directing the band, calling out each of the sections on "Soft."
The rhythm section was comprised of pianist Matt Mitchell, bassist Carlo de Rosa, and drummer Damion Reid. This version of the band was stacked towards Mahanthappa's sound - Reid trades the drum chair with DeJohnette on the album; de Rosa is the bassist on Kinsmen; and Mitchell assumes the piano bench from Jason Moran. Of Mitchell, Mahanthappa said, "I call him New York's secret weapon. So watch out for Matt Mitchell... just watch out!" Mitchell reminded me of Craig Taborn, in his ability to use a wide swath of the jazz language, from extraterrestrial bebop, to energetic modal comping, to dense clusters of sound. In his solos he would often play across the time. de Rosa proved to be as fluid a soloist as either of the hornmen, getting around the bass in a way I've rarely heard or seen. I would have liked him to be just the slightest bit louder in the mix during his comping - the definition of his notes got a little bit lost at the back of the room. Reid was propulsive, well-versed in Mahanthappa's rhythmic language, and quick to respond to the other soloist's rhythmic ideas - almost too much so. By the end of the set, it sounded like he was so eager to join other people's phrases that he steamrolled over them in the mix. While he had a great fast, swing feel on the closing tune, and was all over the odd-meter, straight-eighth grooves, his slower swing on Green's "Little Girl, I'll Miss You," or the Elvin-derived 6/8 on "Playing With Stones" felt a little stiff.
It was a great privilege to see Green, who sounded in fantastic form. In his sound, you hear the roots of Mahanthappa (and I heard a bit of the seeds of Matana Roberts' sound, too). His subtle but emotionally powerful vibrato on "Little Girl, I'll Miss You" effectively summed up a good chunk of jazz history. He easily navigated the rhythmic juggernauts that Mahanthappa constructed, and his own tunes provided some of the best piano work of Mitchell's night. It's unfortunate that as I exited Gesù for the evening, I looked for some of his discs and agent Nick Venti told me "They're all mostly out of print." As the first night of an extended tour for Apex, let us hope that someone will reissue Green's work, to inspire another generation of listeners.