New York City can always be counted on for dictating the cutting edge. Fashion, literature, art, music... you name it, the Big Apple has it tastefully in abundance. On any random evening, newfound exploration and collaboration can be found in the tiniest and most unassuming venues, as well as some of the city's most hallowed rooms. The Knitting Factory - Tap Bar falls under both umbrellas.
For a wintry week in early December, The Knit was host to Take a Seat, a Brian Haas/Mike Dillon residency that welcomed different drummers for each of six nights of progressive jazz intercourse. Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey's Haas conceived this idea, and finally it came to fruition a few weeks before Christmas.
For the first half of the run, the inimitable Skerik, Dillon's criminal co-conspirator in a myriad of projects including Garage A Trois and Critters Buggin', would contribute his ever-evolving brand of tortured saxophonics and peculiar behavior. The final three nights would welcome Kansas City chief sax spaz Mark Southerland (Malachy Papers) to the equation, another one of Dillon's cohorts. The cramped and poorly lit stage in the Knit's Tap Room would be the scene, most of New York's usual suspects would be found passing through, and the masterful Peter Costello would be handling the sound particulars.
In theory, the drummer was to be the featured attraction, invited from different arenas of art, schools of thought, and degrees of separation. The lineup: New York City's Kenny Wolleson (of Sex Mob), Skerik's Ponga buddy Bobby Previte, Philadelphia Big Tree monster Calvin Weston, the Duo's drum maven Sir Joe Russo, the Northeast's eclectic The Slip drummer Andrew Barr, and the positively vicious and unstoppable Adam Deitch. Yet with Skerik, Haas, and Dillon on stage, each player became a star at one time or another, their enigmatic personas gelling to create a truly unique musical conglomerate. The stage was set for a week of magical collaboration in the blustery Big Apple with a curious circus of heavy hitters.
Your humble narrator, by chance and circumstance, still reeling from the Thanksgiving Phish run, decided on Wednesday evening, Night Three, featuring Philly's Calvin Weston. Photographer Greg Aiello, promoter Morgan Young, and many NYC freaks would be present each and every night to see how the new variables would change the equation. Wednesday night, people began to file in about 10 pm, as the band mingled, sound checked, tuned, and began playing in a matter of seconds.
A discreet tabla beat from Mike Dillon slowly drew Haas, Skerik, and Weston to the stage. The tablas created a séance of sorts, as each player mentally prepared to dive in. It was Haas who jumped first, staccato octave hopscotch on the grand piano that transformed Dillon's mellowness into a breakbeat waiting to happen. Weston solved that problem quickly and proper-like, bringing a meticulously miked drum assault out of the box with little warning, creating a live version of DJ Shadow's 1996 masterpiece Endtroducing in sonic color, energy, and brute strength. Not to be left out, Skerik joined in with typical tantrums, egging on Haas and entertaining Dillon. Weston was all business all evening, and his relentless power kept things up-tempo and focused, despite Skerik, Haas, and Dillon's propensity for Attention Deficit Disorder. The band took a short break between hour-long sets and hardly stopped to catch their collective breath between exploratory searches for new lands.
Dillon brought out some choice vibraphone melodies, as Haas tickled the ivories and Skerik serenaded the now full Tap Room. Calvin Weston had no time for such pleasantries, and each time a lull occurred, Weston would rescue the ship with authoritative beats, hijacking the totally improvisational jams, giving them promise, purpose, and direction. After one particularly moving passage, steered entirely by Calvin's double bass drum bludgeoning, Skerik excitedly mouthed to Haas "Let's Rock!", stepped on the distortion, and delivered a crunkified journey in metallic psychedelia. The "songs" were little more than rhythmic vamps, passages born from little more than devilish ambition, with Dillon's schizophrenic ideas taking him from a foot-triggered electric drum pad to percussion, timbales, vibes, and other assorted toys. Haas would platoon between concert grand piano and vintage Fender Rhodes electric, mining bass lines and melodies from within his tortured skull, searching for dissonant chord fragments and hip-hop soundscapes. Skerik was his usual self, good cop/bad cop, rotating serene smooth sax licks with guitar-like, satanic skronk and awe. It was reassuring to watch Skerik watch Weston, truly impressed by his chops and focus. Weston would occasionally put down the drumsticks and blow some ambient trumpet, just to keep things "interesting." Weston was unfazed by his carpet classroom cohorts, never losing his cool, and continually stoking the blaze with the clinical artillery unleashed without batting an eyelash (or dreadlock.)
There were countless choice moments throughout this performance; a few stick out in my head well after the final notes were played. Marco Benevento, fresh from the hardware store after receiving his set of keys to the city (copies made for Joe Russo who arrived later as well) joined the crew late in the second set and added grand ivory acrobatics as Haas abused his banged-up Rhodes, which registered the Oklahoma native and the North Jersey golden boy with the authorities as Jazz Offenders.
Another choice moment: Dillon named a particularly furious passage "I Went Down To Jersey and Bagged Me a Bear."
Haas' patented maniacal head bang was on display all evening, one that would impress even hardened Morbid Angel and Cannibal Corpse tour veterans, as well as instill fear into chiropractors and massage therapists around the city.
Once Benevento came aboard the moving vessel, Weston commandeered the crazy train and punished the offenders, as well as not-so-innocent bystanders Dillon and Skerik. The drummer extraordinaire pushed the double bass fury to Charlie Benante proportions. Skerik and Dillon got with the program, a progressive punk/metal jazz throwdown ensued, and even the virtuoso Marco seemed confused.
The highlight of an evening chock full of shining moments: Skerik and Calvin Weston squaring off for ten minutes of speed bop, thrash jazz, and punk swing from the new frontier. This face-off culminated in a most beautiful, cacophonous, unmitigated sonic orgasm, and as I type, my right hand throbs from mindlessly pounding a steel beam that supports the ceiling in the Tap Room--some twisted masochistic masturbation, and a fitting souvenir of this maniacal evening.
Words by: BGetz
Images by: Jaci Downs
JamBase | The Right Coast
Go See Live Music!