released January 1, 2007
Andrew D'Angelo - bass clarinet, alto saxophone
Chris Speed - clarinet, tenor saxophone
Kurt Rosenwinkel - guitar, voice
Jim Black - drums, electronics
recorded June 1-2, 2006 at Brooklyn Recording by Andy Taub
assisted by Yohei Goto
mixed by Andy Taub
Mastered by Doug Henderson
As I stood tonight in Fat Cat, a seedy West Village jazz club that might be described as a Dazed and Confused den of slack with postmillennial Village Vanguard aspirations, I wondered if, 13 years ago, I might have been one of those 20-somethings who sprawled on couches and lounge chairs, feeling vaguely contemptuous toward the nearly-40s who more clearly felt discomfort at the vaguely stifling setting. Probably, I surmised, that was just a romanticized view of my younger years; it likely would have chafed just as much back then.
Still, it was worth spending an hour and change in a cavern that made the old Knitting Factory on Houston Street seem posh by comparison in order to catch tonight's opening set by the reunited Human Feel, a quartet that made some remarkable music during the first half of the '90s before dispersing in mostly different directions.
My preview in last week's issue of TONY provides a concise background for this group, which over the course of four albums rose from a handful of gifted and promising upstarts to a quartet of original thinkers with distinctive voices. To hear reedists Andrew D'Angelo and Chris Speed, guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel and drummer Jim Black play together again seemed unlikely at best, so far apart had their visions seemed to have grown by the band's dissolution in 1996. Speed and Black, whose then-concurrent tenure in saxophonist Tim Berne's epochal Bloodcount expired around the same time, continued to work in one another's bands as well as the Balkan-improv quartet Pachora. Rosenwinkel emerged as a post-bop bandleader with nascent hip-hop proclivities; D'Angelo swung with drummer Matt Wilson's quartet while experimenting elsewhere, and guested on Rosenwinkel's Heartcore, a 2003 release that presented a startlingly individual take on jazztronica.
But Human Feel had always been a band that thrived on musical clashes even at its peak, so there was no reason to suspect that the quartet's return would be anything but assured -- and perhaps even more colorful for all the territory the players had mapped since their premature farewell. And indeed, tonight's first set recaptured the livid sputter of the band's peak. Midway through the five-tune set, D'Angelo stated that Human Feel was playing a mix of old and new material; without a score card to double-check my reflexes, I can only suggest that the first and last pieces in the set could have been catalog items -- or at least spoke the same language -- while the middle trilogy marked new territory.
The signal addition to the mix, evident from the beginning, was Black's manipulation of electronics. As Speed's clarinet and D'Angelo's bass clarinet sang long tones over Rosenwinkel's fluttering strings (often doubled by his wordless vocalizing), Black filled an even lower depth of the band's sonic range with an organlike rumble that might well have been D'Angelo's own horn sampled live. Exploding into one of his trademark dry, frenetic avant-funk beats, Black drove D'Angelo's searing alto sax while Speed drilled holes in the floor. A heavy-metal plod led to a sudden release.
Black has fruitfully explored laptop electronics with his own band, Alas No Axis, and brought that more recently acquired facility to the second composition in tonight's set, which opened with Speed's clarinet plaintively navigating an aural hall of mirrors. A queasy melody shimmered and dispersed like a patch of oil spreading across the surface of a pond; when D'Angelo and Rosenwinkel locked into a raging duo passage, Black filled the remaining space with electronic swishes and slurps like Eno in early Roxy Music or Allen Ravenstine in Pere Ubu. Abruptly, the horns snapped into a surging line paced by Black's elusive pulse and Rosenwinkel's unperturbable cool.
The third selection, a D'Angelo tune, opened with a knotted head characteristic of this band, followed by a darting, squalling alto solo over Black's action-painted tumult. A collectively improvised passage that followed might best be described by the title of an earlier Speed composition, "Scribble Bliss," until Black's ponderous beat threatened an eruption of full-blown pomp; eventually, the whorl of furious activity passed like a hurricane petering out over land.
The solo guitar lines that opened Rosenwinkel's "Serenade" presented the evening's closest approximation of a standard jazz chord sequence, albeit an oblique one. It was hard to tell whether whiny sine-wave intrusions were contributed by Black or merely feedback in the sound system; less ambiguous were electronic samples that might well have been captured from Rosenwinkel on the fly, deployed behind and then replacing a stately theme on bass clarinet and tenor saxophone.
Closing the set was another tune built on angular unison lines; Rosenwinkel initially sat out as D'Angelo and Speed raced over a drum line so abtrusely animated as to suggests James Brown's funky drummer Clyde Stubblefield somehow possessed by Bill Bruford's passionate will to disrupt. I can think of no other drummer who can maintain so solid a pocket while running completely roughshod over barlines, nor one with a more sophisticated command of timbre using the basic resources of a standard drum kit. An airy, ungrounded collective blow on tenor saxophone, bass clarinet, pealing guitar and bowed cymbals maintained a dreamlike state of bliss for what felt like endless moments, only to be sundered by D'Angelo's most elephantine blowing. Thick, reverberent guitar lines tangled with Black's unhinged beat... and just like that, the set was over.
Night After Night NYC
all rights reserved