Like mad alchemists Dean Sharp, David Torn and Russ Johnson mixed flowing, improvised tonal and atonal chords into a golden, shimmering soundscape last Saturday night in Justin’s intimate Savoy Room in Albany.
Spread across two glorious sets, the music by this triumvirate of master musicians transported the audience into new and exciting alternate musical worlds, combining jazz, electronic experimentation, rock textures and something just short of progressive new-age blues.
Listening intently to each other, electric-effects guitarist Torn, trumpeter Johnson and drum-composer Sharp shaped the fluid, wide-ranging dynamics that underpinned the trio’s organic interplay.
There were no notes on a page. There were no song titles. What you heard was alive and breathing in-and-out total improvisation. The three masters of their respective instruments displayed a brilliance of ideas on the fly and note after note, it had substance. It was deep and analytical at some moments and universally accessible at others. Time signatures were laid down one minute and pried open the next.
Sharp utilized his drum kit as a sound board, keeping the beat as needed, but also extending its inherent limitations by adding other percussive colorations to the cymbals, toms and other attachments, including tightly wound springs and cowbells. His arsenal of mallets, tubes and sticks drew out a plethora of tonal textures, no less significant in the total group sound than Torn’s array of foot pedals and effects triggers attached to his electric guitar. Johnson’s trumpet flowed in and out of the mix, sometimes blaring, sometimes muted, but always spot-on and oh so good.
Torn’s been around a long time now, playing and recording with the likes of Mark Isham, Tony Levin and Vernon Reid. Sharp has collaborated with Moby, Brad Mehldau and Elliott Sharp. Brooklyn-based Johnson has performed with Lee Konitz, Steve Swallow and Elvis Costello.
Last Saturday night, these world-class heavyweights graced Justin’s small stage in front of a sold-out house. The hope is that they’ll come back… and soon!
Review and photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk