LIVE: Antoine Roney Quartet @ the Madison Theater, 3/12/16

April 7th, 2016, 4:00 pm by Greg
The Antoine Roney Quartet

Antoine Roney Quartet

Review by J Hunter
Photographs by Rudy Lu

My first exposure to reed wizard Antoine Roney was on drummer Cody Moffett’s 1993 TelArc release Evidence. What stays with me more than the music on that disc (which was hellacious, by the way) was the line-up backing Moffett on his debut as a leader: Along with brother/bassist Charnett Moffett, sax fiend Kenny Garrett and pianist Kenny Drew Jr., Antoine was joined on the disc’s front line by his brother Wallace Roney – who was saddled even then with the title “the next Miles Davis” – and second-generation monster Ravi Coltrane. I distinctly remember listening to this disc and thinking, “I’m looking at the future here!” Not only has Antoine lived up to that disc’s promise by being one of the best sax players on the present menu, but he also may have created a gift for the future we’re facing now.

Put an explosive tenor player like Roney in a little black box like the Madison Theater’s performance space, and there’s literally no place to hide, for you or him. And Roney embraced that challenge right from the jump, presenting us with two sets of what I can only call “acoustic fusion.” We’re talking a boundary-breaking ferocity that wins hearts and minds even as it shatters paradigms and eardrums, and if it had been paired up with the kind of electric matrix associated with this manner of attack, tedium might have set in at the same time as tinnitus. But in the stripped-out configuration Roney brought to the Madison, the full glory of the Philadelphia native’s creative process came through in brilliant Technicolor, whether he was loving (and deconstructing) Billy Strayhorn’s “Lush Life,” closing out the night with a burning version of Eddie Harris’ “Listen Here” or simply firing sheets and sheets of expanding ideas out into the theater while his drummer’s titanic backing kicked the energy up notch by notch.

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And let’s talk about that drummer for a minute. His name is Kojo Odu Roney, and he is a major devotee of drum icon Tony Williams – something you’d have been able to tell even if Kojo’s bright yellow kit wasn’t an exact replica of the one Williams used with Lifetime back in the day. We’re talking a simply relentless attack spurred on by the kind of energy most cities need to keep the lights on and the trains running. Along with his ability to bring the noise is a solid understanding of the kind of backing his partners need when they’re the ones that are taking the lead. Oh, one more thing: Kojo Odu Roney is Antoine’s son… and he is 12 years old. His head almost comes up to my belt buckle, and if you’d seen him playing with a friend of his during intermission and hadn’t caught the first set, you’d have no way of knowing he was the engine that powered the band for the first 45 minutes of the evening.

Now, I shudder to use the term “prodigy,” if only because that term seems to have been captured by 12-year old piano phenom Joey Alexander. It’s also a term that’s ridiculously hard to shake off. Just ask Julian Lage and Christopher Hollyday: Lage has only come into his own in the last few years; Hollyday never got free of that term, which may explain why he’s been off the radar for years now. But where Alexander gives off all the signs of your classic “jerd” (aka “jazz nerd”), Kojo just seems like a regular kid who also happens to make a drum kit light up like the Bellagio on a Fight Night. Along with the musical heritage in his DNA, he’s also receiving instruction from towering jazz elders like Al Foster and Louis Hayes. This may explain the strong sense of control and possession Kojo displays. He may love to smash and crash, but he never did anything that didn’t fit the moment at hand.

While it was great to watch father and son play together, my favorite moments were when Kojo was working with keyboardist Greg Lewis. It had actually been Kojo’s idea to add Lewis’ Hammond B3 to the mix, and that instinct worked out sensationally, because the results were literally off the scale: If the sound tech had put Lewis’ B3 at the same level as all the other instruments, you would have heard him in Cohoes, and the Madison wouldn’t have a roof any more. Lewis’ lines matched Antoine’s for both intensity and creativity, and he had several audience members hoping the Madison would bring Lewis back – preferably with his renowned Organ Monk unit, with which he’s recorded three discs.

Someone else who’s recorded as a leader is bassist Marcos Varela, whose Origin disc San Ygnacio features heavyweights like Billy Hart, George Cables and Logan Richardson. Given the musical weight his partners were throwing down, you’d think playing upright bass on this date would be a thankless job, but Varela’s foundation work was rock steady, and when the band backed off to let Varela show off his own voice, he responded with outstanding lyrics and a fat, tasty tone.

At the end of last year, I named the Madison Theater as the best concert space for jazz in 2015. The Madison’s not just about jazz, as they’ve brought in heavy people from all genres since the start of the year. But the current series of jazz concerts the Madison is mounting shows a sincere desire to expand the musical conversation beyond the tried and true, and the Antoine Roney Quartet got that conversation off to a flying start. Not only that, but depending how Kojo Roney handles teenagerdom (and vice versa), we may have gotten a glimpse of the future in the bargain.

SECOND OPINIONS
Joe Major’s review at AlbanyJazz.com

ALSO SEE
More of Rudy Lu’s photographs of the concert at Rudy Lu Photos

SECOND OPINIONS
Joe Major’s review at Albany Jazz
Albert Brooks photographs at Albany Jazz

Antoine Roney

Antoine Roney

Kojo Roney

Kojo Roney

Marcos Valera

Marcos Valera

Marcos Valera and Greg Lewis

Marcos Valera and Greg Lewis