Text and photos (c) Robert Barry Francos
Other than Sunny Rollins at the Saskatoon Jazz Festival, I have not had a chance to see live music since moving away from New York. Thanks to an invitation, I found myself in the downtown area at the Le Relais Centre, on 4th Avenue N, on August 14, 2009.
The lower floor of Le Relais is essential a big room, which had a series of (appx) 6'x3' wooden boards that made up the stage, with rented speakers and sound system that so reminded me of many of the shows I've seen in Brooklyn over the past few years. Similarly, this was a showcase put together by a group called the Possessed, who also closed the show. More on them later.
First up was the Moxon Quartet, who were a trio this eve. All of their jazz-fusion is made up on the spot, but the group plays together so well, it almost seemed to be rehearsed. The keyboardist, Ray, posited that they "have been playing so often together the last few years that we’re comfortable enough to improvise music in response to what the other players are doing in the moment. It’s a bit like not knowing where you’re headed in your car but somehow arriving at your destination all the same!" Guitarist Lee called out for words from the audience to which to give them a direction, some of which included "duck," "rain" and "basement." One of the interesting aspects of it all was the physical language of Duane, the drummer. Sometimes he would turn his back on the particular part of the kit he was playing; other times he'd use his hands rather than sticks, and he also play the instrument in innovative ways, like using the edge of the cymbal, or the stands. It was, needless to say, very eclectic, but also cohesive. Miles would be proud, I would think.
Jeff Morton and Susu Robin
Next were the duo of Jeff Morton and Susu Robin, up from Regina. Using refurbished organs (including a Wurlitzer), found objects, a simple snare drum, and tambourine, they played standards by the likes of Billy Holiday, Cole Porter, and Bobby Hebb's "Sunny." However, they also did an improvisational take on them, plunking away at the keyboard and drums, changing rhythms and timbre to make it unique, but still recognizable. Jeff was more of the "plunker" as he did instrumentals, and occasionally Susu would play the keys closer to true (and yet not) versions, singing with a lazy-yet-sexy way reminiscent of Billy Holliday or Danielle Brancaccio (of Staten Island, NY-based Professor & Maryanne). Her vocals were very well received by the appreciative audience. One moment I thought weird was when Jeff and Susu announced that they had never actually heard a song they performed, "You'll Never Walk Alone," done by anyone else. Do they have the Jerry Lewis Telethon up here? And what about Gerry & the Pacemakers' or even Elvis's version? Maybe it part of what gives them their unique "flavor." It was an enjoyable set.
Last up were the sponsors of the gathering, The Possessed. This sextet included two guitars, a bass, keyboardist, banjo player, and drummer. The bassist commented that their sound has been described as a cross between Rush and Chick Correa, but I believe it would be better described simply as "astral," and reminded me a bit, at times, of either the early Velvet Underground or Red Crayola (specifically with the Familiar Ugly, on The Parable of Arable Land release). The clearest instrument was the banjo, which was used as part of the rhythm section. In fact, one may argue, that many of the instruments were used in ways that one would not expect, especially the guitars. One guitarist sat on the ground at the far right, using her strings as some kind of synthesizer sound by playing with the speaker and a piece of hand-held electronics with which I'm not familiar. The other guitarist also remained on the ground, but she gravitated around it, using her body, a number of metal instruments, and kitchen devices to produce, well, noise of varying types. Mostly this felt like what many in the '60s used for zoning out while using pharmaceuticals, and towards the end, when everything went wild and distortion ruled, it leaned more towards Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music. Nice to see that tradition carry forward.
One aspect of the evening of which I was well aware was that these were three experimental bands, and yet each filled its own genre, none treading on the others. It was a nice choice of across-the-board-ness by the organizers. This felt like the beginning of entering into a new music scene that is vibrant and certainly not static.