Okay, so I didn’t take great notes – actually, no notes – last Thursday night at the Lily Pad, where both local guys Bolt and Chicago guys Klang (the best name-double bill in memory) were holding forth. Yes, I was lax, but I had a good excuse: the main venue for my writing, and my full-time employer for the past 22+ years, the Phoenix, a/k/a the Boston Phoenix, had ceased publication that very day. I wasn’t even sure I should go to the show. But it turned out to be just what I needed.
Bolt and Klang have different but complementary purposes. Bolt is a quartet who play spontaneously improvised music – no pre-planned tunes or charts, perhaps just an indication of who should start the tune. Klang plays the compositions of its leader, clarinettest James Falzone. There’s a lot that’s free about Klang, but the starting and ending points are always whatever Falzone has previously committed to paper. They played with charts on music stands.
Bolt opened, and from the first notes they impressed me with their ability to compose spontaneously. This was not a free-jazz freakout. Guitarist Eric Hofbauer plays thorny lines but the amplification on this big hollow-bodied electric is understated. In fact, in a couple of recent performances in other contexts, I thought Hofbauer had been playing too softly. But the tiny Lily Pad was perfect for this band’s intense intimate sound. Cellist Junko Fujiwara astutely alternated between bowing and pizzicato, Jorrit Dijkstra switched off between alto saxophone and Lyricon, and drummer Eric Rosenthal quietly established loose grooves and otherwise focused on the details of his brush work, the “tock!” of a stick against rim.
But it was the internal ensemble integrity of this band that was mesmerizing. If Fujiwara’s cello lines were NOT written, it has hard to tell. Each phrase had a compositional logic, and she seemed to spontaneously absorb and reflect everything else that was going on in the band as it happened. The first piece was the longest at about 20 minutes (I’m writing from memory two days after the fact), but no piece was longer than it needed to be. The blending of timbres, the development of subtle rhythmic devices (even swing!) cohered beautifully. (Dijkstra’s occasional lower-register electronic tuba-like rhythmic accents on the Lyricon were a tonic.) And, somehow, the band knew how to end a piece. (Dijkstra told me afterward that one thing the band has worked on is endings – knowing how or when to finish – since, he suggested, the problem with so much jazz, free or not, is its verbosity.) It was a sublime set.
Note: Hofbauer has recently released American Grace, the final installment of his solo-guitar “American” trilogy.
Klang was a different story. Falzone recently released the band’s Brooklyn Lines. . . Chicago Spaces (on his own Allos Documents label), and their set comprised music exclusively from that album. I was disappointed that, due to a illness, vibraphonist Jason Adasiewicz was unable to make the trip. The dry attack of his vibes not only complements Falzone’s clarinet beautifully (and also suggests a historical link: Lionel Hampton and Benny Goodman) but also gives just that hairsbreadth of chordal depth to this spare, swinging, contrapuntal music.
Nonetheless, trombonist Jeb Bishop was a good match for Falzone on the front line, accompanying incisively as well as taking several swinging solos (suggestions of Jimmy Knepper in his range and coloring). Falzone’s control and beautiful tone were on full display, whether his was taking off into a lickety split run, diving into the instrument’s deep, woody lower register, or shrieking pointedly. With Mike Daisey (Ken Vandermark Group) on drums, and bassist Jason Roebke, this band dug in hard, and offered tunes that had bebopping verse-chorus concision but also delved into the free harmonies and rhythms as well as the sonic extremes of the avant-garde.
The two quartets (minus Rosenthal) joined forces to end the night with another short, miraculously coherent spontaneous improvisation. A great two hours of music even if you haven’t just lost your job.