The stimulation of high decibals has been so addicting I think I forgot the appeal of a small, quiet show in and understated room. None were on my schedule and it seemed everything I was bouncing off to was another ear popping party. Even Friday night, less than three feet from ulu's drummer David Hoffman, my skin was just as affected as my mind. But, Thursday, I found myself one floor underground on a nice poofy seat in the Knitting Factory's Knitactive Soundstage. Liberty Ellman streamed delicacy on guitar with a trio that included regulars Derrek Phillips on drums and Stephan Crump on the stand up bass.

The Knitactive stage is slightly larger than the smaller studio apartments here in Manhattan with subtle attention to aesthetics. Painted black, any other air than the music is absorbed so you can sit back, or stand, and just let it sink in. There was a skipping, chaotic passage with sharp blurbs on the drums when I walked into the room. Liberty was picking randomly from the branches of his mind's pallet. A high swing and a groove later, the pace mellowed by nature of a deeply soft massage on the bass. Phillips got some kissy going on the metalworks through that part of the piece, "Out of a Jazz Coma," and kept it low with the bass as Liberty began stacking notes with brief chord interludes between. This was by no means choppy, though. The mellow undertones in the overall work relaxed my body while the notes and progressions themselves worked open my brain.

Through most of the night, each of the three musicians had their eyes closed, portraying a more meditative state. The coordinated pauses that dotted some of their songs expressed clearly how well they know each other. There's a great feel of old school gypsy jazz but Liberty's own tradition is to modernize. Having worked with DJs and other musicians from the amplified to the more natural, he has the ability to synch up today with yesterday. While they stayed more toward the classic feel on Thursday night, I could also hear the more modern influences that broke the boundaries of constructive rule.

Liberty brought out some airily high pitches while Derrek swizzled on the drums and cymbal which helped the petals of a later tune spread out full. Stephan took the opportunity to rise and fall on the scale in a steady fashion. As Liberty's tones eased up, the bass urged on the trio's speed but within the limits they'd been keeping from the beginning. The piece was framed by a guitar solo similar to the one that began it. In a heart beat's moment, the next song began quickly on a double time bass beat, providing strong enough momentum for Liberty and Derrek to hop on. This piece was a good example of the trio's overall work because, while we and the band were moving considerably with the music, Liberty and the guys retained serenity in their facial expressions. They found a place that didn't threaten the reclined postures in the room but moved us enough so that we couldn't be stationary either.

Fueled by the greased, downward nature of a well timed low, a furious zip was then achieved. I became engrossed in the arcs that each of the musicians were following because they were shifting direction and intensity but at different rates. The map in my mind's eye showed three lines snaking around each other without a dotted section to be found. At it's most raucous point, the song stopped abrubtly leaving a one string heart blip coming from Liberty to take us out.

It was the opening set of the evening so I doubt if it went more than an hour, however, quality was ever-present. Although my wasteline could use the exertion of a pumped up dance atmosphere, it's also nice to pursure the art of chill. In the case of Liberty Ellman, there's a more cerebral challenge to undertake. You can find him and his trio at Ciel Rouge in Chelsea every Tuesday. I plan on dropping in as much as possible.

Howie Greenberg
JamBase NYC Correspondent
Go See Live Music!

[Published on: 3/31/01]

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