LIVE: Ted Daniel’s International Brass & Membrane Corps @ Atlas Studios, 7/21/18
While trumpeter/cornetist Ted Daniel has been playing the music of jazz icon Joseph Nelson “King” Oliver for a few years now, he only brought it into the studio recently, releasing Zulu’s Ball on Altura at the end of 2017. In jazz, it’s rare you get the same band in concert that you do on the recording, but the only absentee at Atlas Studios in Newburgh was violinist Charlie Burnham, who had been with Daniel when his International Brass & Membrane Corps played the first (and, sadly, last) Beacon Jazz Festival in 2015. That left us with Daniel, tuba player Joseph Daley, drummer Newton Taylor Baker and guitarist Marvin Sewell – but, boy howdy, was that enough to keep smiles smiling and shoulders shaking all night long.
Most of the music on Zulu’s Ball first appeared in 1923, putting it in the ever-popular “Hot Jazz” sub-genre. (More on that mess in a moment…) But before we got in the Wayback Machine and headed for the Roaring Twenties, we first got a pulsing reminder that most of this group has its roots in alternative jazz: Daniel and Baker both spent time in Dewey Redman’s band, while Daniel and Daley backed up Sam Rivers. While Daley blew into his tuba with his fist in the bell, Daniel stood at the back of Atlas’ high-ceilinged studio space blowing on a Moroccan horn that looked for all the world like a brass vuvuzela.
As Daniel walked slowly towards the front of the “stage,” deepening the harmonic he and Daley had created, Baker and Sewell joined in the roiling and tumbling to form Don Cherry’s hypnotic tone poem “Art Deco.” During the Q&A session at the end of intermission, Daniel would explain that he linked Cherry’s composition to Oliver because of King’s penchant for playing with the timbre of his cornet, using mutes and bottles to alter the sound.
At the close of the piece, Daniel sat down on his chair and gestured for us to listen to the silence that now filled the room. Nobody spoke. Nobody breathed. If someone had dropped a pin, it would have clattered like a dinner plate. Eventually, Daniel started blowing air through his cornet, hitting us with a bubbling and hissing sound. Daley followed suit, giving us another kind of “harmony,” while Baker shook his brushes in the air and Sewell plucked out dizzying patterns. When Daniel did start playing, it was mournful and lovely and in the clear, echoing off the brick and tile. Melody was eventually created, and the quartet rolled into “Mabel’s Dream” without fanfare.
Daniel was playing cornet because that was what Oliver played, but he also told us he liked the cornet because it’s more “open and mellow.” This is true, and you could hear the difference if you listened hard enough. But you had to listen deeply, because while the cornet may be mellow, Daniel most certainly is not. He kept it spare when the music called for it, and the subtlety he brought to “Just Gone” was divine. But when he wanted to open it up, as he did on “Riverside Blues” and “Buddy’s Habits,” his solos were as subtle as a punch in the face even as they were as beautiful as sunset at Laguna Beach. Although Daniel did break out a plunger mute from time to time, he kept the cornet’s sound wide open and wonderful.
While I seat-danced unashamedly throughout the evening, it’s the general absence of gloss in the two-set performance that had me smiling the widest. For me, “Hot Jazz” is just another way of insisting we must only celebrate what’s come before – in this case, almost 100 years before; what’s worse, though, is that most “Hot Jazz” outfits pour so much polish on what they play, the resulting glare puts the audience in danger of going snow-blind.
Daniel and his partners were working with music from that same era, but everything the quartet touched had a ragged saw-toothed edge to it, and subtly reminded us that this music didn’t start out in concert halls, but in brothels and speakeasies. When compared to the shiny baubles churned out by 21st-century Hot Jazz star Bria Skonberg, Daniel’s quartet achieved the same jarring results Cherry and Redman achieved, and they did it without changing a note of Oliver’s songbook.
I’m a big fan of Sewell, and have seen him excel in concert with other groups, most notably with Regina Carter. Here, though, every solo he launched seemed to be one beat behind the rest of the band, or was too complex for the piece in question. Sewell’s best moments happened in the background: His chunky rhythm guitar in support of Daniel, his slide guitar on “Riverside Blues,” and the whammy bar Sewell used on “Working Man’s Blues” to simulate a resonator guitar, which was one of the precursors of the electric guitars we know today. Sewell also gave us a great, quick history of jazz guitar during the Q&A, which is becoming one of my favorite parts of Jazz @ Atlas shows.
While I’m still bummed about the loss of the Beacon Jazz Festival, it pleases me no end that Beacon Jazz organizer James Keepnews has teamed with educator Ben Young to create the hidden gem that is the Jazz @ Atlas concert series. Aside from the fact that it proves the most honest music still lives in alternative spaces, it also provides a platform for groups like Ted Daniel’s International Brass & Membrane Corps to show that polish is something best left in the garage, and old jazz is best when play it with warts and all.
GO HERE to see more of Rudy Lu’s photographs of this concert…