Gira Scope

With improvisatory, jazzy blues grace, the quartet locked into "Ain't That Lovin' You." Many witnesses were in the house to see the teenage slide-guitar phenom in the flesh; perhaps the most vital guitar icon since Hendrix and his Uncle Butch's friend Skydog gone to glory, Derek soared. While some fault him for not displaying expressionistic flamboyance in the ring, his calm demeanor masks depths of passion that his nimble fingers never cease to convey.

And Frogwings? Jimmy Herring and Oteil and Kofi Burbridge all memorably sat in with the DTB prior to thundering like the Mystery Train through their own sets. The Wings MVP all nights was Allman Brothers percussionist Marc Quiones, whose sanctified polyrhythms made of the entire project an Afro-Latin jazz to rival Santana's classic Woodstock lineup. Even mightier than John Popper's voice was his mouth harp, dueling with Kofi's organ for hummingbird lucidity. Oteil, he of the hard bop bubbly scat, he was jes' rockin' his bottom soul in the bosom of de Holy Ghost. Warren Haynes dropped in like a benign mushroom cloud. Reticent genius Herring flicked devotional leads and rapid runs of raga-like notes into the crowd. And this circle of brethren was anchored by grandmaster drummer Butch Trucks— he embodied why this was the peak of the Wetlands 10th anniversary season. — Kandia Crazy Horse

Crescendos more or less to die for: Michael Gira headlining the Jarboe benefit at Bowery Ballroom
Hiroyuki Ito
Crescendos more or less to die for: Michael Gira headlining the Jarboe benefit at Bowery Ballroom

Chops Logic

It's a rare instrumentalist who can get away with substituting wit for chops, but Phillip Johnston's pen has been mightier than his reeds for years now, and few complaints have been lodged. Wily in the areas of tone and mood, the fortysomething composer is a melodymeister with a gift for creating soundtracks that offer truly parallel narratives to their films' visuals. But Johnston's jazzy Transparent Quartet, which has spent the last several Monday nights at the C Note conflating elements of chamber and cool, is a vehicle for soloists as much as it is a canvas for incidental music— chops count. That's the main reason the gig I attended was niftier in spirit than it was in execution.

Like Carla Bley and Willem Breuker, Johnston simultaneously toasts and teases the idioms on his palette. There's a certain kind of novelty bolstered by erudition, and at the C Note, where they continue through February, the Transparents bubbled their way into a well- designed space that pondered what would have happened had John Lewis hailed from California and Steve Lacy worshiped Bach instead of Monk. Mark Josefsberg's vibes and Joe Ruddick's bari worked with the leader's alto and soprano to give this percussion-free zone the kind of placid zigzag that juices cool school ditties like Jimmy Giuffre's "Pickin' 'Em Up and Layin' 'Em Down." But while their arrangements were keen, true eloquence eluded them— none of the musicians are very distinct improvisers, and their interplay was fuzzy around the edges. Repetition occasionally yielded alignment. Sections of "I'm Squeamish" offered a florid minimalism that was positively Reichadelic.

Drummerless ensembles rely on counterpoint for tension and groove for stability, and the sizzle of bassist Dave Hofstra's up-tempo walking bolstered the band's sporadic wobbles. Such swing also guides them through the jumpingest passages of The Needless Kiss (Koch). Like parts of Monday's set, the record's suave élan indicates the foursome might just be the thinking person's answer to that big cocktail music mess. Buoyed by Johnston's resourcefulness, their tiki ain't tacky. — Jim Macnie

Faded Denim

On the dance floor a generally young crowd in casual-Friday attire grooves to Donna Summer's "Bad Girls." It's the February 5 open bar­and­hors d'oeuvres inauguration of a new Lexington Avenue club, XIT, where things are so convivial a stranger might never guess the revelers are dancing on a grave.

Until January 16, XIT was Denim & Diamonds, the only place in the city where country fans could go to execute the Tush Push or the Black Velvet. "I don't know when I'm going to do my next two-step," Sally Fay lamented about the abrupt closing. Fay has done that two-step almost every Thursday night for the last three years and in her dismay represents the feelings of 150 to 200 "regulators" (what the regulars were called). One of them, Irwin Cohen, says, "It's a very unhappy time." Cohen met Ilene Schere, the woman with whom he's now lived for five years, amid the country doodads. (A mirrored saddle used to hang over the parquet and a horse pranced outside). Another regulator, Cat Kubic, describes the final few nights as people collecting phone numbers and asking, "Where are you going to hang?"

Wendy Shively, general manager for the old and new clubs, explains that the decision to make the changeover was difficult and had been in play since sometime shortly after country station WYNY disappeared from local airwaves three years ago. It was about then, she reports, that the club's owners, operating under the name Lexington Avenue Hospitality, noticed a falloff in interest. Denim & Diamonds, which had been open seven nights a week, shifted to a five-night policy and then to three.

Cookie Marrero, one of the habitués who turned out for the XIT kickoff, said she planned to return. She also acknowledged there'd been a "death" but that she had no sympathy for the country enthusiasts who hadn't reached into their wallets to support D&D. "Country dancers aren't drinkers," she said. Not a bad title for a song that wouldn't, however, get played at XIT, now a spot to hear "dance music from the '70s, '80s and '90s." — David Finkle

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