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Concert Review: Tiny Resistors and the Mary Halvorson Trio

May 18th, 2011 at le Poisson Rouge, Presented by Undead Jazz Fest

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Todd Sickafoose's Tiny Resistors

Todd Sickafoose's Tiny Resistors

© Douglas Detrick for jazz.about.com
Todd Sickafoose’s band Tiny Resistors and the Mary Halvorson Trio joined forces for a double bill curated by the Undead Jazz Fest on May 18th, 2011 at Le Poisson Rouge. Both bands both play rock-influenced original music that pairs complex rhythms with an improvisational playfulness. Their styles diverge significantly from there. As a double bill, this show was an exciting look at the diversity of the New York jazz scene, and was a triumph for the Undead Jazz Fest’s off-season programming.

Tiny Resistors, a septet comprising, Sickafoose on bass, Ted Poor on drums Steve Cardenas and Jonathon Goldberger on guitars, Alan Ferber on trombone, John Ellis on tenor saxophone and bass clarinet, and Andrew Bird on violin, has been getting serious attention since their debut, self-titled album. The 2008 release on Cryptogramophone Records features Sickafoose’s unexpectedly twisting and turning melody lines along with layered rhythms, unique improvisational voices and a dramatic arch to every composition that makes for a perennially satisfying listen.

May 18th’s concert was no different, and hearing a fresh batch of new compositions from the bandleader was an extra treat. The pieces built on the same melodic and hypnotic sensibility as older ones, and each had a narrative arch characteristic of Sickafoose’s composing. It was a telling indication of the bandleader’s thoughts behind the music when, on a break between tunes, Sickafoose announced that he didn’t want to say much because “it breaks the spell”. Sickafoose’s music casts a spell with its building drama. Each new part of the composition builds upon the last, creating the feeling of a moving journey.

Guitarist Mary Halvorson’s trio, with John Hébert on bass and Ches Smith on drums, reached for an entirely different aesthetic. Halvoron’s compositions begin merely with melodies, and then surge into free-for-all improvisations. The trio created wild flurries of notes, with occasional holes in the sound deliberately inserted.

Halvorson’s approach to the guitar brings a taste for the unadorned sound of a hollow-body electric guitar, albeit with a pitch-bending delay pedal. This makes it sound like her instrument is being stretched or squashed within a phrase. Many guitar players use an array of pedals to create an enveloping sound, as if the guitar was recorded in the studio complete with reverb. Halvorson’s approach is refreshingly old fashioned, like the early electric guitarist Charlie Christian, but with a thirst for bending the sound way beyond the conventional bending of strings that were a staple of early blues and jazz guitar technique.

The Halvorson Trio and Quintet’s latest album Saturn Sings (Firehouse 12, 2010) is more calm and spacious than the trio's fiery and full-bore set was on Thursday. Where Tiny Resistor’s music creates a story, Halvorson’s embraces the momentary attentions of the creative mind, favoring quick transitions over a single story line.

Le Poisson Rouge, just a stone’s throw from the Blue Note and the Village Vanguard, is another important venue for jazz in New York, as well as contemporary classical music and indie rock. This program from the Undead Jazz Festival was right on the mark, emphasizing innovative artists and showing the variety of great music being made today.

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