NYC Part II: Lou Grassi

After checking out Ellery Eskelin’s show Monday night, I hopped the subway to the Lower East Side to catch the tail end of a free-jazz night at a little dive bar, Local 269. Located at 269 E. Houston, it’s just a stone’s throw from The Stone. An NYC organization called RUCMA has been booking Monday night shows there.

I was sorry to miss most of the bill, including the Katie Bull Group, which had Joe Fonda on bass and Matt Wilson on drums. But — well, read the previous entry; Eskelin, even though he’s apparently playing at 55 Bar on Wednesday, was a ticket I couldn’t pass up.

What I did get to see was a rollicking set of ecstatic free jazz from drummer Lou Grassi and his quartet.  I’m pretty sure the whole set was improvised, although the horns (Lewis “Flip” Barnes on trumpet and Will Connell on sax/bass clarinet) would sometimes settle on a riff that became the head of a piece.  This made for some terrific endings, as they’d ride their way back into the head, play it four times, then stop.  Great stuff.

Barnes and Connell took some breathtaking, high-energy solos, as did bassist Max Johnson (looking really happy to be there the entire time) and Grassi himself, of course.  During one solo, Barnes also tried a few moments of quieter, extended-technique improvising, which didn’t get the same level of cheers but was a welcome change of pace.

The crowd had thinned, this being the fourth set of the night, but they were really into it.  Lots of whooping and hollering during the show. This also happened to be going on during the final innings of the Red Sox-Yankees game — which was playing on the bar’s tiny TVs near the ceiling. It was during one of Connell’s particularly cutting solos that Marcus Thames smacked the two-run homer to win it in the bottom of the ninth. I’m sure everyone in the audience saw it, as did Barnes, who was standing to the side of the stage at the time. “You sent it over the wall!” he told Connell after the song ended. Then, cocking his ear to the crowd: “Any Red Sox fans out there?”

The hipster bartender didn’t seem to be too much into it, but everyone else was having a great time.  The band clearly had a lot of fun with this gig. The Local 269 is small and dark, and probably really hot in the summertime, but in some ways that’s the right setting for an ebullient, interactive set of hard-blowing jazz.