Unforgettable Fires

Much as Knitting Factory owner Michael Dorf denied it, Wynton Marsalis was in enemy territory for his two sold-out shows there on February 1. As the Pulitzer-winning Lincoln Center director has lambasted free and fusion music for years, some wondered if this unlikely engagement might be a détente between him and the downtown crowd (or a high-profile gig to help the beleaguered Knit). As one staffer noted, the well-dressed audience seemed too curious to be W's regular uptown crowd: "What's he playing?" wondered a patron about the face of jazz today. Most of the Ken Burns-educated audience disappeared directly after the show.

At the Improv: Dianne Reeves.
photo: Jennifer S. Altmann
At the Improv: Dianne Reeves.

They were rightfully hyped by W's two-hour expert history lesson: a séance for the ghosts of jazz past, conjuring Jelly Roll, Dizzy, Trane, and Duke. W's septet sailed through a kaleidoscopic, Art Ensemble-like journey, embracing marches, swing, samba, and bop. Dialogues were engaged by an embarrassment of expert soloists, especially W, zooming from Miles's cool economy to Satchmo's screaming highs through a six-song set, including two Monk covers.

Like the Burns film, the group shunned postbop innovations. The downtown sect surely regretted this, but W embracing the modern dance would be as probable as finding humility in U2: It ain't gonna happen and it's beside the point. Like the Irish superstars, he's a great showman who soaks up the past. Still, you'd have wished that W and the bridge-and-tunnel crowd had wandered downstairs for a tonic. At the same time (and the same moment in jazz lore), Aum Fidelity supergroup Other Dimensions in Music were pushing some serious envelopes—and every cubic inch of air out of their bodies. What a dialogue and détente that would have been. —Jason Gross

Massive Attack

If you've entered a Manhattan dance store recently, you'll have noticed swaths of wall space swallowed up by something called "progressive." Trance without cheese, house purged of disco, techno stripped of black feel, "progressive" is defined almost by its in-between-ness. The genre's tantric ideal is the long set sustained at the brink of climax. DJs like John Digweed deliberately select characterless tracks rather than orgasmic anthems, because they work better as mixscape components. Progressive tends to be a rather level, peakless experience—mild and middling.

It's certainly the last genre I thought would generate anything exciting, until a chubby-cheeked German called Timo Maas came along. At his least, he's Sasha with balls; at his best, he makes progressive's indistinctness seem like the promise of a new genre. "Big room," a term DJs often drop when reviewing records, might be a good name. Site-specific rather than musically defined, it refers to colossal-sounding tracks that exploit the surround-sound systems at Twilo-style superclubs. Maas's music is sculpted in four dimensions: huge blocks of sound-in-motion, glittering tracer-trails of filtered noise panning overhead. Sound becomes spectacular. Size counts, not just in quadraphonic dimensions but along the frequency spectrum: A sudden kick-drum will open up a hidden plateau of sub-bass below what you believed was the nether threshold.

With his Twilo residency shifted to Saturdays (warming up for Junior Vasquez), Maas now has twice as much time on the decks. Unfortunately, a six-hour set means he can slow-build, Digweed-style. After much gritless throb and sub-euphoric pummel, Maas finally reached full throttle around 4 a.m. on February 10, sending the crowd apeshit with his re-remix of "Dooms Night," his scene-crossing smash of 2000. Still, a curious blankness lingers. Eliminating the aspects of rave that harked back to youth movements like hippie and punk, progressive achieves a kind of purity. There's no humor or sexuality, just a vague urgency, semi-articulated through the occasional vocal sample: "It's in your reach . . . concentrate . . . find the space inside." Even in the hands of such a consummate pyrotechnician, the "big room" sound shows how rave's explosive energies have been corralled by the superclub industry. Sound becomes spectacle. And that's not progressive in any sense of the word. —Simon Reynolds

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