Thursday, September 08, 2005

Fire Into Music

Jazz Central - Syracuse, NY
Wednesday, September 7th

I had a chance to check out the Fire Into Music ensemble last night, an all-star lineup consisting of Steve Swell, Jemeel Moondoc, Hamid Drake and William Parker. This was also my first chance to check out the relatively new Jazz Central venue. The place is pretty nice. The room is a lot wider than it is deep, which gives it a strange feel, but puts you right up next to the musicians which is always good. I feel like the best place to listen to beautiful improvised music is in a space that is either just as beautiful or just as improvised as the music itself. Jazz Central is neither, but when it comes to performance spaces, beggars can't be choosers.

I don't know if I've ever been so impressed by a rhythm section as I was at last night's concert. I must admit to some bias here. I'm a huge fan of Drake's work and for my money, he's the best drummer on the scene today. Parker is also very high on my list, so I'm not surprised that these guys blew me away once again. Drake was in especially fine form. He played a solo in the first set that totally blew me away. Part of the reason the rhythm section was so impressive was because the horns were a little bit disappointing. The quartet was really stretching out in the first set and I think that their reach my have exceeded their grasp. Moondoc and Swell were doing some very interesting ensemble playing, but when they soloed, the music just seemed to lose some of its energy. Drake and Parker were doing all kinds of things, changing the rhythms and even jumping into a Caribbean kind of beat for a while underneath the solos.

The band came out in the second set and really sounded a lot more together. I don't know if they just needed to get warmed up or if it was because the material that they played in the second half was a little bit more linear. Once the second set got off the ground, the group started inviting audience members who had participated in a workshop the night before up to the stage. It was pretty neat and if my chops were in better shape, I would've brought my horn along. Of course, the quality and cohesiveness of the ensemble wasn't so great. I would've liked to have heard the quartet play a little bit more in the second set without the extra players. Still, it was really great to see everyone up on stage making music and having a great time. There aren't too many musical acts that invite people from the crowd up on stage to jam with them during a concert. As the evening was coming to an end, Moondoc's cell phone started ringing. Without missing a beat, he answered the call, and shouted "I'm in the middle of a gig! Call me back later!" Most professional musicians would be mortified by the idea of jamming with a bunch of guys from the crowd and answering calls on a cell phone during a concert. These guys loved it, and they made some amazing music in the process.

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