labyrinth live at birdland review

New York Press review (full)

“Daedalus Project – Labyrinth”

 Live at Birdland review.

June 13th 2001

By Joel Simpson

 

(Edited review appeared at New York press few days later)

http://nypress.com/dimitrios-vassilakis-at-birdland/

 

ACHILLES' TENOR


Dimitrios Vassilakis, the whiz-kid tenor player from Greece, offered a
live preview of his new CD "Labyrinth-Daedalus Project" at New York's

Birdland, June 13 band, hosted by Dave Liebman, who also performed with the
group.
The music that night reaffirmed that jazz, like every other major
artform, is in full post-modernist phase.
I see the image of post-modernism as that of a shattered
mirror, rearranged in mosaic by each individual artist. Prerequisite: a
thorough assimilation of the Tradition. Execution/performance, therefore,
consists of a stream of consciousness expressin (/interaction) drawing from
elements of that tradition. It's self-expression at a major remove: sound (or
visual elements) don't directly express one's emotion; one expresses oneself
through the medium of fragments of the artistic tradition one is
embedded in. Times Square is now the perfect external analogue, but they are
pervasive in our culture, from channel surfing, to those photographs
comprised of tiny photos of other things.
The post-modernist approach could be heard most clearly from
drummer Ralph Peterson. His rhythm consisted of a sequence of
vignettes of settings drawn intuitively from world rhythms: African patterns
alternating with funk, with swing, with Latin-each one lasting for a few bars,
generating high, almost overwhelming energy in (enormous) distinct
shapes.
Their length varied, of course, since the compositional component of
his accompaniment was as macro as any soloist's. During his solos, on the
other hand, he went, more conventionally, for the range of drumming effects.
Of the two pianists, the second, Emmanuel Saridakis, had the
more distinct style. The first, George Contrafouris played the standard
post-Herbie, post-Chick, post-McCoy amalgum which one hears in most
contemporary groups today-not that this isn't a solid accomplishment.
The gesture of this style seems to be one of constantly topping itself,
layering a descending note-cascade on top of fast passage work, then a
boom-bass/fourth chord reset, then parallel chromatic zig-zagging
triad-octaves, then more passagework. With impressive technique it
nonetheless evokes a hailstorm sooner than it does the story-telling
model of the more traditional jazz solo.
In contrast Saridakis' solos had clear compositional direction. Energy and attention were focused on particular figures, developments, tessituras. It was as if the clouds had parted, and the scene was suddenly visible and compelling.
Leader Dimitrios Vassilakis gives off signs of placing himself firmly in the post-modern force field. Drawing his titles from Greek mythology (rather than, say, Greek food, another jazz option, but considerably more down-scale) he calls his album and its title tune "Labyrinth." Of course, a labyrinth is another image that lends itself to post-modernism: passageways in all directions, most of them leading to dead ends, but if you can tolerate the confusion and uncertainty, offering a vertiginous pleasure of touring, journeying, questing in every direction but within a relatively small space-a game of virtual travel. His CD cover very aptly depicts his bald head from above, in solarized black on red, with a labyrinth pattern inscribed on the top of his head, which, with delicious ambiguity, could also be his (electronic) brain circuitry-another post-modern theme, viz. the mechanically generated image.

Vassilakis' compositions offer a perfect platform for post-modern expression: simple repeated riffs over an explicit rhythmic pattern within a single harmonic setting. The tunes function as anchors, each distinct from the other, for inspired play by the musicians, spinning out their style. One might observe that any solo can go over any tune, which may almost be the case, so that any solo is the perfect product of the momentary encounter between a tune setting and a consciousness. The danger is that, with minimal formal cues coming from the tune, one's solos will tend to be the same, or the same collection of gestures. And overall homogeneity of sound is a danger in this kind of music (of course all tunes sound the same in any style to someone completely unaccustomed to that style-even standards[!], I'm told by members of the younger generation).
Vassilakis' style was the post-Coltrane, post-Rollins style, that like his first pianist, one hears a great deal of in contemporary quartets.

It suggests a typology of this branch of jazz:
        1. free playing-pioneered by Coltrane in the 60s, continued by such players as Sam Rivers and Kid Jordan, this has come to occupy the "primitive" slot in this series.
        2. post-Coltrane, post-Rollins (and a few others; or post-Herbie, post-Chick, post-McCoy for pianists)-the coin of the realm: high energy, immensely fluid.
        3. multi-referential-truly in the spirit of post-modernism, this draws stylistic fragments at will from the tradition, mediating the players own emotional message, taking the informed listener on a kaleidoscopic (or labyrinthine) ride through allusion and associations, all of which have emotional tags. The effect is euphorically dizzying.

Dave Liebman approaches this effect through more purely
musical and less necessarily historically referential means, by playing lines in a chromatic succession of keys. You get the effect of the kaleidoscope, if not the shattered *mirror*, and his solo lines manage to float at a distance above the accompaniment setting. Liebman is, of course, immensely well-stocked with the tradition, and a close listening might indeed yield identifiable allusions, making his approach doubly kaleidoscopic.

The other band members were the marvellous Marc Johnson on
bass, whose thoughtful solos provided a deeply comforting respite from the energy of the ensemble; Satoshi Takeishi on percussion, whose sound effects added a rich organic element to the overall sound; and Bulgarian kaval player
Theodosii Spassov. Kaval is a kind of wooden flute or recorder which Spassov played apparently using two different embouchures producing two different types of sounds. He got some grooves going, interspersed with honks, contributing intriguing timbres to the group sound that refreshingly evoked traditions outside Western jazz.

Will the next generation of players pay as close attention to assimilating the tradition as certain members of this one has? Or will things shift to some other place in the cycle of artistic evolution.
Post-modernism is a form of mannerism, a style built upon the earlier styles, relying upon familiarity with them for its emotional impact.

This complicity between artist and audience can rarely last longer than a generation. Experience of the earlier styles fades from living memory, no longer carries the same weight for new generations, who must find their own way to express emotions. Do they innocently, forgetfully recreate what has gone before? Or is this really no longer possible in a culture in whose history is unavoidably ever present and accessible through its reproducing media. Of course, popular culture has answered this question in large part, by distracting and numbing younger generations with commercially generated and motivated art. Is this emptying the commercially driven underside
of post-modernism? It certainly uses the technological trappings of post-modernist communications technology to operate. But will the generation after this one, the baby-boomer's grandchildren revolt against this? Will the 'sixties come again?

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