The scent of bebop has been wafting through the Village for longer than Smalls has been around, but the club’s been bustling since 1994. This late-night breeding ground for unsigned talent and basement-born romance stunned jazz circles this weekend by tossing in the towel. Owner Mitch Borden attributes the closing to rent hikes and nightlife regulations, including the attendance-busting smoking ban. “I’ve been charging 10 bucks for 10 hours nightly and serving free food and drinks for years, so I’ve had to borrow more money than I can repay,” he says. Borden will concentrate on his remaining jazz club, Fat Cat, just blocks away, but its social pool-hall vibe is distinct from Smalls’ unique pressure-cooker intimacy. “Mitch has been my livelihood,” says Sacha Perry, who’s tickled both clubs’ ivories with matter-of-fact flair since Borden opened Smalls by renovating a former gay bar (where Billy Strayhorn was once house pianist).
As recently as last week, hard swing surged through the club: jagged chords, knotty plucks, and quaking trills filled the space, while sofas and stools crowded its tables. “I’m very upset,” says Village Vanguard owner Lorraine Gordon, whose customers often flocked to Smalls after the Vanguard’s late sets. “It’s unfortunate that a popular club like Smalls, which promotes music affordably and stays open hours after other clubs, is subjected to the economic pressures that are shutting it down.” “Smalls too?” wonders Cecil Taylor. “Frankie Hewitt used to play there all the time.” Last Thursday, a 19-year-old patron enthused about a Tommy Turrentine stint a few years back. “It’s there that so many young musicians were given a place to grow and develop,” comments Wynton Marsalis, who’s performed at Smalls as well. “Jazz speaks of New York City,” says Perry. “The music is us, and we need support.” —Daniel King
Kiss ‘n’ Tell
Introducing the hard times according to Terence Trent D’Arby: after pronouncing himself something akin to the future of pop music back in the late ’80s, back while Prince was still two steps ahead and hadn’t yet found church, the flamboyant provocateur then made eccentricity his art, which was too bad, because his albums actually held water. Sadly, through all his carping, no one could hear them.
Last Thursday at B.B. King’s, D’Arby hoped to show off his newfound inner calm. He’s since moved to Milan (or, as the Web site says, Milano); found a ragtag, roadside bar-worthy band chock-full of continentals; and changed his name to Sananda Maitreya, which must mean “the-more-things-change-the-more-they-stay-the-same” in Amharic. He played the tight room like it was Madison Square Garden, running from one corner of the stage to the other, leering hungrily at the after-work crowd like they might hold the key to eternal youth.
Not that D’Arby needs it. Though he’s long since kicked down 40’s door, the sinewy singer doesn’t look a day older than when “Wishing Well” seductively groaned its way onto MTV. The new songs—”Designated Foot,” “Testify”—however, showed a bit less agility than the man himself. He saved his best shimmy, vocal and otherwise, for oldie-goodies like “Delicate,” “Holding On to You,” and “Do You Love Me Like You Say?” During those moments, his voice, which winnows to a bluesy scratch when taxed, burst with vibrancy. On the ballad “Let Her Down Easy,” D’Arby sat at the piano and, wisely, put the band on pause. For five blissful minutes, he earned every bit of rodomontade, every one of the night’s grandiose gestures. Afterward, though, he took center stage and bowed impressively deeply, for an impressively long time. By the time he got vertical again, what had begun at humility had ended at conceit. —Jon Caramanica
Revenge of the Nrrds
Los ticka toe rest! Might likea sender doe ree! Through devotion or telekinesis, the army of platypuses in the bounce pit shouted along to every phoneme of King Buzzo’s growling jabberwocky at the May 21 sold-out Ipecac Records Geek Show. All eight members of the Fantômas Melvins Big Band congested the speakers, making avant-bludgeon so deafening and visceral that, despite its inherent inaccessibility, it managed to get a bunch of dudes in Tool sweatshirts moshing to demented Naked City licks. Double-drummers Dale Crover and ex-Slayer’s Dave Lombardo pounded out an Elephant Talk stampede, filling pregnant pauses with double-kick flurries. And since both Tomahawk jocks and brainy Merzboys go apeshit for Patton’s Yamatsuka Eyejaculations, a receptive response was granted to every last one of the cacophonous freakazoids who post-skronked at this three-day Irving Plaza monstrosity. Here, the means were often as exciting as the ends (interstitial music: goofball virtuoso Spike Jones and Sacramento prog-punks Hella), so it’s easy to hang with Battles fretting out King Crimson-isms, spirited beatboxing and militaristic Uzeda jiggliness on Wednesday; or the sounds of subway cars crashing around Dälek’s jaw-dropping DJ Still as he screams phoenix into the needle of his turntables on Thursday; or the Carl Stalling jazz (with, gasp, sheet music!) of Trevor Dunn’s Trio-Convulsant on Friday. The most easily digestible group, Patton’s Tomahawk is the best rock-dash-rock band on the planet (well, with the exception of Queens of the Stone Age, whose bassist Nick Oliveri sang sloppy, sleazy, and shitty drunk rock with his creepy-looking karaoke sideshow Mondo Generator on Wednesday) and headlined all three nights. Split between bug-eyed screeching and the deeply focused manipulation of knobs, Patton was the living embodiment of the crowd’s duality: brains looking sexier than Pantera, aggression still knocking around Poindexter. —Christopher R. Weingarten