Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Caught in New York: Darius Jones and Shades of Black at the Stone

photo credit: Victoria Belanger
Whether through experience or mentorship, living and creating ethically is one of the central tenets of this. It comes through in an individual and while certain actions may fall at various nodes on the scale of being — more or less interesting — but if one lives and works ethically there will always be a certain amount of trust in what they are doing. Alto saxophonist and composer Darius Jones, in addressing the audience before the first set of his sixth night (February 20) at The Stone with Shades of Black, hailed multi-instrumentalist Cooper-Moore as a guiding force and mentor who taught him to “be a man” and to conduct his music and business with a sense of self-worth, the worth of others, and ethics. Upon arriving in New York, Jones came under Cooper-Moore’s wing — the inventor, storyteller and keyboardist has been a father figure to a number of young players — and recorded with him and the percussionist Rakalam Bob Moses on Man’ish Boy: A Raw & Beautiful Thing (AUM Fidelity, 2009). They have continued to work together in a variety of performing and recording situations, including drummer Gerald Cleaver’s supergroup Black Host.

Shades of Black joins Jones and Cooper-Moore (heard on organ) with drummer Chad Taylor and soprano saxophonist Sam Newsome, here on a program of four lengthy originals that were reprised in reverse in the second set. The first piece, “Cry Out,” set the stage with a massive left-hand bass line reminiscent of modernist-leaning organists like John Patton and Larry Young, a rolling earthiness matched by close-cropped rhythms from the drums of Taylor (another regular co-conspirator). Jones’ music, as stratospheric as it often gets, is rooted in churchy declamations and a desire to communicate with people. This particular tune see-sawed between closely-valued reedy dissonance, almost Darmstadt-like, and churning soulful energy. Jones gives his collaborators a lot of room to occupy their own spaces, but in demarcating his own area commands with an open-throated and dryly particulate phraseology.

As a foil, Newsome’s shrilly truncated harmonics peel layers off of melody, his choruses here fed by tense, suspended rhythm. “Inner Darkness” was a bit more rockish with a didactic beat, Newsome starting off with a Lacy-ish clamber before reaching lofty, circular-breathed heights, the horns’ panning unisons electrified as though all the stops were pulled out on Cooper-Moore’s organ, with drummer and organist reigning in as the saxophonists’ concentrated peals swiped across the music’s surface. Scoured-metal flutters opened “Weakness” as a shuffling pastoral calm emerged, Jones’ remarkably wide vibrato stretching across a field of subtle action, with Cooper-Moore’s organ given a Fats Waller-ian fullness. The closer featured intervallic horn stairsteps and a slick, funky undertow that could conceivably have been played all night, while Taylor’s tom-heavy snaps shifted the focal point from rumbling drone and repetition to coiled explosiveness.

Jones’ weeklong stand featured a variety of ensembles including a reprise of Grass Roots (with Taylor, bassist Sean Conly and baritone saxophonist Alex Harding), a rare meeting with Chicago bass clarinetist Jason Stein, the Cosmic Lieder duo with pianist Matthew Shipp, and more recent ensembles with vocalist Emilie Lesbros and pianist Matt Mitchell. The residency finished with a performance of his vocal quartet compositions from The Oversoul Manual featuring the Elisabeth-Caroline Unit (Sarah Martin, Kristin Slipp, Jean-Carla Rodea and Amirtha Kidambi) in what was perhaps their last performance, and tenorist Travis Laplante joined Jones in a duo to cap the proceedings off. It goes without saying that all of these ensembles exhibited complete empathy and one possible blueprint for living.