Darius Jones’ saxophone playing is full of life and emotion. It’s like he’s pouring his soul into his solos — pain and laughter and love and regret all soaked into one powerful brew. And his music takes cues from gospel and funk, on top of that. It’s vicious free jazz with an extra cup of soul.
I didn’t know that much about Jones when I decided to head to Brooklyn for the first time — I’d carved out some free evenings on this work trip to New York, earlier in November — to catch the final night of his four-show residency at iBeam. I knew his name from CDs released on the AUM Fidelity label, and I saw that he had former Bay Area-ite Adam Lane on bass. Sold.
There’s a growing arts-and-culture center happening in Brooklyn, but the iBeam is several blocks off-center from that. I got off the subway to closed stores and nearly abandoned streets. It was a quiet residential neighborhood, so different from a tourist’s New York.
The iBeam is a small, brightly lit room, possibly a storage room for the office building it abuts. The walls are colorfully padded for sound, so the acoustics aren’t too bright. Folding chairs for about 35 were set up, and they filled up.
The music was athletic, with Jones, Lane, and drummer Jason Nazary all looking winded by the end of the show. There were slower moments — “Michele Willie” and “Ol’ Metal-Faced Bastard” both have slow, funky riffs at their hearts. But many of the songs, probably including those two, filled the room with sound. The speedy “Chasing the Ghost” comes to mind; it’s got a lightning-quick bassline for Lane to dodge through, and coming as late in the set as it did, it couldn’t have been easy for him.
Here’s one moment I remember: Jones overblowing on his sax, but doing it with a light touch, keeping the volume down. It was a balancing act of ecstatic energy and disciplined restraint — and while it might not be that hard to do (I honestly have no idea), Jones did it in a way that packed a wellspring of passion behind the sound, emotions waiting to burst the floodgates but being released slowly for maximum effect.
Seeing Lane in action again was great. He’s got the same fluid fingerwork that I remembered from his Bay Area days, getting so much sound out of what seems like so light a touch.
Jones’ latest album is called Big Gurl, and Jones told us the title character is a woman who’s so fully in love with life itself that she’ll watch a bug crawing on the floor for hours, marvel at it, try to befriend it. She’s part of a “universe” Jones said he’s been creating with artist Randal Wilcox, depicted on the covers of Big Gurl and the 2009 album Man’ish Boy. They’re built from puffy, freakish features — three eyes on Big Gurl, three faces on Man’ish Boy — with a look that suggests these characters have detailed stories behind them.
While Jones with the trio was great, I was glad to give Man’ish Boy a listen some days later. It’s a trio where Cooper-Moore often plays piano rather than bass (actually diddly-bo, but its role is that of the bass), showing off another dimension of Jones’ composing. The track “Forgive Me” is sad and heavy, weight-of-the-sky heavy, and it’s really the piano that makes it.