LIVE: Paul Kogut, Francois Moutin & Ari Hoenig @ Athens Cultural Center, 5/4/13
Review by J Hunter
Photographs by Rudy Lu
As I move along in life, I occasionally (and, I admit, morbidly) think about what timeless saying I’d like carved on my tombstone. I’ve considered song lyrics, movie lines, poetry and various iterations of Shakespeare. However, the latest entry on my executor’s to-do list was part of the marvelous long-form “gang interview” that is the Q&A section of Planet Arts’ Jazz one2one concert series – in this case, from guitarist/upstate NY native Paul Kogut: “Music is not a thing you perfect… It’s a monster you let out of the box and see where it goes!”
Aside from the over-all outstanding-ness of that statement, it also sums up the outlook of Kogut’s partners for the evening, bassist Francois Moutin and drummer Ari Hoenig. Now, they were at ACC because George Mraz and Lewis Nash – the rhythm section on Kogut’s latest Blujazz release Turn of Phrase – couldn’t make the gig. But don’t even think about shoehorning Moutin and Hoenig into a “substitute” category. These are two of the best musicians on the scene today: Aside from their various solo and sideman gigs, they’re part of the mammoth improvisation machine Pilc Moutin Hoenig (the “Pilc” being pianist Jean-Michel Pilc, who Moutin met while attending university in Paris), whose astounding disc Threedom was one of my Top 10 Jazz Releases of 2011. If anyone could help Kogut get the aforementioned monster roaming around for Jazz one2one’s last show of the season, these were the guys to do it.
A cruising opening take on Dave Brubeck’s “In Your Own Sweet Way” gave that beast a swift kick in the ass. Kogut went beyond the melody right from the jump, eyes squeezed shut as he thumb-picked marvelously elegant lines on his Marchione solid-body. Moutin slipped and slid on his beautiful double bass, pumping out counters that were deep and dark, while Hoenig worked his kit with brushes even as he found avenues and side streets to expand the piece’s map. Occasionally, Moutin and Hoenig flew formation on one single note, tapping it out together and exulting in its simplicity. Those moments aside, this was an intense three-way discussion on a topic all participants clearly loved, and when it finally ended, you simply wanted it to keep going.
While attending Hamilton College as an undergrad, Kogut would travel to Philadelphia and take lessons from iconic guitarist Pat Martino, writing up the experience as an independent study project. The tools Kogut got from Martino can clearly be heard in Kogut’s solos, but that’s just at their base: His tight, linear lines also showed a strong love of John Abercrombie, taking the solid-body sound out of the traditional realm and into the exploratory mode that made 70’s-era ECM recordings both intriguing and ground-breaking. Inspired by his new partners’ improvisational talents, Kogut composed a piece based on Jimmy van Heusen’s “Like Someone in Love” that fit all three players’ skill sets like the proverbial glove. That said, Kogut can get funky and dissonant, too, and he did just that on the closer “Know It I Wrote It” – another Kogut original.
Moutin has an engineering degree and a doctorate in physics, and was adamant that the same thought processes that go into math also apply to the making of music. That sounds awfully dry on its face, but Moutin on the stand is anything but dry. His performance on the Jaco Pastorius tribute “Blessed and Cursed” and on Kogut’s original “Windows” was less an attack on the respective pieces, as it was an assault on an unsuspecting musical instrument by a wild-eyed madman. Bangs flying in front of his face, Moutin took it straight down the middle one moment, flying off on his own personal hegira the next, showing a level of possession that would have made William Peter Blatty say, “No WAY!” Moutin’s chords on Kogut’s “About You” were as towering as his runs, and Moutin’s epic tone gave every piece in the set a big set of boots.
If you were looking for simple, uncomplicated drum work, this wasn’t your show. Hoenig not only can make the simple complex, but he goes out of his way to do so, and that makes everything he does utterly captivating. During a crystalline duet with Kogut on Bill Evans’ “Blue in Green,” he literally milked notes out of a drum with one of his sticks – that was when he wasn’t hand-drumming his kit or tapping “shave and a haircut” out on his bass drum with his knuckles. Hoenig had moments of elegance that rivaled Kogut, but when he brought the noise, the explosions come at you in one big tsunami, and all you can do is stand there and wait to be wiped out.
Don’t get me wrong: It’s a bummer that Mraz and Nash had other plans, because they’re one of the best rhythm sections out there, and legends in their own right. But if they had made the gig, I really believe there wouldn’t have been the on-the-high-wire vibe that ran through this 75-minute set. Having to work with Moutin and Hoenig took Kogut out of a comfort zone and made him step his already-excellent game, and the rhythm section reveled in that energy. The result was a performance that grew in artistry and innovation with each passing moment, and a standing ovation that was truly earned. The monster didn’t just walk around on this night – it went through the village like a dose of salts, and no pitchforks or torches were going to shut it down.
See more of Rudy Lu’s photographs of the show at Albany Jazz