Monday, March 30, 2009

Dues Owed

When I lived in New York in 2001, one of my rituals was – since I had the option – to go to Tonic, usually taking a date, on the weekends. The club closed not too long ago due to rent issues and who knows what else, but eight years ago it was still a semi-viable place to see music in lower Manhattan. Especially in the days before All About Jazz New York and its tireless documentation of hole-in-the-wall gigs, you could show up and nearly be assured of something at least “interesting.” So one night I saw a duet between turntablist-composer Ikue Morii and saxophonist Louie Belogenis. It was pretty much, as I remember it, a set of scrabble and tweet, and at that point a kind of music that I wasn’t really delving into with any great verve (now I can discern many different players’ tweets, but that is another story). I didn’t go much further investigating Belogenis’ career based on that one association; had I done so, I would have realized that his discography hewed closer to contemporary “fire” music and approaches that I had greater affinity with.

This was brought to mind by two recent releases I received featuring Belogenis’ tenor playing, which reminds me of Seventies-era Sam Rivers with a wider vibrato and spaced-out, chewed-up phrases. It might seem a little “cooler” than players like David Ware, Charles Gayle, Sabir Mateen or Ras Moshe – but the nuances of Belogenis’ playing, the micro-phrases, while detailed in their working-over never come off as “cold” exercises. He’s in a great little trio with drummer Charles Downes (Rashid Bakr) and bassist Joe Morris, called the Flow Trio, who have a CD out on ESP-Disk’. Some of it reminds me a bit of Trio X but without the strong front-porch blues approach. Another one that passed through my hands is a surprising quartet with vibraphonist Karl Berger, bassist Mike Bisio and drummer Warren Smith under the title Old Dog (Porter, 2009). It combines those playful, glassy and buzzing runs that Berger has patented with braying tenor and Smith’s subtle, brushy dexterity – really nice, refreshing work that recalls the “loft-jazz” heyday without being in any way a throwback.

Thinking about Belogenis – he’s got some records with Rashied Ali that I really need to check out at some point – gets me wondering about the preconceptions or misrepresentations that we’re supposed to work with as consumers, press, fans, or whatever. I didn’t pay Belogenis any mind after that one experience that I didn’t enjoy, missing out until now on great free jazz from an interesting tenor player. We’re bombarded with so much music that sometimes it’s hard to go on much else, though – as a reviewer, my pile(s) of CD’s to listen to and write on is, for me, pretty daunting. Only a few of those will probably see print. As a consumer, it’s also pretty hard to make sure every stone is properly overturned and none too hastily. Being a somewhat recent convert to “funky” jazz and soul music, I’ve probably avoided things because of how they looked or what label they’re on rather than any studied approach, but considering the mass of what is available, one needs some sort of litmus test to follow.

I know that one can never hear everything – and what good would it do if one could? – but trying to check one’s preconceptions at the door is about the best that can be hoped for. And I hope Mr. Belogenis accepts my apology for not taking his work seriously on first exposure – I’m rectifying that as I type.

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