This weekend was all about the Jazz and less so about whiskey and beer. Friday I hit Brazil - a land where the beer and wine may flow but not so much the harder stuff. No worries, this was more of a pit stop in my evening on my way to some more serious boozing. The reason for the stop was I’d been jonesin’ to see The Defenestration Unit (which has quite a few members with whom I’ve played music over the years) and Brazil’s intimate space is a perfect venue for the ensemble. The band plays with no set list, or as Jim Otterson explains, “Jeff [Miller] just throws us a key and we go from there.” Improvisation and horns sure, but this isn’t what I’d call straight Jazz. They definitely have a huge bit of Krautrock running through their veins and Mike Switzer pretty much admitted this when I mentioned it but added “Well, I’ve been listening to a lot of James Brown so I’d hope it’s a very funky Krautrock.” Which isn’t too far off as Bassist Jeff Miller, plays with the kind of detached funkiness you’d associate with say Berlin era Bowie. But overall they played a lovely first set that was a nice kickoff to my evening, I particularly love the sounds from that little Korg Charlie has been employing. Most importantly, the one thing I learned from watching this performance is that the best way to upstage your bandmates is to whip out a rubber chicken and actually play it for a few measures as Mike Switzer did (left). Sure you may point out that Jeff hit some sweet wah driven bass lines but, dude, Mike was just playing a chicken - that trumps all! So, appropriately, the band ended its first set not long after and I bid farewell and headed for the land of whiskey and hangovers.
Sunday found Diverse Works no better in the hard booze department but that was hardly a drawback as Peter Brotzmann and Han Bennink were in town thanks to Nameless Sound. Happily the show was well attended to the point where they had to add a few folding chairs at the last minute to accommodate the overflow. This was a boon for slack-asses like me as I got to sit not 5 feet from Brotzmann and, let me tell you, when you are close enough at a jazz show where you can feel the breath coming out of the horn, that’s as good as it gets.
The show itself was droll, playful, and full of energy. Bennink and Brotzmann have played together for so long that their performance was like listening to two people complete each others sentences. That kind of playfulness and levity is something that many people miss by simply listening to recordings while never experiencing this stuff live. This is music of the moment; it is sound begin pulled out of the ether and being molded, beat, and shaped right in front of you with a full joy of creativity that acknowledges that it’s supposed to be fun. Brotzmann is a Jazzman who plays with an ferocious intensity that reminds me of Hardcore - a blur of notes, volume, and energy. He can make the horn squeal for mercy yet can also whisper with great emotion. Bennink, for his part, is just as masterful but he is as much a joker as he is a musician. His sense of humor and childishness permeates his performances (likely why my 6-year-old son is a fan - “Aww dad, why couldn’t I come?” “It was past your bedtime.” “Awww!!!”). His performance style is not far off from that of Cop Warmth’s Zlatan and his antics. For example, Bennink entered the stage with a huge hunk of wood, laid it across his lap, and began playing it, then, discarding it, fell back, and, laying flat on his back, played the floor while Brotzmann played over him. Later Bennink would play with his foot, chide his drum kit, drag chairs, throw things, and all sorts of shenanigans as a kind of comedic foil to Brotzmann’s straight man. But here is the thing, as playful and even goofy as Bennink was, it never overshadowed the music or talked down to the audience. He and Brotzmann were simply having a discussion on stage like two enthralling dinner guests. Their chatter would range from loud arguments of notes and beats to quiet and thoughtful discourse and their manner had this wonderful way of engaging you and bringing you into the conversation. That, my friends, is a level of enganement with an audience to which every musician should asipre.
Some props are in order by the way for Nameless Sound who have for years not only been bringing Houston some of the finest in improvisational jazz,experimental, and any other genre that gets good coverage in say Signal to Noise Magazine but also have been doing excellent work with music education for kids. It’s simply a great organization. So, if you’ve not checked them out see the link below.
More snapshots on Flickr:
The Defenestration Unit (
Peter Brotzmann (Wikipedia)
Han Bennink (HanBennink.com)
Nameless Sound (website)
Diverse Works (Website)