XPRMNTL <3 FSTVL: Greg Fox / Metal Tongues / Hubble Roulette Friday, February 17
Better than: Trying to listen to music over a beer line.
The recently relocated Roulette (it’s now on Atlantic Avenue, a few blocks from BAM) provides one of the city’s perpetual needs: a small, accessible concert hall for avant-garde jazz, experimental music, and other not-particularly-poppy stuff that’s sometimes nice to hear without the din of a drinking crowd. There’s a small bar, but the focus is on the monastically plain auditorium, the former Y.W.C.A. Memorial Hall. (There’s even a proper stage!) Tickets are cheap and seating is general admission.
The five-night XPRMNTL <3 FSTVL brought a cluster of vital musicians more accustomed to Northside DIY spots into the warm bosom of Roulette's respectful and unpretentious listening environs. After a long G-train ride from the noise-lined streets of Williamsburg, Atlantic Avenue feels somewhat uptown—or, at least, far away.
Up first, playing solo, was drummer Greg Fox, manically busy in Guardian Alien and a host of other local projects, including Kid Millions’ Man Forever. Fox’s set began much as Man Forever’s usually do, with an unstopping snare roll, snare turned off, the drumming turning quickly to drone. Gradually, Fox introduced fills between the drone-roll, occasional rim rhythms, hi-hat pulses, and kick patterns. Mostly, his attention stayed brilliantly riveted to the snare, which, like an Indian shruti box, held everything together. Eventually it grew sparser, Fox found new patterns, and he ended. Like most drum solos, it maybe could’ve been a bit shorter. But, unlike most drum solos, it felt like a unified piece of music, a mind thinking through an elegant and unified set of mystical mathematics. A second piece featured no drums at all, Fox layering electronics as he read a long sequence of what seemed like either alphabetically arranged cosmic journalings or perhaps just Twitter spam off a screen. “Atavistic leftovers,” Fox intoned. “Awakened consciousness.” He made his way through the alphabet—”Initial contact, initiatrix, inner space suit”—which seemed to be explication of the mystic math behind the drum solo, and (if only for that reason) was maybe not quite as interesting.
Drummer Ryan Sawyer (fresh from a recent residency at Union Pool and a trip to Australia for Nick Zinner’s drum opera, 41 Strings) and transplanted Chicagoan Ben Vida, playing a homemade modular synth, took the middle slot. While both have collaborated with Soft Circle’s Hisham Bharoocha, Friday’s show was their first onstage meeting. The 30-minute set resembled an icebreaking conversation, Sawyer working his way through his improv vocabulary while Vida rearranged the cables of his synth. The bleeps blooped, blossomed, grew mournful, and blopped into blips. Unlike Fox, Sawyer was drawn wildly across his whole kit—rim shots tumbled gracefully to cymbal splashes to fills—and he moved from idea to idea with a speed that accelerated Vida’s fragmented dots into free animation. Though the two often stumbled out of sync, the disorienting moments seemed just fine.
Hubble—Zs guitarist Ben Greenberg in his solo guise—seemed most pleased by Roulette’s vibe. “Not to be that guy, but you should sit in the middle,” he suggested of the crowd, some of which had drifted across the aisles. In some ways, Greenberg was the ultimate That Guy, performing a solo set entirely of shmancy-ass guitar tapping. But laid through pedals and loops (though paradoxically, it seemed, not the most dextrous parts), Greenberg’s tones built into stereo-panned majesty, connecting to Fox, Sawyer, and Vida through the pleasures and knowingness of obscure disciplines. Like Fox, especially, Greenberg’s technique blurred into life, the tapping phrases taking on their own definitions, the exact musical inverse of what happens when one repeats a word ad infinitum into meaninglessness. Greenberg played the three pieces that comprise his recent Hubble Drums debut, notes ricocheting in stereo independence.
Critical bias: Mood-enhancing pre-show jerk chicken at Fisherman’s Dawta (407 Atlantic). Spicy, tender, flavorful, etc.
Overheard: “There are no vowels!” (pointing at the FSTVL’s program)
Random notebook dump: Looking for moments of momentum, thrilling when they’re found.