Monday, April 24, 2017
Concert Review: Bill Frisell at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art and the Jack DeJohnette Trio at the Gem Theater
Two titans of improvised music performed in Kansas City on Saturday.
Appearing in the Harriman-Jewell Series, Bill Frisell and three co-conspirators provided live accompaniment for a screening of Bill Morrison’s documentary The Great Flood. Jack DeJohnette closed the 2016-17 season of the American Jazz Museum’s Jazz at the Gem.
How to choose? I didn’t. Along with few dozen other zealots who were among both audiences of about 500, I attended Frisell’s 5 p.m. show and the 8 p.m. concert in the Jazz District. The investment was significant. I acquired the last available Frisell ticket for $35. Day-of-show admission to DeJohnette was $60. It was worth it.
Frisell, trumpet player Ron Miles, bassist Tony Scherr and drummer Gerald Cleaver read from sheet music as they gave voice to the degraded newsreel footage displayed on a screen at the back of the stage of Atkins Auditorium. I found it emotionally exhausting- not to mention distracting- to study the bleak images. I often closed my eyes to better focus on Frisell’s gorgeous tones.
Unfortunately, Frisell’s score for The Great Flood is aligned with the most circumspect of the many styles he has recorded on his three dozen solo albums. While undeniably evocative, the pastoral Americana became wearisome. I waited for a moment of cathartic dissonance that never arrived.
There was plenty of noise at the Gem Theater. Of the hundreds of exhibitions of improvised music I’ve attended in Kansas City that have attracted more than 100 people, Saturday’s show was the most obtuse and least accessible. Only a few ticket-holders walked out even though DeJohnette, saxophonist Ravi Coltrane and bassist/laptop-ist Matthew Garrison ((yes- that Coltrane, and that Garrison)) kicked up a daringly dense racket.
DeJohnette sounded like himself- that is, nothing like anyone else- as he played martial patterns. Garrison created the contemporary sonic landscapes associated with Thundercat. Like almost every other post-bop reed man, Coltrane couldn't avoid referencing his father.
Working primarily from the prickly material on In Movement, the uncompromising trio’s sinister set might have been intended as a murky reflection on our foreboding times. Only during DeJohnette’s stints at the piano did glimmers of hope flicker inside the Gem Theater.
(Original image by Plastic Sax.)