Dwayne Burno had an awed look on his face for most of the second set Thursday night at the Vanguard. He was stationed right behind his boss, Roy Haynes, and the drummer’s every flam and fillip made the bassist wince: “Ooh, that shit’s nasty.” The 72-year-old percussionist is a stimulus monger, delivering his lines with a volcanic imposition even when ching-chinka-chinging in support of the youthful colleagues he keeps on retainer. At one point an extended cornet passage by his son Graham turned wobbly. Dad righted it with the flick of a wrist and the crash of a sock cymbal. Whenever Haynes hits his drums, certitude and declaration are in the air.
With its uproar usurped by ’60s new thing and ’70s loft lingo, bop’s status as an insurrectionist idiom is sometimes forgotten. That notion never leaves Haynes’s mind. Like his new Dreyfus disc, Praise, the Vanguard set united hard-swinging tempos and classic themes, indicating the main stream is where he does business. There were no rules broken or conventions upended; the quintet’s designs were club-gig commonplaces, rife with first-me, then-you soloing schemes. Theoretically tedious, right? But as saxist Ron Blake got sweaty with elaborate r&b motifs and pianist Dave Kikoski dedicated himself to an evening of vehement romping, the group signified authority and distinction an other way: by playing the hell out of every tune.
On “Inner Trust” the leader shouldered all the flailing action of his crew while simultaneously issuing them warnings and challenges. There’s a diabolical choppiness to his expert sense of time, and his mallets and brushes continually stirred the pot, even during a piece refined enough to accommodate Ornette and minuet. Haynes has made a career of virtuosic impudence, pushing Bird into fleet offensives in the early ’50s, and driving Trane toward unholy rapture a decade later. Here his provocations were virtually quantifiable: every caustic splash and gleeful thud caused his assistants to dig in a bit deeper.
With guys like Tony Williams and Art Taylor gone, jazz drumming is at a loss for a flamboyance that attracts rather than repels. With charm and humor, Haynes plants the flag of sophisticated aggression in the ground of every hill he climbs.—Jim Macnie
A Run for Your Money
There were a lot of superstars in the house Sunday night at Tramp’s, but it was Run’s house. Don’t get me wrong, before the “old” guys restored our faith, we got plenty of ’90s hip-hop: “Hey, sound man” whining, mysterious equipment fuck-ups, interminable waiting, and unadvertised “bonus” opening act Sunny Black. Elusive producing genius Large Professor put in a good 20 minutes with his crisp rhymes and oblique funk, but his show was all too new-school: Why did he complain we couldn’t hear him? We could. Why did he bitch that “The Mad Scientist” was “supposed to” come out on Geffen when it did, two years ago? We forgot these questions when he closed with Main Source mainstays “Fakin’ the Funk” and “Looking at the Front Door.”
At midnight, out of the blackness came the blackness—Jam Master Jay in trademark black fedora, black T-shirt, and black leather suit, hyping us up, making us beg for our heroes. Showbiz was in the house and not a moment too soon. DMC is leaner and meaner, Run’s got a few extra pounds, but, oh my, what a difference a mission makes. BOOM! “King of Rock”! BLAOW! “Rockbox”! VREET! The greatest hip-hop act ever? Hey, Chuck D and I think so. In 1983, they brought hard beats, empty space, and yelling to rap music, fast-forwarding the genre into a five-year burst of creativity sustained by the realization that you can rap about any subject over any sound. And it gets deeper the harder you lean on their songbook—no bitch rhymes, no gun talk, an early turntablist, and the rock-in-my-rap Reese’s that’s never been bettered.
Run ran the show, doing a light-speed a cappella that brought the crowd to its toes (we were standing already), name-checking “Krush Groove,” and making sure we knew the turntables were “turned on.” His m.o. was more Motown than Rawkus, leading us swiftly from “Sucker MCs” into a freestyle over “The 900 Number” and then into “Here We Go” and “Beats to the Rhyme” in under 10 minutes. More than half the songs ended on the downbeat with a unison stab and the lights going dead, some thing that takes, um, a few rehearsals. (NOTE TO HIP-HOP PERFORMERS—LOOK UP “REHEARSE”.) DMC didn’t shout, oddly, or even rap audibly, but when he took his shirt off, it was obvious he hasn’t been eating donuts since “Down With the King” dropped in 1993. (Run said a new album is coming out next year on Arista—”We aren’t on Profile any more. We went from the pit to the penthouse.”) And DMC looked awful cool standing there in his Cazals, arms folded. Pure Las Vegas hokum? Nostalgia? Crystal Ship? Maybe, but it felt more like a challenge to current hip-hop to stand up, make its name, and claim a voice that doesn’t depend on envy, fear, or titillation for its volume.—Sasha Frere-Jones
Ware It’s At
David S. Ware got signed to Columbia earlier this year. All it took was two decades of high-energy, high-quality free jazz, and 14 years behind the wheel of an NYC cab. You thought rockers had it tough.
On Sunday, the tenorman—towering, impassive, dressed in a blue wizard’s robe—stepped into as much limelight as an avant-gardist can expect: a packed house at Fez. His all-star support—Matthew Shipp on piano, William Parker on bass, Susie Ibarra on drums—set up a hypnotic, gently swinging vamp. Ware grooved with them, extended into swooping melody, which he fragmented into a series of furious runs, before blowing it all up into one massive, unwavering scream. One by one his band dropped away from the groove. Ibarra went first, hammering the beat out of shape; then Parker and Shipp grew busier and more abstract. Ware sat down, and the three of them pounded and whispered together for 20 more minutes.
For the rest of the night, the band pushed in every direction (including, at times, nowhere). Ibarra clanked gongs, played her brushes against the air, and engaged Parker in brisk rhythmic chatter; Shipp spread chaos and receded to find lyricism. It was jazz that swallowed all aesthetic distinctions. The quartet’s new album, Go See the World, does the same. Bluesy and experimental, it shatters the classic Coltrane sound into new possibilities.
Can this penetrate Uptown, or the mainstream? Unlikely, but there’s something here for everyone. Ware goes for extreme sounds, but he also reaches for beauty. On Sunday he led the band through “The Way We Were.” He shredded it, turned it in side-out, then came back to give Hamlisch’s poor little melody a blast of soul. If he can do that, he can cross any boundary.—Steve Tignor
Those of us who love Chris Knox have learned that we have to put up with certain idiosyncrasies—like the fact that he doesn’t know how most of his own songs go. Sunday night at Tonic, the New Zealand pop godfather had lyric and chord sheets for every number, which didn’t prevent him from blowing a chord every minute or two, stopping, cursing, cracking some jokes, groping for the right notes, and picking up at whatever peak he’d left off.
As a solo artist (much more than with his long-running duo Tall Dwarfs), Knox is obsessed with pulverizing the mystique of performance. This is why he starts every show by changing into his shorts on stage, why he ceremoniously announces his drum-machine settings, and why his audiences need to watch out for bodily fluids. A new arrangement of “Voyeur” became an excuse for Knox to molest everyone within his headset mike’s radius; one unlucky bald gentleman got his head licked.
Most of all, he scribbles all over his own work’s polished surfaces. Aside from a couple of death-obsessed new ones that he played straight, song after song flew off track so that Knox could riff about opening for Jonathan Richman, mock his own lyrics and arrangements (“Imagine bag pipes!” he cried), or make up a new American national anthem (“The U.S.A./Is a really really really really really really really good country”). His greatest hit, the immaculate love song “Not Given Lightly,” derailed right before its climax into a speech about its discographical history, then a gleeful self-parody about how much money it’s made him, and finally a long, improvised jingle about Tonic’s need for a liquor license. Knox is a born entertainer, and it’s not like his clowning isn’t a treat. But his songs deserve more of his respect.—Douglas Wolk
Let’s Get Serialist
In this document, “Searching High and Low: Long-Term Marketing of the Telephone Plastic,” commissioned by you, DGC Records, and Viacom, the Consulting Group likens your arc to that of David Byrne, who led the group Talking Heads, and now performs as a solo artist. In this Appendix, please find the conclusions of a Committee dispatched to Mr. Byrne’s recent show at the Knitting Factory, to anticipate the hidden landmines as you grow your brand.
Mr. Byrne performed with the Balanescu Quartet, a serialist string group from Romania, and three musicians (bass, singer, programmer) of indistinct ethnicity. The singer was resplendent in divergence, revisiting and revising nearly every phase of his career in only a dozen songs.
To recap, Mr. Byrne began his arc with high-art castings of low-art elements, including covers of “1, 2, 3, Red Light,” an appreciation of K.C. and the Sunshine Band, and an enforced association with Jon Bon Jovi’s cousin. After his acclaim on the cover of Time magazine, the low elements waned. His current set thrived when the low elements were most apparent: less in his covers of Cesaria Evora and Karftwerk, and more in a version of Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody,” which clashed teenage desires with the Quartet’s harsh, staccato melody lines, and in a reprisal of “Memories Can’t Wait,” which the Committee agrees describes a bad experience with LSD.
Sneaky calls at the back of the room for Mr. Byrne’s early, impactful songs suggest that you can anticipate a lifetime of requests for “Loser.” As Mr. Byrne introduced a song he wrote with the Brazilian art singer Caetano Veloso, a fan shouted, “David Fuckin’ Byrne”—we again commend the Client for choosing to market under a mononym.
In conclusion, the Group recommends that the Client maintain a high/low ratio not lower than 30:70 and not higher than 55:45, and recommends against returning Time magazine’s calls.
On behalf of the Committee,
P.S. Mr. Byrne wore a collared, four-button turquoise suit in a retro-thrift style. The Group will forward the designer’s name and media contact within three business days.