Eugene Chadbourne with Ghosts on Fire, featuring Han Bennink on drums, at the Cobalt, June 20th, 2007
(Photos by Femke van Delft)
Didn't get to see much at the jazz festival, but I DID manage to see six astounding drummers at work.
Alex Cline, Nels' twin, in town with adventuresome west coast jazz fixture Vinny Golia, wins the award for most intense, focused, and drummerly drummer - his technique is astonishing, tho' vaguely inhuman, so fast and precise it is. I haven't grooved on the twin thing since I went to elemetary school with the Power sisters (whose first names were never really mentioned and are certainly not remembered by me- they were always just the Power sisters, or sometimes the Power twins, their twindom and vaguely superhero-esque surname completely defining them). I wonder if Alex and Nels went to the same elementary school? I wonder if there is any sibling rivalry between them? (I wonder if they saw Cronenberg's Dead Ringers, and how they felt about it? I haven't asked many questions about bein' a twin in my interviews with Nels). Odd to note similarities and differences between them, particularly since they're both so musically gifted. My current theory about Nels' success with Dylan van der Schyff last year - the two REALLY hit a groove together - is based around the fact that Dylan's technique is very similar, in ways, to Alex Cline - and also to Scott Amendola, drummer for the Nels Cline Singers... Who have a new CD out, by the way. It MUST have contributed to their chemistry.
Chicagoan Hamid Drake, in town with the delightful Indigo Trio, an AACM offspring of Nicole Mitchell, was by far the sexiest drummer in the festival, exuding a calm, powerful charisma, while seeming quite laid-back. If any of the festival's drummers were to attract groupies, it'd be Hamid. His drumming, too, was sexier than anyone else's, more rhythmic, more, well, AFRICAN feeling - the night really harkened back to the pan-African resonances of the best of early AACM stuff. I'd like to interview Nicole Mitchell if she comes back next year - she did a terrific job of leading the high school intensive, too, who sounded even MORE cookin' than when Mwata Bowden was here. Maybe it's because they were all male, and Nicole Mitchell is considerably more attractive than Mwata? Sorry, Mwata.
Anyhow: least likely to attract female groupies, unless they looked like Faye Dunaway in Barfly: Paul Lovens, drumming with Eugene Chadbourne and with Aki Takase's delightful Fats Waller Project. With his rolled up shirtsleeves, necktie, and shaggy graying hair, Lovens wins the prize for looking most like a jazz drummer and for exuding the most charm - in a vaguely slovenly, affable, I'd-drink-with-this-guy kind of way. He looks like your uncle Pete, or some guy you met in a bar and told your whole life to. He also seemed to have the most varied bag of tricks of any drummer; maybe it's just that I haven't seen him before (unlike Han Bennink), but I never knew quite what he would do next.
Han Bennink, of course, wins the prize of prizes, the MVP, the gold star beside his name. As goofy and scene-stealing as he is, as overtly as he craves your attention, and as familiar as his, well, shtick, has become, I have yet to see a jazz musician match him for enthusiasm. Han is to avant garde jazz what Iggy Pop is to punk - a true enthusiast who drives others further and faster than they normally would go on their own, by virtue of his own irrepressible intensity. Some of his tricks included sticking a drumstick in his lips and using his mouth as an echo chamber as he hit it, shaping the sounds; drumming with his boot on the snare drum (with both hands working sticks and the other foot workin' a pedal); throwing drumsticks on the floor, in a spontaneous-seeming, perfectly rhythmic gesture that seemed showmanlike at the same time; sitting in front of the stage (when he played with Ab Baars at the Roundhouse) and drumming on drumsticks that he laid across his ankles; throwing said drumsticks over his head to crash into his kit when he was finished with them, again managing to produce sounds that worked; disappearing behind a curtain to play a hidden piano - quite well, I thought!; and finally, ending the performance at the Roundhouse by dropping his snare drum on the floor, to crash perfectly in time with the close of the piece. It was equally a delight to see him a week or so previous, filling in for an absent Ron de Jong at the Cobalt, as Eugene Chadbourne jammed with Ghosts on Fire. My review of that is in the current Nerve Magazine, otherwise bereft of articles by me. Han Bennink at the Cobalt! Thank god Femke caught a photo of it - no one would believe me.
Damn, I love Han Bennink. Oh, he was also the hardest hitter of the festival, natch. You seldom hear how LOUD he hits on CD.
All these guys were great, tho', as were - to tip my hat to the locals - the two drummers for Fond of Tigers, who blew Tortoise away and really generated an amazing amount of excitement at the Commodore last week. There'll be a review in next month's Nerve - the drummers were Skye Brooks and Dan Gaucher, and they were fantastic. The band needs to work on their quieter passages - they don't hold the attention - and there are strong similarities between many of their songs, but when they get going, it's quite phenomenal, especially live. This is a band to see, if you can get a chance.
That's about it for the jazzfest for me this year. I spent more time volunteering than going to shows!