By Bob Ruggiero
By Hilary Hughes
By Peter Gerstenzang
By David R. Adler
By Devon Maloney
By Brian McManus
By Jessica Hopper
By Harley Oliver Brown
The performance made you wonder how much wind Rudd could muster, as he stood as far from the mike as Baraka hugged his, and made you yearn for a clearer display of Tchicai and Graves, in a room conducive to music. What Bell was thinking of when it leased for nightly concerts the Seaport Atrium, a third-story food court with an elevated roof that sucks up all the high frequencies, leaving a bass din for the crowded standees, I can't imagine. I'd go hear the NYAQ again if they put the poet to bed early, but only a reunion of Lester Young and Billie Holiday would bring me back to the Seaport Atrium.
After battling off a brief irony attack, I was drawn into A Love Supremeas played by pianist Masako Kano, tenor saxophonist Dave Liebman, bassist Yosuke Inouem, and drummer Jeff Williams. Liebman broached the opening cadenza in tones so like the supreme lover that I first feared a reverent clone, but soon Liebman was piling in with such authenticity and commitment there was no doubting the abiding power of the work. The four movements were played without breaks and with two secularizing revisions: the vocal chant was dropped and Kano and Liebman each played a fourth- movement meditation without alluding to Coltrane's aching canticle. Inouem recalled the staunch double stops of Jimmy Garrison and Williams offered a bright take on Elvin Jones. But canny Kano made no attempt whatsoever to draw on McCoy Tyner, rejecting hammered fourths and two-fisted density in favor of pointillistic riffs and crystal permutations of the four-note title vamp. She brought an agreeable lightness to bear on the work's ecclesiastical severity, balanced by Liebman's go-for-broke attack. On "My Favorite Things," Liebman sounded unceremoniously personal on soprano sherbet after the main course.
Of the new bands, Allen's quintet showed the most promise and I hope it wasn't a one-shot. Seated on two phone books or standing to manipulate a synth atop the upright, she played with witty brio, picking her spots and taking aim with keyboard figures that belong to her and nobody else, which is to say her influences are so handsomely assimilated that she no longer even nods in their direction. And though I usually blanch at Casio mimickry, she used the synth to succinctly musical ends staccato electric chords, organ drones, a reedy choirlike scrim. Her responsive rhythm section consists of the Johnson brothers bassist Mark, who plucks the strings for a resonance that echoes William Parker, and drummer Billy, who favors a barrage of hi-hat and ride cymbals. More surprising was the unlikely front line, pairing Oliver Lake and Wallace Roney. Lake's alto seemed blustery and unsure at first, but as the set progressed his solos developed into compressed marvels, dynamic and varied, his acidic tone twisting riffs and exclamations with collateral logic, especially on his brightly swinging original, "Brass and Oak." He never wore out his welcome, which cannot be said for Roney, whose pattern was to begin by exercising his comely sound and open lyricism and then devolve into a bout of zealous tremolos.
The model coherence of Allen's solos was underscored a few nights later in duets with Charlie Haden, a longtime collaborator and fellow graduate of Ornetteland, with whom she breathed as one on a blues riff that unleased swirling arpeggios, an elaborately epic "Lonely Woman," and a deliberated "Segment." Their limpid and emotional clarity and knowing swing made up for a lot, including the opening sound stabiles of Mark Dresser's trio with prepared piano, but not for the 90-minute intermission that followed. This night, you could get a taste downstairs of Chico Hamilton and Euphoria or walk east to Angel Orensanz for the 10 p.m. set by Masada. But that would be a $50 evening. If Bell wants to be JVC as much as Dorf wants to be George Wein, it's going to have to go after JVC's venues.