An assemblage of quintessential musicianship performed before me last night at a concert in Amherst, Ma. The quintet was Alan Silva on bass (a rarity for him), Marshall Allen on alto sax, Hamid Drake on drums, Kidd Jordan on tenor sax and William Parker also on bass.
Silva began the one set gig with a long introduction playing a lilting rhythmic line, sometimes strumming the strings like he would a guitar, setting the theme, stating the pace. The other players listened. Each one had his eyes closed. Each became one with the sound. Parker started to bow in half the tempo held by Silva. Jordan fluttered in with the tenor so well that the sound embellished the bass and the three who were active all became unified. This was the entry point for Allen, who spoke with a high pitch and carried on with a frenzied line. Jordan counteracted with low tones on the tenor. Parker bowed endlessly. Drake clapped the hi-hat with the foot pedal and continued with his round on the drumset; he maintained the beat from which Silva was not shifting as he plucked indelibly.
Allen’s tactile runs up and down the valves of his horn brought Jordan forward, closer to the audience to play his energetic notes. Parker slowed his pace now on the same wavelength with Silva. Drake carried the whole pack and designated a circumspect structure. Parker bowed the hell out of his bass; there was no escaping the tone. Allen and Jordan started to blend together in their lines until Jordan lashed out with high pitches, leaned toward the drums and blew ostinatos which Allen matched in the alto’s high register.
Parker was still bowing.
Jordan made the tenor stay low.
Drake artfully pounded his drums.
Allen made the alto go into high beam.
Silva was mesmerized as his fingers plucked the tempo.
Allen did not play tunes. He focused on the way his fingers ran along the valves of his horn. Jordan’s licks kept climbing up more and more powerfully; he was stamping his foot in tandem.
Parker was still bowing, though more rapidly.
Jordan stepped out and came back in.
Drake quieted down and then increased the volume, occasionally snapping the snare.
Allen began to structure his lines.
Silva continued to pluck out a stated rhythm.
Parker began to play glissandos which were immediately perceptible. It told me there was going to be a switch. It seemed that we were in mid-stream. Drake never stopped the continuity of his playing. It was glorious to listen to, it was glorious to watch. The alto and tenor were now wed into one sound. Jordan actually developed a tune which Allen eventually accented with high single notes. Then Allen would take the lead and Jordan would interweave with Allen’s shrillness. Drake galloped across the drumset, the bass drum making a remarkable dent in the stream of articulation. Allen stepped out.
Parker was still plucking.
Allen directed his interaction with Silva, now using a bow on his instrument. Drake slowed to a roll. Jordan fell into a solo; he grew his line into one that asked for intense rhythmic accompaniment. Drake had picked up red brushes banded together to create a tight soft stoke on the skins. Silva stepped out. Allen came back in inviting conversation with Jordan. The rhythm overtook the group; the playing was totally synchronous.
Both Silva and Parker paused. Drake slowed the pace but swiped tight, quick distinct hits across his drums. Allen, Drake and Jordan were now working together. The beat picked up. Jordan absorbed himself completely into the development of his sound. Allen never looked like his was blowing his horn, only fingering the valves.
Parker began to pluck the strings again.
Allen barked his way into the fundamental score.
Drake struck the metal edge of the snare, rose up in tempo and fell down again which seemed to be a traditional rhythmic form but actually lent a peculiar twist to the whole.
Jordan reintroduced a recognizable phrase.
Silva was a half beat behind Parker.
Drake smacked the hi-hat. Silva bowed close to the padded bridge of his instrument. Parker was still plucking; this time closely aligned with Drake’s insistent rat-a-tats. It was at this point that I realized how Allen and Jordan complemented each other. Bringing the music to a peak, Allen’s educated brashness interspersed with Jordan’s soulful elegance. The two sax players were taking different avenues to arrive at the same place. After the peak was reached, Drake put down his sticks and used his hands to play the drums, with which method I could see he is very comfortable. The group was in yet another groove and this one lasted for a long time.
Drake kept the brushes in hand. Silva played extremely high pitches on his bass; they sounded like sax notes. Allen returned to the low register as Parker made deep notes that sounded like steps and progressively became a march. Jordan was answering to Silva. Parker played his strings against the neck of the bass like a drum. Jordan and Allen interwove their lines. Jordan reached a shrill place that elicited a re-direct by Allen. Drake began to twirl the large cymbal and screech one of the sticks on it as it twirled. Then there was a hiss. Silva kept bowing.
Parker was still plucking in a march sequence. I wondered how deep his tones could go. Jordan moved to high pitches; the notes were separated, then in a continuous sequence and finally a song. Allen breathed in and out; the horn’s notes followed like a seesaw in motion. The group hit another groove.
Drake buried himself in the rhythm. Silva scraped the bow across the bass strings. Parker was plucking singly at just the right place at the right time (it was kind of amazing). Allen’s horn was fluttering; Jordan’s fluttered too, then melted back into the song. Drake sat out. When he came back in, he used the stick to stroke up the side one of the cymbals, forcefully, meaningfully, then he did the same thing repeatedly to the hi-hats. Jordan began to rub the valves of his sax. Drake smacked the snare. Allen played elongated high pitches. There must have been a dozen or two broken hairs hanging off Silva’s bow, one for every hard stroke he made across the strings.
Parker was still plucking.
Jordan was in an intense tenor groove.
Drake mapped his drumset steadily.
Allen was all over his alto.
Silva was still bowing.
Jordan looked around to see where he was in relation to the others. It was beautiful. He needed water... Allen took over for awhile then bowed out to the two basses. Silva made single strokes with the bow, Parker single strokes with his fingers. Drake sat out. Jordan came back in with a high-pitched vibrato. Allen paralleled with a uniquely soft texture. Jordan returned to his soft slow song. Parker blew on a reed.
Parker was still plucking, one note at the very right time. He also alternated with blowing on his reeded bore pipe. There was an even pitch among all the reed instruments. Jordan produced a melodic phrase. There was an occasional thump from the bass drum. The alto and tenor came to center stage. Drake picked up the mallets and increased the tempo. The two horns played together almost in unison. The whole room shook as Jordan stamped his foot. All the instruments were gaining energy towards the close. There was fury in the horns, then slowness, then blending. Silva bowed distinct strokes marking the steps closer to home. Allen and Jordan went back to their original places. The cymbals, drums and bass drum were being played nearly conventionally. While the group was still engaged, Jordan stopped and announced the names of all the players. Applause rose. The sound slowed down. The applause stopped. The sound continued. The sound stopped. All the players froze until every overtone from every vibration of every instrument had faded away. Jordan smiled as he leaned against the wall.
With finality, Parker shut off his amp.