Words by: Brandon Wenerd | Images by Robert Chapman
Soulive with Joshua Redman :: 06.27.08 :: (Le) Possion Rouge :: New York, NY
Hanging modestly from the second story of a gray-brick building deep in the heart of New York's West Village, an iconic art deco sign reads: "The Village Gate: Politics. Sex. Reality." Nowadays, the sign is a sort of historical land marker, denoting the location of one of New York's former great music clubs, Art D'Lugoff's Village Gate. Though the Gate closed in 1993, the sign remains fastened above the corner of Thompson and Bleeker. Today, the sign symbolically invokes a certain type of nostalgia for a much romanced bygone era of Greenwich Village; an era of prideful bohemian eccentricity and titanic artistic accomplishment – the looming "ghosts" of iconoclastic greats like Bob Dylan, Lou Reed, Andy Warhol, Joan Baez, Charlie Parker, Dylan Thomas, etc. The punctuated, idiosyncratic mantra of "Politics. Sex. Reality." glibly hanging above an area littered with live music bars and nightclubs. Nonetheless, its presence attempts to capture, or at least emulate, the ultimate essence of the neighborhood and its almost mythological heritage of self-expression and freewheeling idealism.
There are many storied music clubs in the West Village near McDougal Street - The Blue Note, Cafe Wah, Sullivan Hall (formerly The Lions Den). However, for 38 years, Art D'Lugoff's Village Gate was a fabled hangout where established jazz legends could roll up their sleeves and let loose in A-list jam sessions. It was a place to nurture and cultivate talent, as well as a setting to take bold artistic risks. Unlike neighboring clubs, no, Bob Dylan did not play here. D'Lugoff wouldn't let him. However, he did write "A Hard Rain's A-Gone Fall" in the basement apartment. Rather, the Village Gate's honor roll is a who's who of straight ahead and Latin jazz: Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, Tito Puente, Charles Mingus, Dizzy Gillespie, Duke Ellington, and Billie Holliday.
It may be perfunctory to note the sign now hangs over the storefront of a CVS Pharmacy. However, one level below the rows of toothbrush and deodorant shelves and the dull, florescent shopping glow, in the cavernous basement of the former Village Gate, a new musical venue has emerged on the New York scene. (Le) Poisson Rouge, French for "The Red Fish" is an eclectic performing arts space, ambitiously attempting to re-energize and resuscitate new meaning into the ideology of "Politics. Sex. Reality." Swathed in dark hues of merlot and eye-squinting basement darkness, the seductive corridors of (Le) Poisson Rogue feel like the set of a dizzying film noir; the type of club where a scotch-sipping Cary Grant would be allured by a beautiful Ingrid Bergman. The venue is more than just another stage and dance floor. Rather, excuse my French, it has a certain type of je ne sais quoi resulting from its intimate stage and floor design, allowing fans a personal perspective of the stage and performers, as well as plenty of room to mince around. Also helping are its historical location in the bowels of the Village Gate and an agenda to revitalize New York's nightlife scene with art, class and character.
| Soulive :: 06.27 :: (Le) Possion Rouge|
(Le) Poisson Rouge has received quite a work out in its first few weeks, giving it a chance to flex its muscles as a performance venue in a city notorious for a cannibalistic tendency of eating treasured live music landmarks alive: CBGB, The Wetlands, Tonic, A7, Village Gate, etc. As part of the JVC Jazzfest, (Le) Poisson Rouge was able to experience an impressive debut, landing jazz and jam notables Poncho Sanchez, DJ Logic, Marco Benevento and a double dose of the nouveau-funk trio Soulive with special guest, accomplished tenor saxophonist Joshua Redman.
Walking through the sexy corridors of (Le) Possion Rouge, I heard murmurs of the full-tilt rage Soulive and Redman brought the previous night. I anticipated three-hours of raw funk energy for the New York hometown crowd – trademark for any Soulive show – and was not disappointed when I got exactly what I saw coming.
| Redman with Soulive :: 06.27 :: (Le) Possion Rouge|
The show, heavy on Soulive staples, can easily be likened to the characteristics of a train. The grooves either started slow, picking up speed into a full-throttle, chug-a-lug, ear-splintering musical journey (i.e. the second set performance of "Tuesday Night Squad" from Soulive's Next album); or, the band immediately barreled out of the station with breakneck speed, fueled by funk-maddened conductors trying to push the engineering capacity of a well-oiled locomotive of sound (i.e. "El Ron"). No matter how it started, each song featured Soulive playing loud and fast-paced poly-textured rhythms. This created a pulsing, funk-town bound express locomotive channeling sheer crowd adrenaline.
When Redman entered into the mix, the saxophone master soared above the accompaniment, hitting hard on the dramatic melodic and harmonic nuances lacking from the trio setup. As a quartet, musical sequences featured high-octane peaks of loud drums, stratospheric organ notes, guitar power picking and rapid saxophone motion in the upper register. But, these moments usually gave way into rumbling syncopated instrumental breakdowns with spaced out rhythmic energy and a spotlight on Redman's phrasing as a soloist. All the while, Soulive took the backseat and rumbled like a racecar, waiting to hit the pedal on the green light while highlighting Redman's musical prowess and their own capacity for bone shaking accompaniment.
These moments of subtle musical fracture demonstrated the genuine bliss of the performance, putting an exclamation mark on the sublime. The musical restraint on Soulive and Redman's part seemed to thoughtfully recharge their improvisational batteries. Instead of a drifting, cosmic collective musical consciousness, the ensemble focused on the unique talent of each individual, giving it a raw feel of delightfully gritty humanity.
| Redman with Soulive :: 06.27 :: (Le) Possion Rouge|
In 1995, a New York Times article analogized the excitement of new wave live jazz performers with basketball, citing Redman as a quixotic, Michael Jordan-like hero of the genre. Throughout his career, Redman has led a full court press on the dynamics of the saxophone with a bold tonality, intricate jazz arrangements and explosive, in-your-face energy. His presence in any ensemble commands attention, similar to Jordan dribbling down court, as he seems inevitably poised to suspend the limits of the physical world with a few seemingly simple breaths into his sax, much like Jordan launching into a breathtaking, fade away jump shot.
Redman's sound gave added depth to the trio's punctuated funk shuffle. However, even more intriguing was his refusal to completely surrender to the intoxicating musical energy surrounding him. For example, when guitarist (and birthday boy) Eric Krasno was ready to pluck out a solo or keyboardist Neal Evans karate-chopped the hell out of the B3 organ, Redman would position himself on an equipment box on the back of the stage, hunching over elbow-on-chin, much like Rodin's "The Thinker." A Harvard man (summa cum laude), Redman appeared to be strategically contemplating his next musical move, musing over the next phase of abstract modes and chords, thoughtfully composing in his head the musical recipe necessary to take the performance to the next level - all the way up until the sing-along, neo-soul, four-hands bangin' on the keyboard encore of "Do It Again."
It would be great to hear Soulive and Redman continue to evolve, perhaps on an album, belting out complex and soulful original arrangements that truly challenged the individual talents of each musician. But who can complain? In a venue deeply shrouded in a celebratory history, it was a moment cherished in breaking in a new space and reviving the "Politics. Sex. Reality." energy of the old Village Gate.
After the show, I caught up with Redman and asked him about the differences between his traditional jazz career and playing with Soulive. "Jazz music, the blues, funk, it's all the same," he said. Agreed, and a liberating, full-tilt "Amen" resounds from the soulful bowels of the West Village.
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