Binging ‘The Stone:’ Peter Evans, Nicole Mitchell, Aurán Ortiz

Early in November, for the first time in a few years, I was in New York with enough free time for some music. I didn’t intend to only see shows at The Stone, but it worked out that way.

I hadn’t been to The Stone since it moved. Originally a black-box venue on the lower east side, it’s struck up a partnership with The New School, an arts college up on West 13th Street, where The Stone now gets to occupy a comfortable streetside performance room. I got to see two shows there: Trumpeter Peter Evans with a chordless trio, and pianist Aurán Ortiz in trio demonstrating his Afro-Cubism concept.

The Stone also presents weekly or monthly shows at some ancillary venues. So on a Saturday night, I ventured deeper into Brooklyn than I’ve ever gone before, to Nostrand Avenue, for a chance to see Nicole Mitchell.

The usual Stone rules apply: No food or drink allowed inside, and no photography during the shows.

IMG_5753 peter evans stone

Peter Evans can do plenty with extended technique and sound experimentation, but he’s also adept in contexts closer to the jazz tradition, as with Mostly Other People Do the Killing. This set showed off both sides but leaned toward more traditionally “musical” sounds, using Evans’ compositions as a foundation and presenting lots of experimental twists (one piece focused heavily on air-through-the-horn sounds, for instance). Evans’ fast fast playing showed up quickly during the first piece — a flood of crystal-precision tones flowing over long unison tones from Alice Teyssier (flute) and Ryan Muncy (sax).

The three of them had performed together in a 50-person George Lewis concert where they apparently played the prankster role, moving through the mass of other musicians and generally causing trouble. Some of that attitude showed up here. One piece gave an unaccompanied solo to each player, and Muncy’s consisted of one long multi-tone wrested from the sax.

I wish I could remember more about the compositions themselves, but I remember it being a bright, easygoing set overall, with some challenging but pleasant assignments in the music. At times it felt like a casual chamber-music set, which I suppose was the theme of the concert in general.

Source: Sound It Out NYC

Aruán Ortiz performed with Darius Jones (sax) and Ches Smith (drums) as the trio Firm Roots, presenting one long-form improvisation. Afro-Cubism, featured on his solo album Cub(an)ism (Intakt, 2017), comes across to me as a patient style of free playing, where pauses and quietude darken the dense, gnarled harmonies. I don’t mean to say it’s all slow — Ortiz does get into rapid, splashy playing. But he relishes the journey in getting there.

On a macro scale, the piece followed a fast-slow-fast progression — with plenty of deviations, of course, but the opening segment featured Jones in a forceful, declarative mode, favoring long herading tones, and the end built up to a more quick-handed intensity.

The Evans and Ortiz shows bookended my trip. In between there was Nicole Mitchell, and I’ll devote the next blog entry to that.

Adam Lane Trio

Adam Lane TrioAbsolute Horizon (NoBusiness, 2013)

Adam Lane Trio; click to go to NoBusiness Records“Spontaneous compositions,” Adam Lane calls them, rather than group improvisations, and the way these pieces build, the term seems to fit. Some of these improv-jazz pieces feel like they’ve got the blueprint of a composition behind them.

Take the very gradual buildup at the start of “Absolute Horizon.” When Darius Jones enters with his trademark sax wailing (the microtone-packed faltering that comes close to a human voice), he parses out the melody obeying bars-of-four patterns from bassist Lane and drummer Vijay Anderson. The group stops for a Lane bass solo that eventually becomes the intro to a slower, more tense group segment — a nicely planned trajectory that wasn’t formally planned.

Here’s a bit of that weepy Jones sax:

“Run to Infinity” could been a monumental ’60s free-jazz classic, if you hadn’t told me who was playing. The early improvising builds up to a fast bass/drums rhythm, over which Jones chooses to play a slow, serious melody — shades of free speech and radical ideas coming up through the ages — sounding meaningful even as he starts digging and swinging hard. This is free jazz getting down to business, picking a spot to groove and letting the music ride from there.

I’ve always used the word “fluidity” to describe Lane’s bass playing, and you get plenty of that effect here. On the cautiously quiet start to “Apparent Horizon,” you can really savor Lane’s bass against Jones’ sax. He plays in faster modes — both improvising and really fast bebop-bass walking — during the breezy, fast first half of “Light.” He also gets to play rock star in spots; “Stars” pulls out some electric effects that turn the bass into a staticky maelstrom battling the other two players.

Jones himself — who’s previously included Lane in his band — is at home on this album with his storytelling style of sax improvising, freely flowing and emoting in solos that seem more like conversations. Anderson is his usual hyperkinetic self, hammering out blindingly fast, precise rhythms, even when playing with abandon.

“Apparent Horizon,” after its quiet intro, dives into a serious groove around a Lane bass riff. Here you get Jones soloing in a more traditional free-jazz role, with Anderson clattering away on sturdy toms and tapped cymbals.

On “Light,” Anderson and Lane mess with playful beats, letting a couple of upbeat, rhythms (one that’s almost silly) develop into toe-tapping segments. It’s nice material for Jones to work with, and it makes for a bright closer to the album.

Darius Jones (NYC Part 1)

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.