Sticks & Stones
Matana Roberts - as, cl
Josh Abrams - b
Chad Taylor - d
Fred Anderson Trio
Fred Anderson - ts
Harrison Bankhead - b
Chad Taylor - d
Ernest Dawkins - as, ts, stuff
The last time I had been to this Arts Centre in the east Belgium town of Hasselt, it had been to see the Peter Brötzmann Tentet. The Centre is a horrible concrete cube at the end of a covered driveway that gives the impression of walking into a mechanic's. The place's cubeness does nothing for its acoustics: music and noise reverberated and clashed noisily in my ears, a masochistic blend of pleasure and pain. This time, a trio and a quartet performed, so wild over-amplification was brought in to obtain the same effect. Still, as my main live contact with the Chicago scene had been through Ken Vandermark, I was happy to see another side of it.
Sticks & Stones opened, playing an attractive kind of modern jazz, one that mixed deconstruction with hard-blowing free jazz, some groove and occasionally reached back to something more old-fashioned. For example, the first piece opened with little noises, leading to a drum solo accompanied by Abrams on one of those latin double cowbells and Roberts adding another layer of rhythm with a pair of drumsticks used as a clave. Over a loose vamp, Roberts's clarinet wails were reminiscent of "Rhapsody in Blue" and old Spirituals. The next piece was a head-scratching arrangement of Monk's "Skippy." Roberts switched to alto (which she would keep the rest of the night) and regularly built up to furious late Coltrane/Ayler screams, only to pause to inject some rough-voiced melody, or muse in a more Greg Osby/Steve Coleman-playing-standards vein. It was at this point that I noticed the huge white flower perched over her right ear. Combined with her huge, flowing green-gold gown, she looked like a strange mix of Billie Holiday and Lester Young. After the show, she kept the flower, but changed into a black jacket with a portrait of Angela Davis on the back and a red fluffy skirt.
After a more restive (though occasionally agitated) take on Billy Strayhorn's ballad "Ishafan," Abrams and Taylor launched into a stormy accompaniment that Roberts rode with a langourous long-note melody. Abrams played a driving and involving solo before a tumultous drum solo led to an Elvin and Coltrane-type moment, with Roberts playing strident long notes and starchy trills, before ending the set gently.
At 76, Fred Anderson is so hunched that his tenor almost touches the ground, and yet his playing continues to retain the toughness and fleetness of a Johnny Griffin. This set was all about celebration: the 40th anniversary of the AACM, the joyousness and uplifting spirit of the unruly intertwining of two lines supported by a parade two-beat, Dawkins choosing a whistle or horn amongst his tableful of miscellaneous noise-making implements.
Between three long pieces, a short one celebrated the anniversary with Dawkins singing "A-A-C-M / 40 years!" and devolving into funny noises as the rest of the band powered on. Bankhead liked to dedicate his solos. The first, whose middle-eastern nature was reinforced by the bassist's muezzin-like vocalising, was dedicated to the Pope, while the second, a swinging, walking, slapping, sometimes running or hopping romp, was given over to "the spirit of Chicago, the big tenor sound." As Anderson played ferociously, Dawkins became a one man horn section, blowing both horns in a riffing exhortation. As an encore, a six note invocation was repeated over and over, before Dawkins took a solo full of bluesy smears.