Hat and Beard + Tone Collector October 4, 2006 • Arraymusic Studio • Toronto
Music in the Silences, the Pauses Report by David Fujino | Photos by Dougal Bichan
It was fun - serious fun.
The musical efforts of guitarist Ken Aldcroft and the appropriately bearded and behatted drummer Dave Clark - henceforth known as Hat and Beard - very much waddled and lurched and ran about like a happy little kid, this easeful Wednesday evening at Arraymusic Studio.
In a spirit of sheer creative play, this improvising duo offered up six bite-sized interpretations of the wonderful false-naive repertoire of jazz master / composer / pianist - and owner of many fabulous hats - Thelonious Monk.
"Oska T." was taken to a joyful, hilarious level. Its swinging chord vamp and emotive bass lines got Clark up on his feet and into hand drumming and smacking his stomach, pattering Aldcroft's back, then rhythmically beating on an instrument shelf and drum, before sitting back down at his drums. All this time, audience heads were nodding to the melody the duo had placed in their heads.
The duo's power of suggestion reached a high point in "Monk's Dream" as Aldcroft fell silent and the drummer's brushes swished in the air and thereby completed the melody.
"Nutty" reinforced the hat and beard motif as Clark rhythmically sang 'hat and beard', while "Little Rootie Tootie" had Aldcroft swinging away hard as Clark completed the largely implied melody with a push on the slide kazoo, and a bleet on a second kazoo.
The fantasy, sheer fun, and sarcasm that dwells in Monk's music was well expressed by the individualistic and lean Hat and Beard duo. At times, because of Clark's sparkling personality, their total performance might have read as performance art, but as a credit to their taste and musicianship, Hat and Beard always remained on track and played the music.
The guest players this evening were Tone Collector, the trio from New York. What a totally pleasant surprise.
It seems they're heralded as stormy improvisors in an avant style, but this evening their focus was definitely upon the subtleties of sound, its dissipation and its re-energized cycles, more than on constant fury.
In fact, I'd describe their music as precise and extremely melodious, and really, all about space - space as in psychological / emotional / spiritual space.
There's a free-floating feel to their music, but inside its unbroken panorama, it's tethered to the pulse of Opsvik's plucked bass which, at times, had me thinking of Jimmy Garrison - so tensile are the plucked strings, so satisfyingly deep are his deliberate chordal strums. Opsvik frequently responded to Malaby in urgent parallel lines. At other times, his bowed screeling was revealed as the source of a new sound sensation the audience was immersed in.
And Tony Malaby - he was maybe six feet away from me - has a lovely tenor tone that simply sings and breathes luminous lines. He has a love for motivic cell-like phrases that he combines, breaks apart, and recombines, before retreating back into the music. Malaby never really soloed in the conventional sense; instead, he consistently thought and acted as a member of an improvising collective.
Jeff Davis is truly on top of his whole drum kit, but for him, no bombast and no furious substitution of household objects for drumsticks schtick. He's a lovely compositional drummer who plays the flow of the musical landscape through all the seasons, punctuating and urging on the music's flows, here softly striking an inverted cymbal seated on his snare drum head, there pulling a chain across the face of the snare to create a sonic scene within a sonic scene. Davis is a sensitive, astute, and tasteful player.
Quick consultations with my wrist watch had revealed that Hat and Beard played for about 35-40 minutes, while Tone Collector had played two pieces this evening. The first piece was 45 minutes; the second, 30 minutes.
I wasn't wiped out.
After two different yet highly creative sets, I was just glad - happy? - to hear musicians speak to contemporary life and feelings in their music. They go beyond craft and musical form to inhabit life, life lived in the moment. And so their music lives.
Big thanks to the musicians who evoked, for me, the inner-and-outer landscapes, today's global scale incidents, the pain of vast cities, and the stadium-sized emotional space that many of us seek to find our place in - or, to put it another way, as Joseph Jarman said so unforgettably, thank you for making us think and feel the "Non-Cognitive Aspects of the City".
Hat and Beard Ken Aldcroft - electric guitar Dave Clark - drums
Tone Collector Tony Malaby - tenor sax Eivind Opsvik - acoustic bass Jeff Davis - drums