Midnight closed out October 18, and Dred Scott took to the stage with his trio at the Rockwood, as he has every Tuesday for the past six years. “What is CMJ?” Scott asked the boisterous crowd. “It’s the Christian Music Jesus. CMJ comes around every year to see if we’ve been saved, and the answer’s always the same.” In case anyone doubted the answer, he began banging up and down the piano, tearing through a combustible original called “66 6ths.”
The Rapture didn’t cut CMJ short, but Scott will finish his own “Countdown to Armageddon” tonight with his sixth annual Halloween show at the Rockwood. The gonzo pianist—no relation to the 19th-century Virginian slave—has been a consistent musical presence on Tuesday nights, but this show will be his last. Expect some jazzed-up Black Sabbath covers, a reprise of the trio’s winking homage to Anton LaVey “66 6ths,” and a whole lot of “Hail Satans”—the swan song from hell.
“I’ve established my late-night supremacy. It’s time to cast a wider net,” said Scott, who decided to curtail the residency for reasons that included the arrival of his three-month-old daughter, Lucy. Scott isn’t cutting back on his performance schedule as much as redirecting his efforts, though, playing earlier shows, now for a cover. To bolster this shift in circadian rhythm, he’s releasing two albums —the trio full-length Going Nowhere and the solo album Prepared Piano, both on Ropeadope Records—before the end of the year.
Moby, Trevor Dunn (of Mr. Bungle and Secret Chiefs 3), Sasha Dobson (who’s worked with Norah Jones), and Steven Bernstein (of Sex Mob) are among the dozens of special guests who have passed through over the years, and the final showdown should bring more out of the woodwork, although everything from the set list to the band’s drink orders will be improvised, as they have been for years.
At any given moment, eccentric Village figures such as MC Extra Cheese might appear on stage. “Dred Scott is a astronaut. He’ll take us all to space and prepare for blast off,” the 40-Year-Old Rapper riffed at a recent show.
The no-cover Tuesday night residency was one of the best-kept secrets downtown, a boozy throwback to a more sleepless era when jazz haunts like the Five Spot wouldn’t get hot until at least midnight and John Coltrane might drop by for an impromptu nightcap at a 3 a.m. basement jam. Between the old-fashioned bar stools, red key lights, and the iron-grated window to nowhere (it looks out on a brick wall), the Rockwood fosters the type of guiltless debauchery that might make the pure of heart pray not to go to heaven.
Scott himself is an irreverent repository for the execrable, the profane, and the profound—part Falstaff, part Bacchus, with a rapier wit and the key-pounding dexterity to make a battered, untunable baby grand sound like it’s about to burst into flames. He’s also a demon on the ping-pong table, not to mention one of the only people left in the city who can believably sport horn-rimmed glasses and a porkpie hat without any irony.
The trio has a palpable psychic energy and a wide breadth of material. Chick Corea’s “Quartet No. 1” might be followed by “Live and Let Die,” all filtered through their frenetic hard bop style. Bassist Ben Rubin and drummer Tony Mason have an explosive Keith Moon-John Entwistle cohesiveness, knowing when to play fast and loose with the time and when to dig deep into the pocket. But the one defining feature of any Dred Scott show is the idiosyncratic, uncensored stage patter—the wild shaggy-dog stories, the self-deprecating gallows humor, the penetrating observations into the absurdity of airport logistics and text message etiquette. (A vamp on Scientology culminated in this nugget: “Only Tom Cruise has made it to level 7. Level 7 is just smoking a lot of weed.”)
Scott closed last Tuesday’s set with a Miles Davis classic done at breakneck pace. “All Christian Music Jesus participants have to play some Christian music, so this is a song called ‘Seven Steps to Heaven.'” The audience, now unanimously slain, at least by the comedy, had a resounding response: “Hail Satan.”