ElemSeen: Creative Music Studios benefit at Le Poisson Rouge 2/6/2018

Every month we will be posting live music review in our ElemSeen feature. We’d love to hear about some of the awesome music you’re seeing! If you’re interested in contributing a review or photos of a show (or shows!), in whatever format, length, etc. you’d like, please email us at lmc@freaksactionnetwork.org.

Sometimes look awesome on paper and they disappoint and sometimes things kind of look “eh” on paper and they surprise you in how good they are. It’s the rare treat when things look awesome on paper and they still surprise you in how good they are. That’s about where we were come the end of an astounding night of music at Le Poisson Rouge last night. The show was a benefit for the Creative Music Studio and the line-up was kind of ridiculous: John MedeskiBilly MartinNels ClineSteven Bernstein and Bill F’in Frisell were all on the bill amongst others. It was a there’s-no-way-this-ain’t-sick assembly of music which means it was a no-way-I’m-missing-this affair for me and many others. Even if it totally sucked, it would have to be inconceivable in its suckiness to still make it worth attending. Besides the listing of musicians, there was no indication on how the night would proceed, which made it all the more fun to get in and see just what the heck was going to happen…

As it worked out, the evening split into three pieces. The first “section” featured Medeski, Martin, Tony Scherr on bass and John Scofield on guitar. This was the sort of “A-Go-Go” part of the night, groovy/jazzy/MMW-y goodness. I am, historically, not a huge fan of John Scofield… I’ve seen him a bunch in different groups and it’s always so-so to me. I just can’t get into his tone and his playing isn’t so over-the-top spectacular to get me over that hump with him. Still, this was pretty great, mostly for the other three guys. MMW is an all-timer for me — and let me be perfectly clear, Chris Wood is one of my favorite bassists, period — but I’ve come to realize in seeing other slightly-different groups like Medeski, Martin and (Trevor) Dunn, or the ridiculous MMClineLageLightcap show from a little ways back, that the MM part of the trio can operate pretty damn well without Mr. W. This was the case last night and big-ups for Tony Scherr who established himself as the guy pretty early on and didn’t really leave the stage or leave much to be desired in terms of really-awesome-bass-playing. Scherr is a kind of under-the-radar hero of which NYC is overfull of… Sexmob, the classic Frisell trio, his own stuff, plenty of stuff with Jenny Scheinman and that whole universe of musicians. He’s the kind of guy you can plug into almost any situation and he’s going to make it happen at a very high level. Considering the other 3 guys he shared the stage with during this opening segment, it’s not nothing that he was the centerpiece that made it all work. Sco was fine, but I would’ve loved for a song or two with just the MM&S to let them really dig into the grooves they were laying down. Great shit, though.

The second section consisted of still Tony Scherr and still Billy Martin, but now with Steven Bernstein on trumpet/slide-trumpet and, personal favorite, Bill Frisell on guitar. Man, this was they-should-be-a-band good. Just so tight and wonderful and somehow, amazingly, able to take the best of all four musicians and combine them into something new and somewhat breathtaking. There used to be a time when there would be these superjams or whathaveyou and it would be totally hit or miss and lately it seems that the musicians involved can take things to a higher plane. These guys are all just generous, high-level dudes that it’s almost inconceivable that they wouldn’t be awesome together… and they were pretty great. Interestingly, there was a similar, I’d-love-to-see vibe going on here, with the original Frisell/Scherr/Wolleson trio on stage but with Billy Martin filling in on drums and an extra guy who I kinda would’ve like to have seen step off for a couple songs. Of course, in this instance, the extra guy was the incomparable Bernstein who wasn’t really detracting from anything, but still… They played a few classic Frisell tunes which really swung with Martin pushing the rhythms and then a Louis Armstrong song which was really {chef-kisses-fingers}.

They took a short break and then came back and announced that the second set was going to be all freeform. So, we were treated to about 90 minutes of pure improv from some of the best musicians on the planet playing about as good as you could hope. They started with Billy Martin and Mark Guiliana doing a drum/percussion thing that was rather captivating. Guiliana is a powerhouse (he’s in McCaslin Quartet caught last week) and no one can do the transfix-you-with-percussion thing quite like Billy Martin. So that was fun. The next portion included Nels Cline, Ingrid Laubrock on saxophone, Peter Apfelbaum on sax and megaphone and piano/keys. This was really some deep improv, the kind of thing that goes in and out of grooves and then kinda gets totally far-flung and out there. Out there is good, especially when it’s handled by pros like these guys. The main thing about that whole section was that it basically was all leading to what can only be described as the inevitable Nels Cline all-these-guitars-belong-to-me-now guitar meltdown. This was vintage Nels, build and build while at the same time self-destruct and self-destruct. The greatest thing about the room-destroyer solo he took at the end of that first bit of improv is that Bill Frisell had walked on stage and plugged in getting ready to join the fray and he just stood there as watched Nels the entire time with a perfectly Frisellian smile on his face. That image alone was worth the price of admission.

Still, things were only getting started and the next section was easily my favorite of the night. As I said, the room had just gone large with Nels Cline leading the charge… a short pause and the conch was handed to Frisell. At this point there were like 8 people on the stage. Almost every single musician on that stage is what I’d call a Type-A guy/gal, a leader and someone who can control the energy of a large ensemble through their talent and charisma. And then you have Bill Frisell who is like a nice guy when it comes to lead guitarists… he’s not someone who can overwhelm like a Nels Cline, someone who can just find that higher gear and use it to burn the whole damn place down…. like he just did. But Frisell doesn’t do that. Not anymore he doesn’t anyway. That’s part of his charm, to me. A small part. The other thing is he’s good. Really, really freakin’ good. And the next jam that ensued was really unlike anything I had seen. Because there was this stageful of dudes (and Laubrock) whose instincts is to just go big… but Bill starts a solo and it’s quiet and beautiful and all those other things that come to mind when he plays that guitar. And the amazing thing was all these musicians bending to his will, everyone got quiet and beautiful and this unbelievably exquisite music unfolded, improvised in the purest of the Frisell tradition. For like 10 minutes (note: may not have been 10 minutes, possibly longer/shorter), they went along like this in absolutely magnificent fashion, an octet of Frisells making lovely things happen in the smoldering remains of a Nels Cline meltdown. Within that stretch, a whole bunch of awesome things were happening, not the least of which was Bill and Nels (or Frisnels) playing off each other. Needless to say, I was blown away.

And so, the show had a bit of everything. Big/small, loud/quiet, beautiful/challenging, mind/body, funky/funky… and a healthy dose of Tony Scherr.

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