For his second appearance at the Rubin Museum of Art, Centazzo employed his Ictus Records 30th Anniversary Renaissance Project - clarinetist Perry Robinson, pianist Nobu Stowe and tabla player Badal Roy - for the Harlem in the Himalayas series. The event was hosted by Loren Schoenberg, Executive Director of The Jazz Museum in Harlem. Both museums have collaborated on the series for almost two seasons. For the first half of the presentation, Centazzo, Robinson and Stowe played selections from their new release The Soul of the Mist (Ictus/Konnex) that was on sale at the performance. Their opener was the title tune. Centazzo, seated behind his percussion pieces like a master chef at his cutlery, began with a swish of metal from stacked cymbals. Stowe responded quickly with a flurry of notes that called for Perry to join in with a wail of enthusiasm. In "Another Situation", Centazzo used sampled sounds from his laptop. Stowe brought in a pretty melody that lightly spread over Centazzo’s soft mallet work on mounted drum heads. Perry’s wizened and chiseled features reflected his contemplation in building his structured solo, which peppered the ostinato underneath played by Stowe.
"The Cry" was just that; a cry of want from Centazzo and Stowe that began with a dramatic, intense statement from both players. This piece was jarred free from memory by "Twenty Years Later". Perry was all spit and spirit and his tone was bone dry as the piano and drums danced freely behind him. On the following tune, Centazzo’s opening solo on the drum heads throbbed with warmth. Stowe (his first recording is due out on the German label Konnex Records) met Centazzo at the dénouement of his solo with an enticingly tangled and mysterious melody.
In "Pan Dance", Centazzo played with his hands on what looked to some like overturned stainless steel dog dishes affixed to a wooden plank. The effect was accentuated by Perry’s short, stabbing notes. By midsection, the trio pounced from their corners and shredded every note of the piece. "Last Song" was the last song of the set and had an Asian flavor to it. The music from the three musicians slowly rose and glided across the stage and dissipated into a mist.
The second set included Badal Roy. This was his debut at the two and a half-year old Rubin Museum of Art. Seated upon a riser with his tablas, he talked for at least ten minutes about his arrival in the United States (he earned a Ph.D. in Statistics in 1972), his playing experiences and what then turned into a short dissertation on the technique and language of the tablas. Then he made an announcement: the Project was essentially gonna wing it for the rest of the performance, not really knowing what they were going to play. At first, it sounded like a challenge to his band mates to rise to the impromptu performance, but in him repeating that message, it made for an apprehensive vibe in the hall. It was like hearing the ending to a movie you hadn’t seen yet.
Roy began unaccompanied with a hypnotic display of visual fluency and daring. It seemed as if his hands guided his mind through passages already traveled; no hesitation, no fear. It was unbelievable.
The second composition found Stowe and Roy eying each other and listening for their cues. Once this was worked out between mind and body, the musical ideas began to unfold tentatively. It ended before it derailed from their not knowing what was to come next. Before the start of the next tune, Perry remarked happily on his days with Roy in the group Raga Roni with bassist Ed Schuller. Then Perry and Roy engaged in a quick-tempered duet that reconnected their musical kinship.
Centazzo and Roy seemed to reenact a bridal drum procession on stage with the next composition. Their playing was deliberate and regal. Perry first played a palm-sized wind instrument that had a thin, wispy tone that spoke alone into the air, as if beckoning the new couple to the alter. As Stowe played a drifting melody, Perry changed to clarinet. The union of sound and soul was underway.For their last number, the Project played "something funky in five", as Roy described it. What it turned into was a non-cohesive jam that made for an unsatisfying end to the set.
Was the second set bad? Not at all, but as one audience member remarked "It just didn’t gel." It was disappointing to hear others from the audience remark that they felt that the Project wasn’t prepared. These men are certainly not strangers to each other nor the music. It’s just that the set ended where it should have started. But there was heartfelt appreciation that evening in the ground-level theater of the Rubin Museum of Art for the mastery of the Ictus Records 30th Anniversary Renaissance Project. After thirty years of uncompromising music, this group honors Ictus Records with an uncompromising approach to it.
The Jazz Museum in Harlem is collaborating with the Rubin Museum of Art for The Harlem in the Himalayas series. The series features "a wide variety of outstanding jazz talent" who are asked to incorporate some aspects of Himalayan art into their presentation. Performances during the spring are on Friday nights beginning at 7pm.
THE RUBIN MUSEUM OF ART PRESENTS: HARLEM IN THE HIMALAYAS: ICTUS RECORDS 30TH ANNIVERSARY RENAISSANCE PROJECT