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Sunday, August 4, 2019

Jazz em Agosto, Day 3

Aug 3, 2019, Lisbon

I am convinced that the best way to see a city is to orient yourself towards one of its remaining record stores and walk. Take your time, don't worry, they open late and hardly at the hour Google Maps indicates, so get sidetracked. I started at my hotel and headed out, and along the way discovered a park with a commanding view of the city, historic monuments, museums, tree-lined promenades, and funiculars going up the steep hillsides to neighborhoods of dangerously skimpy sidewalks and faded charm around each corner. When I finally arrived at my destination - a shop located at the top of a steep stair-street lined with hole in the wall restaurants and outdoor seating, it was still not open.

Ingrid Laubrock and Tom Rainey © Jazz em Agosto / Petra Cvelbar
Evening three of the Jazz em Agosto festival began with spectacular husband and wife drum and sax duo of Tom Rainey and Ingrid Laubrock. Both have impressive discographies full of experimental and influential words and neither are new faces to festival. They have been playing as a duo since 2007 and have released three albums on Relative Pitch records: And Other Desert TownsBuoyancy, and Utter. Hearing them live, of course, is where some real magic happens.

Rainey doesn't play a straightforward rhythm, his approach is complex and nuanced, for example, large gestures made with mallets on the tom-toms or a thud of the bass drum are surrounded by smaller ones, barely audible whispers of cymbal or quiet arrhythmic high hat crashes, finding small empty spots and sometimes making new ones. Laubrock's playing fit perfectly, sometimes she is in the lead, sometimes it is Rainey, regardless, she too finds the best notes and sounds to fills the spaces and add unusual syncopation here, or unexpected accents there, keeping the music fresh and moving. 

Tonight, the duo was respectful of each other's space and trusting of each others next moves. At about 10 minutes into the performance, they pulled back their volume, suddenly shifting into "exploratory" mode. Laubrock placed the bell of her tenor sax around a vocal microphone and began playing with gloopy sounds. Rainey, like on spin cycle, ran his brushes over the drum heads. Patiently, they took the music from the sounds of gremlins in a washing machine to an apex of agitation, Laubrock picking up her soprano sax and pulling every sound out of that she could, and Rainey putting down his sticks, brushes, and mallets and using his hands directly on the drums. Their final improvisation featured an upbeat, uptempo pulse with Laubrock playing melodically over it.

The sax and drum duo is a rich collaboration with many possibilities, and the Laubrock/Rainey duo know how to make it really work.

Burning Ghosts © Jazz em Agosto / Petra Cvelbar
 So how does your music communicate 'resistance' when there are no words to rely on to convey it? Los Angeles' Burning Ghosts was fortunately on hand to answer this very question and the answer lies in the intention and feelings when you are making the music. Theirs is an intense instrumental mix of jazz, rock, and metal, and it isn't a bolt-on endeavor, rather it's a real melting-pot of influences that seamlessly veers from one end of the spectrum to the other. Their first recording was made in 2015 when racial tensions began boiling in the US following a number of highly publicized police killings (and how the hell does that now feel like a more innocent time?!?). In fact, the band's name came from the liner notes that John Skipp wrote for their album Reclamation - itself presenting a black and white image of the American Flag behind dark red tint on its cover - who wrote in his calamitous liner notes: 
"We're at another pivot point in history. And whether this smoke in the air smells like revolution, evolution, devolution, total apocalyptic disaster - or all of the above, in competing measure - if there's one thing I know, it's that time the time has come to put all of our flame-squirting cards on the table ... and if that wild trumpeting voice of the soul has anything real and important to tell us - surrounded as it is by all the burning, long-suffering ghosts of America, from beginning to end - it's that this life matters" 
Group leader, and organizer of Orenda Records, trumpeter Daniel Rosenboom explains, they all come from a left-leaning perspective, but are open to discussions - real discussions, not jingoistic shouting - with anyone, and hope that their music makes a space for organizing your own thoughts. On the stage at the festival he quickly introduced this notion and then let the music do the talking.

So, drum roll please ... as the group gathered on the stage, drummer Aaron McLendon started a drum solo, which lead into their first tune of the night. Compressed trumpet and distorted guitar sparred and intertwined, over McLendon's driving beats and the insistent pulse of Richard Giddens' upright bass. At one point guitarist Jake Vossler would have made Eddie Van Halen proud with his effortless tapping. The tight tandem leads shared between the guitar and the trumpet however were the high point of the night throughout - when they were locked in, Rosenboom's clean, straightforward melodies and Vossler's thick comping complimented the devastating precision of the bass and drums.

The second song that they introduced was dedicated to their mentor bassist Charlie Haden, who led the famous Liberation Music Orchestra, with the evocative title "Drowning on the High Ground." A long bass introduction opened the song, which then featured a legato melody with echos of Ornette Coleman's 'Lonely Woman'. Vossler later pulled out a Flying-V tenor guitar. The strikingly shaped and lower register instrument gave the group an even greater heavy-metal emphasis as they lumbered lithely through a ballad while Rosenboom counter-balanced with a mellifluous melody.

The music of Burning Ghosts' music is structured and well thought-out, there's plenty of room for improvisation in its often heavy "prog-metal" developments. Their music embodies the anger and hope that comes with being political aware, active, and engaged, without becoming righteous ... only the metal was!