humanization 4tet in philly
humanization 5tet (that's right!)
by andrew mckeever
been wanting to put a sound to the face with the wild dali-esque mustache wielding the stand up bass for some time now. thursday night, i got my chance.
bid the wife and kiddo goodbye and dragged my sorry ass into the auto around quarter to seven, pushing it east down the schuylkill expressway at a good clip. no more exiting at my usual stop now that the south street bridge has been torn down. good riddance, i say. that thing was an awful accident waiting to happen. can remember all the times they had to close it due to crumbling debris falling onto the highway below. best place to spot happening graffiti and stencils though. maybe again some day...
parked the auto around the corner from the spot the wife and i lived in for 2+ years - the place where the great ship that was our relationship crashed into the rocks but, somehow, found the strength to right itself once again. stopped by brother jim's new pad right off s. 19th street for a quick scope and quicker brew. nice spot right above some kind of fabric/cloth store. we listened to some roy orbison and i told him how lucky he was to have an apartment pad above a happening storefront. he agreed.
hit the street just after 8 to head to the gig down in the fabric district along s. 4th street. took tiny, tiny steps as the old tum-tum has been quite "sour" as of late after my insane attempt to devour all the leftovers from last weekend's BBQ before they went south. my shit was downright bubbling and making for much discomfort as i headed east. that's what i get for trying to make cajun potato salad, bbq beans and hot dogs my daily bread for the past 6.
was nice walking down streets my feets once knew so well - even if the mount st. helens in my gut was threatening to blow at any second. at least it was rainy and quiet. saw a nice old couple eating mountainous piles of pastrami through the window of the famous 4th street delicatessen. they looked very much in love. like paul stanley once sang: "it's cured meat time again - you know it's the only thing - that keeps us togetherrrrrrrr..."
ducked into a doorway across from brickbat books - the site of the gig - to scope out the scene and have a quick cigarette. i'm so slow to act, and actually quite the coward, when i'm out by my lonesome. finally worked up the nerve to enter and the humanization 5tet cats were whupping it up good. i say "5tet" because as i walked in, who do i see on second sax but philadelphia's own elliot levin with the band playing and laying down some heavy horn. mr. levin is quickly becoming a hero of mine, primarily for his work w/the great west philadelphia orchestra. need to make sure i check out his headlining set (alright!) at the upcoming 2009 west oak lane jazz fest.
to say this band was tight would be like calling the mighty atlantic a swimming hole. and for all their chops so overtly on display, the thing that impressed me the most was the complete abandon with which they charged forth. so wild yet so precise - "fearless" was the first word that came to mind upon witnessing this great exorcism.
if "jamming" can be summed up with the phrase "variations on a familiar/common theme," than "improv" can surely best be described as "pulling something out of nothing." these cats really blew me away as i watched their intense quest for that very something.
i've heard people dismiss improv/avant garde/free jazz (or whatever you call it) as simply "people making random noise - something anyone could do." well, they're half correct. can any asshole grab an instrument and hit the stage to make random nonsense just for the hell of it? of course they can - but what on earth would be interesting/satisfying about witnessing/performing something like that? no, these fellas were engaged in intense conversation - using language both familiar and foreign as anything i've ever heard. i was grateful to get the chance to eavesdrop.
the wild, shifting rhythm section laid down by the gonzalez brothers was like an army of locusts descending upon a small village. and for all the time and tempo shifts of the band as a whole, it's hard to recall a group so locked in on one another as these five souls. constant eye contact, careful listening, knowing when to speak and when to give others the floor... they laid down some of the most intense and interesting tunes i've heard in years. i sat comfortably in their collective palm and munched happily.
only thing that pissed me off was a lot of folks' total brushoff of the band donation jar. that seems to be a pretty common thing in this town - and i don't mind telling you how way fucking lame i find it. just because a pad doesn't demand a fin before allowing entry is no excuse to shortchange the cats entertaining you. show a little class, philadelphia...
there was a cute little amish-bearded elderly gentleman in front of me, who didn't look a day over 95, that was standing beside a pile of grocery sacks filled w/ recently bought goodies. easily the most vocal cat in the room during the performance (by that i mean he was enjoying himself immensely,) he turned to say: "wow, i'm sure glad i decided to walk in here! why would anyone want to go home when this is going on?" i nodded knowing just how he felt.
the set ended with much intensity followed by a whimpering bumblebee distortion buzz bellowing from the guitarman's amp that made aaron smile as it faded into nothingness. intense-looking gentleman that he is, i gave my inner coward the night off and approached him with the intention of buying one of the shirts or CDs at their merch table. i managed to blurt out a nervous "ken from fort worth sends his regards," and the determined face i witnessed working the bass into a frenzy just moments prior burst into this enormous grin of recognition that shot back with "ken? i love that guy!" i'm usually so bad at this kind of thing, due to my dear father's lifelong habit of forcing me to awkwardly introduce myself to people, but i'm sure glad i did this time around. really, really nice cat. we shook hands and i even picked up a copy of yells at eels' "geographia," which sounded great upon first spin early friday morning.
so here's the part i say thanks to ken from tipping me off to this amazing happening. thanks, ken - truly. had i not had job duties to attend to friday night, i surely would've caught their set out in west philly for a double dose of space improv action. they really were the best jazz combo i've ever seen. so brave, so wild...
here's to hoping they make their way this way again.