LIVE: Tani Tabbal Trio @ Sanctuary for Independent Media, 11/7/15
There is a long-held view that Greater Nippertown jazz fans are not risk takers – that they prefer their jazz like they prefer their roads: Straight and narrow. I was reminded of this maxim by a fellow attendee of the Tani Tabbal Trio’s titanic set at the Sanctuary for Independent Media in Troy. It wasn’t just the fact that the Hudson Valley native’s decidedly outside-the-box music had been booked that had my friend shaking his head; it was the fact that there wasn’t an empty seat in the place, and the sold-out crowd was howling and cheering throughout the night.
Mind you, there is evidence to support the gentleman’s initial claim. I can recall more than a few shows I’ve attended where the headliner didn’t tread familiar musical ground, and when showtime came around I looked around and openly declared, “Where is everybody?” The thing is, though, the Sanctuary has always booked musical acts that sail outside the mainstream, and in the last year, the marvelously repurposed space has had its foundation rocked by mind-bending, genre-shaking jazz from Jaimeo Brown’s Transcendence and Myra Melford & Ben Goldberg. The compositions on Tani Tabbal’s latest CD Mixed Motion are heavily influenced by the music of the late avant-jazz icon Ornette Coleman, so Tabbal definitely fits Sanctuary’s “no box required” creative profile.
Tabbal’s drum kit may have been at the back of the elevated stage, but the dreadlocked leader literally got right out front from the jump, launching into a martial solo that he quickly expanded on, and then expanded on it once again. This was the explosive overture to “March For Gloria,” which suddenly appeared as Tabbal brought his solo down to a head-bobbing groove, bassist Michael Bisio rolled out a nice phat floor figure, and altoist Adam Siegel hit the hypnotic melody. The Albany native earned applause on this stage earlier this year when he sat in with Joe Barna’s Sketches of Influence, but that quick blast didn’t prepare us for what was to come on this night. Starting slowly and building systematically, Siegel’s lines got more complex and more intense with each passing chorus, eventually blasting out screaming notes that had us screaming right along as he took his alto as high as it would go.
Troy native Bisio may look like a mad scientist, but the sounds he invented here were nothing short of genius. His bass growled and croaked as he bowed it on the angular “Zycron,” finding a Hendrix-like squeak that should not have been inside that instrument. Bisio might be the first double bassist who needs a whammy bar, but the lack of that accessory didn’t stop him from bending and shaking his axe to get the result he wanted. During Siegel’s howling out solo, Bisio basically put his bass on its side and proceeded to beat the living crap out of it. The “St. James Infirmary”-like slow blues “Mama Laura” sent Bisio in a complete opposite direction, bringing out a solo that was deep, dark and soulful, and he was more than happy to just lay down the foundation for the sweet grooving “Khusenation,” which had Tabbal and Siegel taking turns at smacking us around the hall while we were all like, “Thank you, sir! May I have another?”
My guess is Bisio was just resting, because down the set list waited the Ornette classic “Lonely Woman,” which I had seen Tabbal play with Karl Berger & Ingrid Sersto’s rampant ensemble at the Beacon Jazz Festival back in July. That was a bigger band in size, but the jaw-dropping interpretation Tabbal and his partners laid on us was just as deep and twice as rich. Bisio’s opening bow solo was big and mournful as Tabbal used mallets to coax rolling tympani out of his kit. Siegel and Bisio let Tabbal make his biggest mark of the evening, but eventually the group broke into three separate musical monologues – all in different languages, and yet all blending so very well. Bisio practically bounced while he played in the clear, singing the notes as he played them while Tabbal rolled underneath. It was so mesmerizing, you almost didn’t notice it when Siegel slid in between them and proceeded to blow up the room. The piece ended softly, but only in volume. The intensity was completely immeasurable.
The closer “Inky Bud” was about as close to straight-ahead swing as you could get, although the angle of attack was anything but trad. The whole band was on the charge, giving us burning, uncompromising Downtown jazz that asks no questions and takes no prisoners. The lights in the Sanctuary flickered, making you wonder if the band had somehow compromised Troy’s power grid. Siegel continued to fill the room with light and heat far surpassing anything we’d seen him do in these parts, and all I can say is he’d better bring that shit back as soon as he can! Eventually, Siegel and Tabbal faded back to let Bisio mess with our minds one more time, giving us a taste of what classical bass would sound like on acid.
“He’s gonna set that bass on fire,” the man next to me whispered.
“If he doesn’t break it apart first,” I returned quietly.
Happily, Bisio’s axe lived to see the roaring standing ovation we gave this electric acoustic trio – an action we happily repeated after the band’s “encore,” which was basically Tabbal and Bisio playing as fast as they could while Siegel took the mouthpiece off his alto and blew screaming notes into his microphone. All you could do was hold your head, which is exactly what I did, grinning from ear to ear at the minute-long hit-and-run assault. This night was not for the squeamish, but there wasn’t a squeamish soul in the Sanctuary – on stage or in the audience.
This one’s gonna leave a mark, and that mark looks like Tabbal’s thousand-watt smile.