David Helvarg 9:30 a.m., Dec. 10
Kwassman Sextet storms Dizzy's
An extremely talented group of players helped the composer realize his ambitions.
Young composer/multi-instrumentalist Joshua Kwassman migrated into town from his NYC base on June 12, drawing a small but enthusiastic group of listeners to experience the wide-ranging and cinematic sound collages that constitute his Song of the Brother Spirits CD.
This performance was alternately exhilarating and frustrating.
Kwassman, even at the age of 24, is a composer to be reckoned with. He has a supreme sense of melody and storyteller's gift for the transparent overlay of thematic materials. Even more to his credit -- he has assembled an incredible ensemble of top-flight musicians, starting with vocalist Arielle Feinman, and continuing with guitarist Jeff Miles, pianist Angelo Deloretto, bassist Craig Akin and drummer Rodrigo Recabarren.
Opening with the hypnotic, "Our Land," there was an immediate dream-like quality happening as the wordless vocals of Feinman orbited around the textural arrangement of counter-melodies from guitar and piano with solid input from bass and drums. Kwassman himself toggled between clarinet, alto saxophone and melodica as the piece wandered through many moods.
Feinman is a superb musician--she handled all of the wide interval skips and almost operatic melodic demands with sure pitch, and seemed to be the only player not involved with the folding and refolding of charts that looked to be in the 8-10 page average.
Deloretto took flight with a very classical sounding piano solo, and Miles began with a stop/start sputtering statement that branched out into a wild, breathtaking legato that was reminiscent of John McLaughlin, chops wise.
If you are wondering where the frustrating part emerges -- this is a good place to start. There was little sense of moderation or discretion in the music that followed. If anything, each piece became more melodically dense than the next -- and every piece carried the grand drama of an "magnum opus."
I'm going to chalk this up to the enthusiasm of youth, because I'm fairly certain that Kwassman will learn to channel his compositional super-powers with the ballast of necessary ingredients like space and silence. With a band as talented as he has -- why not leave some pages blank for these players to invent in the moment? There's a reason they put an eraser on a pencil.
Lost in all of this activity were the opportunities to enjoy the work of Akin, for instance. This guy has a huge woody sound -- what I would have given for an unaccompanied bass solo!
Issues like pacing, programming, variety and an understanding of listener-fatigue will ultimately transform Kwassman's aesthetic into a joyous listening experience, and I think his future as a composer is basically limitless.
Judging from this performance, however, a whole lot of less would have translated into so much more.