Matthew Lickona 4 p.m., March 16
Nathan Hubbard's "Translation" succeeds at 98 Bottles
Jazz, and all of its myriad sub-genres, is the kind of music that is best experienced live. There is something about actually seeing the performers--and what it takes to produce the music that adds an extra dimension to understanding and appreciating a group, a concept or a given piece of work.
I listened to drummer/composer/producer Nathan Hubbard's latest group Ogd_S(11) Translation Has Failed, and their new release, This Middle Ground, with obvious interest, because I believe that Mr. Hubbard is one of the most original musicians I've ever encountered.
I have to confess, though, that I didn't really connect with the material until I witnessed the experience live, last night at 98 Bottles. My bad.
Fronting, (from behind), a remarkable ensemble featuring vocalist Molly Whittaker, pianist Ed Kornhauser, electric and acoustic bassist Harley Magsino, and keyboardist Preston Swirnoff, Hubbard's unlikely fusion of Bossa Nova with funk, cabaret, and operatic drama melded together into a sublime whole.
Hubbard began the concert by activating a mix of pre-recorded sounds of voice and synthesized textures, which yielded to the slinky, sensual atmospherics of "Last Tango In San Marcos," which, lyrics aside, mirrored the classic work of Antonio Carlos Jobim. Whittaker's lithe soprano was strong and sure, and Kornhauser managed to capture the idiosyncrasies of Tom Jobim's piano style, even as he stretched it into a more outre perspective. Magsino is one of the area's most solid bassists, and even on the electric, he displays an original voice. He plucked close to the bridge for a trebly dynamic during his brief, virtuosic solo.
Through a series of drum cues, the piece jerked suddenly into a four-note funk riff, whereupon Swirnoff sprung forth with a wild keyboard solo, using what sounded like distorted guitar samples. Even with only five people to keep track of, (and one of them being a singer), it was often difficult to tell where some of the music was coming from. Hubbard used a Roland Dr. Sample drum-machine, electronic drum pads, and an arsenal of percussive oddities ( like galvanized garbage can lids fashioned into cymbal shapes) to constantly color the orchestral washes that hovered above the music.
Shifting gears again, a samba developed, and Kornhauser let loose with a deeply lyrical solo--shooting out streams of unfettered melody before the piece morphed once again into the quiet, dirge like "Silver Moon," which found Whittaker intoning the words "Silver moon...too late," with appropriate pathos.
It has to be mentioned that large sections of the audience seemed oblivious to the music. They continued to carry on their conversations with the dogged intent of someone auditioning for the roles of insufferable chatterboxes on a soon-to-be filmed reality TV series. It was especially annoying when the music got quiet--because it would take them several minutes to realize that they were much louder than the band.
A short but furious drum solo found Hubbard launching into a rim-shot driven groove and substantially minimalist vamp, where Whittaker's wordless vocal soared-- bringing to mind an in-tune Flora Purim. Over the sound of waves crashing to the shore, Kornhauser laid down pristine, pastoral harmonies while Whittaker got golden-toned. Suddenly the serenity came tumbling down as the keyboards dueled with pounding clusters and the bass squiggled nervous fragments over the huge bass drum of Hubbard. Somehow, that eased into a kind of cabaret-on Mars groove, with Kornhauser channeling Claire Fischer into Don Pullen.
Magsino switched to double bass for the second set, which was even more wildly creative and aesthetically successful than the first. The band didn't have to share as much sonic space with the audience, and Kornhauser, ( who was the secret weapon in this group) pulled off an astonishing solo where he played piano and melodica simultaneously--almost stealing the show.
It all came to an end when each member of the group picked up a percussion instrument and ornamented the huge afoxe Brazilian groove established by Hubbard's off-kilter bass drum. When the sound of rim-shots, shakers, maracas and cowbells got thick enough--Whittaker belted out the lyrics to the Tina Turner associated, "What's Love Got To Do With It?" for a totally fitting finale.
Photo by Michael Klayman