Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Jason Moran - Steve Coleman - Reggie Workman - 13/05/2006, deSingel

We were lucky to have a concert at all: Sam Rivers was originally billed, but dropped out and a Parisian concert was cancelled altogether. At 82 years old, I hope he's doing okay. I was listening to "Fuschia Swing Song" the other day, it's such an amazing album. "Beatrice" has become a jazz standard, but there are other, equally great tunes on FSS. My favourite moment is perhaps the very beginning of the first (and title-) track: tenor and bass alone for a few seconds, Ron Carter walking furiously while Rivers cruises through these magical intervals in a manner that evokes a speeding sleek, obsidian, oblong object. Around the same time, check out his soprano on "Ghetto Lights" (on Bobby Hutcherson's "Dialogue"): it illuminates an already wonderful polyphonic Andrew Hill composition.

Back in the concert hall, Steve Coleman flew in from the USA to save the day. Pianists haven't found much of a place in Coleman's recent work, but on his latest album, "Weaving Symbolics," there are two trio tracks with Moran and young drummer Marcus Gilmore that are somber and mysterious and unexpected (listen to "Tehu Seven") that I love (I love the album as a whole: it's a sprawling two-CD monstrosity that probably triggers the same follow-the-clues neurons in listeners as the "Da Vinci Code" does in readers. I say "probably" because I'm part of the ever-shrinking minority not to have read DVC.) and used to warm up before heading out to Antwerpen. I left the bullet-proof vest at home.

The trio played chamber music that drew on "a menagerie of compositions by (...) a whole bunch of people," according to Moran. The only one I recognised was "Beatrice," although I thought I caught a glimpse of "All The Things You Are," but that was probably the result of my having listened earlier in the day to Monk and Milt Jackson smuggle subversive messages into the song behind whoever was crooning it. Maybe it was where I was sitting, but Moran's attack generally sounded incredibly soft: he depressed the keys like they were pillows. There was none of the Bandwagon's frantic sugar-rush excitement or skittish change-ups: it was all about three musicians, each one a leading member of their generation's re-interpretation of a common heritage, coming together and improvising, quietly.

The music wandered, sometimes fixated on a soulful downwards riff, briefly free-wheeled in a zone somewhere between Sonny Rollins playing cowboy tunes and Jimmy Giuffre's "The Western Suite," once declaimed a series of interconnected unisons, occasionally giving way to sudden eruptions of fury (in a moment of unintentional comedy, Workman's aggressive arco sounded like a cavernous evil leader laugh) and regularly coalesced around duos. With no amplification save the bass amp, everything sounded exquisite, floating, unresolved and thus, liquid, not quite graspable: there were frequent micro-changes in mood, tempo and accompaniment.

Coleman maintained his warm "standards" tone (as opposed to the steely one he generally employs for his own music). When he played alone, on the last song before the encore, the hall's natural resonance was heard to full advantage. Workman shone throughout, but never brighter than when he began the encore alone on bow and intoned a grave quasi-lamentation that almost sounded like something out of the "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" soundtrack.

Afterwards, as Workman was ready to leave deSingel's basement bar, he stopped in front of me and said: "We haven't had a chance to talk." That was precisely the last thing I was expecting, and I only managed to bumblingly assure him of my enjoyment of the concert. We shook hands. I believe it was the first time I had done that with someone who had played with Coltrane. Which brings me back to Sam Rivers. Rivers is actually older than Coltrane and Miles (as are Toots and, I believe, Yusef Lateef), which means that there's no real reason for them not to still be around and playing, apart from the fact they're dead. Just another reminder of how short jazz history actually is.