Monday, June 29, 2009

20/20 Vision in the Left Eye

Go Left Fest @ Yoshi's, San Francisco, CA
Monday, June 22 & Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Marshall Allen: alto saxophone, evi, flute
Matthew Shipp: piano
Joe Morris: bass
Sunny Murray: drums
Oluyemi Thomas: reeds
Roswell Rudd: trombone
Myra Melford: piano
Mark Dresser: bass
Ishmael Reed: poetry
Lafayette Harris: piano
Beth Custer: bass clarinet, voice
and several others

The first ever meeting of Marshall Allen, Matthew Shipp and Joe Morris is a solid evening's worth of creative music right there. That trio has more than enough creative muscle to carry on for multiple sets. But at the first ever Go Left Festival over two consecutive night's at San Francisco's Yoshi's they were just the headlining act over a sprawling, multi-set celebration of jazz from the "outside." The Myra Melford/Mark Dresser Duo brings a similar gravity to these music chasing ears. Roswell Rudd could go all night - and clearly wanted to (with no objection from me). And clearly no jazz aficionado's concert attending experience is complete without witnessing the jaw-dropping excellence of Sunny Murray. The air was thick with substance.

In offering the same sequence of sets on both nights, the contrast between free improvisation and set composition became pronounced in interesting ways, with the free material often having more staying power. The exception to this was the short set of quirky compositions and songs by the Beth Custer Ensemble at the onset of both nights. These maintained their charm while the setting of Ishmael Reed's poetry lost all of its charm on the second go around.

The two different manifestations of Sunny Murray's Positive Knowledge was a revelation. Performing as a trio of reeds, voice and drums on the first night the middle section of their set-long performance transformed into a stunning all-percussion experience as each performer played gongs of different sizes over Murray's restless free-form improvisation on the kit. The second night was a duo of Murray and Oluyemi Thomas that explored a different sound altogether. The outspoken and irreverent Murray could easily become my new obsession.

In any other setting, the Myra Melford/Mark Dresser duo would be the highlight of the evening and festival. Dresser's extended techniques with his uniquely amplified acoustic bass have continued to expand as the pair played through Melford's Trio M compositions, offering fresh angles on each piece.

Matthew Shipp is an unbelievable force on the piano and an inspired collaborator with Marshall Allen's aggressive energies. With Joe Morris expertly holding down the bass layer, Shipp worked some of the most thundering accents I've ever heard from the ivories while Marshall Allen launched into his hyper-space sound worlds. Beth Custer's stage banter about "legends in the dressing room" playing out on stage and into this climactic set.

The range of talent on display ran so deep that nearly every set felt short-changed. Roswell Rudd in particular could have used more hours despite the Vision Festival-esque waves of exhaustion. Should there be second, third (and more) installments of Go Left in the future I hope there will be a shift toward spreading this music over more nights with longer sets focused on fewere artists - and no repeating of sets on consecutive nights. Give the ears a chance to sink deeper into the artistry and explore more combinations of performers (the addition of Sunny Murray in the Roswell Rudd set on the second night was positively inspired (and positively knowledgeable)).

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