Barber, Coleman, Breuker
January 1, 1970O me of little faith ... the review of last week's Willem Breuker Kollektief performance, which I suspected would never see print, was published Tuesday of this week. Better late than never.
In Jazz Notes this week, Patricia Barber is the lead item and a Steve Coleman residency at New England Conservatory is tacked on as a short second item. The two-item approach looks like it's going to be a regular thing in coming weeks.
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Patricia Barber overcomes obstacles to record live CD for major label
By Bill Beuttler, Globe Correspondent | October 1, 2004
Patricia Barber is known for at least a couple of things beyond the unique way she blends her exceptional piano playing, singing, and songwriting skills.
One is her continued stage fright after 20-odd years of performing, a discomfort she quells by sipping a little cognac before shows. Another is her stubborn streak, which for years led her to reject the advances of domineering major record labels she worried would trample her artistic integrity.
Both these traits were put aside on her new Blue Note CD, "Live: A Fortnight in France," which Barber and her quartet will be celebrating with performances at the Real Deal Jazz Club & Cafe tonight and tomorrow.
First, there's the matter of recording it directly for Blue Note. Her two previous CDs, "Nightclub" and "Verse," were made for the tiny Chicago label Premonition, a Blue Note subsidiary, because of Barber's skepticism toward larger labels. But Blue Note has since won her over to the main label.
"They're all fans of the people that they have signed there, and are fiercely loyal," explains Barber, 48, by phone from her home in Chicago. "I've overheard people trying to criticize some of their artists, and they just won't hear of it. And they let me do pretty much what I want."
The decision to record the disc live over two weeks this spring in three French cities — La Rochelle, Metz, and Paris — was also a stretch for her.
"It was a little bit stressful, yes," she says. "But I wanted to catch this quartet live, because I knew that there's something different that happens live from what happens in the studio, and I thought that we were exactly ready."
The new disc, a mix of five originals and five covers (the latter ranging from "Laura" to the Beatles' "Norwegian Wood"), attests to the way the quartet — rounded out by guitarist Neal Alger, bassist Michael Arnopol, and drummer Eric Montzka — has integrated with one another and Barber's edgy compositions in the three years or so since Alger joined the band.
"We have a sound, and we have a way of improvising," Barber says, "and they have a way of sticking to the ambience of a song but also inserting themselves individually."
"It's more akin to playing a solo on a pop song, in a way," says Alger, "where you really have to say what you want to say in a short amount of time and really make it mean something in the context of the song."
Songwriting and singing were nowhere on Barber's agenda when she started at the University of Iowa. "The singing was a matter of just survival," she says. "In college, there was a note on the board in the music department that a band needed a girl singer. I auditioned and got the job."
She took the skill with her to Chicago, where she hooked up with Arnopol nearly 25 years ago and began gigging regularly in small clubs around the city. Her coolly understated vocal style, she says, "is probably most derived from the Brazilian singers. They have an emotional timbre within their voice, a lot of emotion encased in a disciplined delivery. And that tension has always fascinated me."
Writing her own songs came along last, but Barber has shown a strong and evolving talent for it.
"The songwriting was kind of a thing that happened out of desperation," she says. "I was singing six nights a week at the Gold Star Sardine Bar [a now defunct Chicago club], and I was just tired of the repertoire. And I wanted music that spoke to contemporary events and new feelings and this and that, so I had to give it a shot. And it turned out I had a facility for it."
Patricia Barber will perform at the Real Deal Jazz Club & Cafe tonight and tomorrow night, 7:30 and 10. Ticket prices: $18 tonight; $22 tomorrow night. Call 617-876-7777.
Coleman visits NEC : The veteran saxophonist and composer Steve Coleman comes to the New England Conservatory for a three-day residency next week that will include master classes Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons. He'll also direct three student ensembles in a Thursday concert at NEC's Jordan Hall. (The concert and classes are free and open to the public; call 617-585-1122 for more information.)
Coleman's longstanding M-Base Collective (Cassandra Wilson was an early member), as well as his group Five Elements, gave rise to what has been touted as the M-Base Concept, described as a philosophy involving creating music from one's life experiences. If that sounds a lot like what composers and jazz improvisers have been doing all along, Coleman says, it should.
"Essentially, you could say that the approach I'm trying to take is not different than John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Bach, Beethoven, whatever," Coleman says. "It's just that the results, of course, will sound very different to people. It's going to be a unique expression, because each one of us is unique."
© Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company
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Dutch ensemble has ear for adventure
By Bill Beuttler, Globe Correspondent | September 28, 2004
SOMERVILLE — The essence of the Dutch treat that is the Willem Breuker Kollektief became evident in the third tune of the boisterous first set at Johnny D's Wednesday night, during the 10-piece avant-garde ensemble's performance of the leader's "Hulpverkrabber 911."
After relatively straightforward arrangements of Kurt Weill's "Dance of the Tumblers" and Gigi Gryce's "Smoke Signal," the 30-year-old Amsterdam-based group unleashed its sense of humor. Bernard Hunnekink stepped to the front of the stage to begin a solo on trombone (he doubled that night, as he always does, on tuba). After a moment, trumpeter Andy Altenfelder began feigning confusion and irritation. He and fellow trumpeter Boy Raaymakers gave the impression they were to be featured, and soon they were elbowing Hunnekink from center stage. The trombonist tried to hold his ground but soon acquiesced.
With his soprano sax, Breuker chased away the trumpeters, who hurled themselves offstage like hapless cartoon villains. By now the crowd was laughing openly. The long, inventive Breuker solo that followed included such buffoonery as his half-swallowing and twirling his mouthpiece 180 degrees while continuing to blow. Later, he shouted through his horn angry-sounding nonsense words reminiscent of the ravings of Yosemite Sam.
Somehow, the remarkable musicianship never got lost amid the high jinks. Two more lengthy Breuker compositions closed out the set — a few movements from his suite "Faust" and his frequent set-ender "Thirst" — and left no doubt that these guys (and one woman) are serious talents.
The horn arrangements were deftly written and executed with brio, and Breuker gave everyone room to stretch with solos: Trombonist Andy Bruce was impressively lyrical; tenor saxophonist Maarten van Norden was bluesy with a Coleman Hawkins-ish edge; Raaymakers's piece on trumpet was finely constructed; and Henk de Jonge made like Cecil Taylor, playing clusters of notes with his fists and eventually lifting the instrument up and banging it on its stand to coax more cacophony from it.
Adventuresome stuff, but Breuker and company's insistence on having fun kept even their most cutting-edge excursions palatable.
Willem Breuker Kollektief
At: Johnny D's, first set, Wednesday
© Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company