(Update: Tuba master Bob Stewart will be the fourth member of the Moran, Malaby, Baron quartet for this Friday's Spontaneous Construction.)
A commonly heard lament among the younger jazz crowd is that New York clubs are too expensive, too impersonal, too conservative. They’re designed for an older audience, not the kind of people who are used to paying $10 for SRO indie-rock shows. One of the reasons I loved the jazz scene in Buenos Aires is that it had a distinctly DIY vibe. Fogies in Buenos Aires listen to tango or classical (plenty of non-fogies do too); jazz there is a cutting-edge music and its entrepreneurs tend to be like the wild and crazy Cutaia brothers. One of my favorite venues, Corrientes 2014, was a music studio that occasionally hosted jazz concerts. It felt like listening to music in a friend’s living room.
Since moving back to New York in 2008, I’ve seen the city's DIY jazz scene bloom. The Douglass Street Music Collective in Gowanus is basically Corrientes 2014-New York, a studio rented by several musicians (including the powerhouse baritone saxman Josh Sinton) that doubles as a cheap, informal performance space. The Jazz Gallery has always given off the vibe of a slightly hidden, informal workshop. But the most resolutely “New York jazz” exponent of this kind of music presentation is Search & Restore’s new concert series: Spontaneous Construction. Here, S&R’s Adam Schatz has pulled off the ultimate coup: staging a cheap, midnight free-jazz series at the most commercial and least intimate of New York clubs, Blue Note.
The series is based around a proto-jazz concept: gather together four simpatico musicians who have never played together as a group and let them discover music on the bandstand. Many of the musicians who play have never met each other. It’s a hello, and a handshake, and then an hour of trying to make it work. It’s not a jam session—at jam sessions musicians play standards and try to cut one another—this is a dry run at creating a real group sound. Schatz curates these evenings around one musician and then expands the band from there. Sometimes the chosen musician will recruit the other three players on his or her own. Sometimes it’ll be left up to Schatz.
The night I went, the featured player, Sex Mob drummer Kenny Wollesen, had deferred band-creation duties to Search & Restore, and the resulting group was excellent: accompanying Wollesen were saxophonists Samir Zarif and Jon Irabagon and banjo player Brandon Seabrook. The virgin quartet played for an hour uninterrupted. Some of it didn’t mesh, and some moments—Zarif and Irabagon pulsing on their horns, Seabrook strumming static tension, and Wollesen defining the contours with his sticks—were sublime. After the set, Wollesen looked giddy and winded—like a guy who’d just finished a ten-mile run—and applauded us for sticking around through the madness. On our way out, Zarif—at the bar for a nightcap—thanked us for hanging out. That’s exactly what it was: hanging out with music. I was back in the living room of Corrientes 2014.
This Friday’s Spontaneous Construction is your chance to hang out with the stars. If it’s not the most promising lineup yet, it’s certainly the most famous—a meet-up of the percussive piano genius Jason Moran, the whirlwind tenor saxophonist Tony Malaby, the lyrical drummer Joey Baron, and a TBA bassist. (A great bassist will want to play with these three, guaranteed.) tuba master Bob Stewart!!! (If you weren't already excited about this gig, the inclusion of a tuba dynamo has to have you stoked.) I had other plans on Friday, but after writing these few grafs, I think I know where I need to be. See you there.
Note: A number of readers have asked me why my blogging has slowed to a trickle. One reason is my day job and other writing I've been doing. The other is a new blog project I've launched with two friends: Back At This Table, a semi-anonymous celebration and critique of Charlie Rose and his nonpareil nightly interview show. If I have any readers left, I hope some of you will check it out.