By Michael Shore
This was one of those concerts where the line is blurred between the warmup and the “actual music” — where you become aware the warming up never stopped and instead transmuted into rolling waves of sound, and you realize from the casual mastery displayed by such musicians as CMS Spring 2015 Workshop Guiding Artists Karl Berger (piano, vibraphone), Omar Tamez (guitar, percussion), Ken Filiano (bass) and Warren Smith (drums) that loosening up and tuning up IS in fact music…a way of approaching and striking up a conversation with their instrument, not “as if” it’s a living partner — it IS a living partner, no less than their fellow musicians are partners. Later, CMS Executive Director Rob Saffer will sidle over to me and whisper that just as I’d been noting how the warmup bled into those waves of sound, he’d asked the videographer if he was rolling — and the reply? “Oh, have they actually started playing?”
The extended warmup/overture finally dissolves as Karl hits on an Afro-Latin piano vamp — a handful of notes, repeated just-so with that particular rhythmic feel and emphasis Jelly Roll Morton called “the Latin Tinge,” so central to jazz syncopation — and they’re off, sailing along on Warren’s classic bop ride cymbal…Karl, rakish in a fedora, hustles across the stage to his vibes for an emphatic and exultant solo, crouching in time to the decay of sustained notes, then tapping out rapid repeated runs…a scrabbling Omar Tamez solo leads to a free interlude dominated by Omar’s assortment of sirens, whistles and bells…Karl’s stately piano ruminations morph into a vaguely Spanish vamp which Rob Saffer thinks is a Karl composition whose title he can’t place, over which Omar peals out gorgeous sweet-sustained licks and reverbed trills…for an ecstatic and too-brief moment the whole band catches hold of a beautiful cycling groove one wishes would last all night. Then — a brief free interlude, some reflective piano…and Piece One is over.
Piece Two starts of with Karl’s repeating piano runs, leading the foursome into a prolonged free meditation, dark and stormy like the weather outside on this rainy night. It finally subsides for a superb bowed solo by Ken Filiano, making the bass sing in that solemn, cantorial way that the late great Ronnie Boykins had with the Sun Ra Arkestra…Warren Smith clacks out quiet patterns on the rims and shells of his drums before all subsides for Omar’s kalimba solo, Filiano rubbing the body of his bass to produce scrapes and moans — like rubbing a balloon on a flannel shirt…or like a whale sighing in its sleep. Karl ruminates on piano, Warren taps out a steady bass drum pulse — and it’s over.
Seemingly with hardly any effort at all, these four have taken The Roadhouse on quite the sonic journey. This, folks, is how it’s done. Now let’s see what Guiding Artists Amir elSaffar and Steven Bernstein, and this spring’s class of attendees, can bring these next few nights!