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Jenny Scheinman’s Mischief & Mayhem turned in a provocative set last night at the Village Vanguard. The dreamy passages were mixed with gnarled spikes of sound provided by guitarist Nels Cline and drummer Jim Black. Bassist Todd Sickafoose (who needed to be brought forward in the mix) was a second percussionist as well, insightfully flecking the pieces with stabs of propulsion. It all went by in a whirl, but three memorable moments are listed below. One that almost made it: Cline morphing into the Mahavishnu Orchestra’s Jerry Goodman on “The Mite.” I believe the above clip (NOT from last night’s show) features that as well. The band plays at the famed New York club through Sunday night. Team Jackson has the stream of the performance for you right here. During the action critic Peter Hum hit the NPR comment field to deem this stuff “some of the least ‘Vanguard-y’ I’ve ever heard at the Vanguard.” Not untrue at all. But trad jazz fans will want to note Scheinman’s quoting of “Four” at the start of the pentultimate tune, a carnival mirror piece of swinging freebop that had toes tapping old-school style.
1. Opening Out
Sure, there have been moments of dissonance and abstraction at the Vanguard. But methinks few of them came in the first two minutes of the performances. The violinist and her team said hello to their West Village live audience and NPR global listenership with some splashy, dreamy, blippy, skronky salutation speak, with Cline creating some wonderful wobble and Black sending smoke signals to Steve McCall.
Scheinman’s “A Ride With Polly Jean” doesn’t parallel the raw sturm und drang that Ms. Harvey and her band has become known for, but instead offers a breezy groove. It’s a soundtrack to an effervescent conversation, and you can see the pair in your mind’s eye as the rhythm section pulses and the violinist draws out a few long tones: the ladies flying down the Coast Highway in a 55 Mercury convertible, the British rocker querying her mate about the poise of her “American Dipper” and the Brooklyn jazzer asking about the eruptions of Harvey’s “Kamikaze.”
3. Forward Motian
During the introduction of “Blues For the Double Vee” (written for the Vanguard), Scheinman mentioned that Paul Motian’s updates of Monk were also an inspiration for the piece. From behind his trap set, drummer Black launched into a power crunch version of a surf beat, and laughed a bit while yelling to no one, “Just like Paul!” The piece is a jagged rocker that sounds like the Ordinaires taking a stab a Bernard Hermann tune, so Black was waxing ironic. He was also waxing manic. His drum work – pummeling here, caressing there – was one the set’s consistent highlights.
Was just listening to Rome, Danger Mouse’s spaghetti western collabo with Danielle Luppi (vocals by Jack White and Norah Jones), and was reminded that I once did a blindfold test with Mr. Mouse (Brian Burton) and Damon Albarn around the time Gorillaz’ Demon Days dropped. Here’s their exchange after we spun some EPMD.
Danger Mouse: [after a minute or so]. It’s EPMD. You can tell from his voice, straight-up. I got into them from their singles. That was in the late ’80s, when I was getting all my hip-hop fed to me through my sister. I was listening to pop and hair metal at the time. I remember her talking about EPMD’s Erick Sermon, and the girls liking him when he was a little skinnier…’88 or so. I never disliked hip-hop, but I was into other stuff back then, trying to fit in – she and I went to different schools, did different things. I love EPMD’s simple delivery and monotone.
Damon: It sounds pretty contemporary, though.
Danger Mouse: It’s not unlike the way 50 Cent rhymes: very matter-of-fact. EPMD never get excited. Like Guru from Gangstarr. Straight ahead. Like 50.
Damon: Except he’s shit.
Danger Mouse: I don’t hate 50 Cent.
Damon: Yeah, ‘cause you’re scared of him. He’s got big muscles.
Danger Mouse: Nope, I love the idea that hip-hop has a record that everybody owns.
Damon: Well last year they had Eminem.
Danger Mouse: No way. That’s bull. That doesn’t cross over the racial barrier. Black people don’t buy [his stuff]. Even The Game’s record is [embraced by both races]. I don’t like his record that much, but I like the idea that so many people agree on it. Dre and Snoop was the last time that happened.
Damon: Yeah, but that was good. Well, “In da Club” was good, I guess. But you need more than one track. It’s all become so pompous.
Danger Mouse: I think MCs are doing the same things they always have, but I’m older now; they ain’t rappin’ to me. It’s not exciting to me. It’s for the same 12 – 24 year olds.
JD Allen on the case. I once said the tenor saxophonist was a sensitivo in muscleman’s clothing who could make the most roiling passages reveal their heart. His trio, featuring bassist Gregg August and drummer Rudy Royston, is one of New York’s great combos, consistently refining its confluence of Trane and Ornette into playful suites that often sound larger than they should. Listen to the new Victory! on NPR, and check the band at Le Poisson Rouge on May 18.
Last night Dave Douglas celebrated his birthday at the Village Vanguard, which in a recent tweet the esteemed trumpeter correctly deemed “the Carnegie Hall of basements.” Douglas is in the West Village leading his Brass Ecstasy troupe. The gig is a celebration of sorts: United Front: Brass Ecstasy at Newport (Greenleaf) just dropped. It’s a nod to a few of the leader’s horn inspirations, including Navarro, Bowie and Rava. I watched ’em clock the performance last summer in Rhode Island, and it was sweet show, full of nuance and frolic. Dave’s added some new pieces to the book since then (one poster for the show mentioned a program of “Strayhorn, Tweedy, more”). He also recently tweeted about a tune called “My Old Sign,” about “changes to the zodiac and compatibility.” A pal texted me from the Wednesday night show and was throwing the exclamation points around. My recommendation for the Vanguard gig looks like this. You’ve still got three more nights to pack the place. The above clip finds the guys in action at chez Boilen.
There aren’t a hell of a lot of elder statesmen who still bring bop’s intrinsic bustle to the piano, but the 80-year-old Barry Harris enjoys the music’s physical aspects. Don’t need to tell you he’s also a harmonic whiz, do I? The maestro recently told me that there aren’t a lot of improvisers out there playing true bop. “You might hear patterns that are close, but you won’t hear triplets, which you need. People are forgetting how to play it.” Harris helped refine the bop language, and this week at the Village Vanguard he’s sure to throw some triplets into the mix. He’s supporting the new Live At Rennes. Thanks to NPR, you can hear one of his sets live at the famed jazz cellar this evening.
Josh Jackson has a sweet interview with Harris at the Checkout. Listen to him throw a fugue on Bird at the start of the show.
Here’s Harris chatting it up with Leonard Lopate.