Martin Longley’s New York Sounds: Space Rock To Out-There Jazz

Martin Longley sees Spiritualized compress their cosmic selves into a tiny Brooklyn DIY venue…

Secret Project Robot
April 2, 2013

Spiritualized - Photo Credit: Cristina Guadalupe

Spiritualized – Photo Credit: Cristina Guadalupe

Cosmo-psychedelic drugsludge-rock combo Spiritualized would usually be expected to play at one of NYC’s larger venues, such as Terminal 5 or Webster Hall. Just prior to their US West Coast dates, they suddenly announced a micro-gig, leaking the news on the morning of the show. Spiritualized had been rehearsing locally, in preparation for the tour. Secret Project Robot is a small diy joint in the heart of industrial wasteland Bushwick, in Brooklyn. Only a few weeks ago, its original Williamsburg building was bulldozered. Even though this warehousey place has been open for around a year, they’ve only just gone overground with official licences via official channels. It’s an artists collective rather than a traditional venue. SPR has a personal touch, a homely casualness. They’re unique for this kind of operation, as they’re managing to be simultaneously high-profile and deeply alternative.

Ultimately, only a few hundred folks managed to enter its portals for this bargain-priced $10 show. The space was crowded but not antisocially squashed with bodies. Hmm, since when has body-squashing been anti-social? There were no full-sized guesting gospel choirs on this particular night. Spiritualized were sculpted in comparatively minimalist core-form, as a five-piece, with no horn section either. Leader Jason Pierce was to remain seated throughout, even during his most orgiastic fuzz guitar freak-outs. They also played in near-darkness, with just a pair of low spotlights casting a gentle illumination, video collages flickering on the surrounding walls. This was about the music, in its concentrated form. The audience were strangely rapt, silent, focused and vibrating with a controlled urge to openly headbang. It was particularly exciting to catch this combo in the kind of intimate club that they would have played right back at the start of their existence.

The mood was generated by around two-thirds of riff-rocking ascension, and one third of languid drawling in a sparse setting. Often when Pierce’s voice was exposed, we can be reminded that it’s not such a characterful or expressive instrument. Much of the Spiritualized power converges when Pierce is surrounded by an escalating surge of meshing guitars, pulsating bass and spilling keyboard sounds. It’s the group ritual that counts. The core songcraft is quite basic. It’s the collectively layered construction that creates a spangled multiplicity of ecstatic tones. The set-list included “Electricity/Shine A Light”, “Let It Flow” and “Take Your Time”, with the planned encore of “Walkin’ With Jesus” being abandoned after nearly two hours of extended pieces.

Connie Crothers/Allen Lowe
April 3, 2013

Brooklyn’s Roulette venue filled much of a week’s programming with its Jazz Composers Series. This is a new move for this home of experimental music, involving two sets each night, with a single ticket price. It’s not clear whether they’ll repeat the experience, as the traditionally well-attended 8pm performance didn’t manage to ensnare most of its audience for the 10pm set. Even though Brooklyn is increasingly competing with Manhattan’s jazz scene, particularly with the more imaginative and exploratory artists, folks still aren’t adopting a late night posture, at least not on Atlantic Avenue. Not that 10pm can be deemed particularly late anyway. This was very unfortunate, for as appealing as the early set by pianist Connie Crothers was, the later set delivered by saxophonist Allen Lowe suffered from a lack in audience size, disappointing when he was presenting a whole host of new music with an idiosyncratic ensemble in place. Amusingly, most of the gigs presented under this banner weren’t overtly jazz, instead veering towards the moderne composition side of the tracks.

Crothers is clearly much admired in the local NYC zone, bringing out a healthy crowd. Her solo improvisations operated in a portentous mode, making strong use of dramatic space, flourishes, pauses, contrasts between density and skeletal activity. Rushes and gushes alternating with hard, static clusters. Crothers concentrated on resonances left behind, in the wake of her lusty detonations. This was a highly personal form of ritual expression, and your reviewer had problems latching on, and/or diving inwards. This can be so subjective. Nevertheless, her mood was potent, pointedly stated during a very short 45 minute set. Perhaps this is sometimes the preferred way with a solo performance.

Allen Lowe’s set offered a complete contrast, with a large outfit negotiating substantial new pieces, schizophrenically attuned to complex themes and hinterland improvisation within parameters that were always just in view. Lowe called his collection Music For Every Occasion: Some Pieces Of New Jazz. He’s one of the select breed of tunesmiths who are openly devoted to old-time New Orleans roots, whilst simultaneously tearing them apart and pointing out their empathy with free jazz and atonality in general. This is a potent blend indeed. On this night, it led to a manifestation of jazz that was not quite like any other. Trumpeter Randy Sandke is also known as one of those mainstream champions who’s open to the odd tussle with the out-there. Pianist and scribe Lewis Porter was on hand to subvert the stride piano vocabulary, in a line-up that also included drummer Lou Grassi, guitarist Ray Suhy, tubaman Christopher Meeder and bassist Kevin Ray. Lowe’s rambling introductions established a vivid musical background. Setting the tone was “All The Blues You Could Play By Now If Nicholas Payton Was Your Cousin”. The solos went rambling and curving into unpredictable hollows and nooks, but they were always in touch with the themes, which would jump back in suddenly with a remarkable accuracy of rambling purposefulness.

Vinny Golia
April 4, 2013

Once again, the instrumentation and character of this evening’s music arrived from moderne classical quarters. Reedsman Vinny Golia is mostly concerned with jazz, but his Music For Strings, Piano & Woodwinds Ensemble operated mostly in the serene, stern, arid, sleek and formal regions. A cold shower of theoretical non-compromise. Golia started this group in the late 1980s, when they worked out of Los Angeles. During this Roulette performance, the composer himself provided the most overtly jazzy vocabulary, moving between soprano saxophone, clarinet and various flutes. The impressive gathering included pianist Angelica Sanchez, bassman Ken Filiano and the strings of Jason Kao Hwang, Sarah Bernstein, Tomas Ulrich and Nicole Federici. The pieces merged into each other, bridged by improvisatory solo passages, built on various permutations as the pristine arrangements unwound. The pieces dated from the period of 2009-2013. Golia’s writing leaves space for individual expression, but his compositions also possess an improvisatory nature, in the way the themes resound with an organic grittiness. He’s languishing in both spheres simultaneously. Golia was frequently holding up pictorial prompters to his players, mostly to establish an agreed key. Suspended glacial movement eventually grew into a swaying ramble, sheets of icy fragments raining down. Scything towards a piano solo, then into a cello and flute duo, sparsely articulated. Filiano soloed with passion, the strings and flute making stretched, suspended smears. Sometimes, the music drifted into predictable ‘new music’ tonalities, but then a subversive solo section would confound expectation, twisting the work’s progress in an unfamiliar manner.

Spiritualized play at Holmfirth Picturedrome in West Yorkshire, on the 18th of July 2013…