Bojan Z - p, Fender Rhodes, Xenophone (website)
Daryl Hall - b
Ari Hoenig - d
Bojan Z's Xenophonia was one of my favourite CDs of 2006. He draws on his Yugoslav roots without sounding retro, in the same way American jazz musicians draw on the Blues. A good example of this is "The Joker," his theme song, a bright and bouncy melody that moves to Balkan rhythms and lodges its hook deep into your memory upon first hearing. In his own music at least, Bojan Z doesn't make use of free jazz in the way, say, Jason Moran does, so in that respect at least, his music is perhaps more accessible, though certainly no less progressive and challenging of traditional formulae. It was hard to come away from this concert not feeling happy.
His compositions mostly aren't made up of cycles through harmonic schemes, but tend to sprawl, sprouting new sections through shifts in texture, changes in rhythm or the addition of new melodies. I often wonder if this kind of semi-through composed small group approach makes improvisation more focused by acting as a guard-rail, but doesn't also strap it down somewhat. But the standard solo-over-a-32-bar-form has its own fallbacks, so I guess the degree of freedom depends on the state of mind with which the material is approached (and maybe some of the sections are themselves spontaneously improvised)? Comments from performers of such material would be welcome.
One of the most interesting aspects of Xenophonia was how tactically piano, Fender and xenophone (in essence, a junkyard Fender) were deployed. The blend was less elaborate live, but there was the added bonus of occasional Sci-Fi FX, such as on "Biggus D," logically on its drum 'n' bass sections and in more unexpected fashion during the solo piano passages. The xenophone got one mighty workout, I think on David Bowie's "Ashes." Over a slow, heavy back-beat, Z's big, anthemic soloing and the xenophone's crunchy sound created a vintage psych-rock feel. Later, on what started as an uptempo swinger with an oriental head and grew into a multi-faceted behemoth, Z used a pedal to modify his Fender's sound and ended up some sort of heir to Alice Coltrane's unbridled organ whoops on "Leo" from Transfiguration. To say nothing of Bojan Z's piano playing, which is fantastic even when he's jokingly quoting "Feelings."
It was my first time seeing Ari Hoenig, and what can you say about him apart that he's totally amazing? Perhaps the most obvious example of his supreme musicality was the precision with which drew pitches from the snare drum on the last tune before the encore (you can hear him do more of that on his album The Painter), but right from the start, a piano-drums duet, the way he tailored his playing to the composition's contours had left no doubt.