Saturday, October 13, 2012

Ari Hoenig, Bill Carrothers, and Chris Bates at the Artists' Quarter: Concert review

Ari Hoenig by John Whiting
When: Friday, Oct. 12, 2012 • Where: Artists' Quarter, St. Paul •  Who: Ari Hoenig, drums; Bill Carrothers, piano; Chris Bates, bass

The first time you see and hear Ari Hoenig play a melody on the drums – a real melody with notes, not the melody you hear, like harmonics, when an exceptional drummer like Phil Hey plays (Hey’s melodies are implied yet present, there but not there) – it’s kind of weird. You get distracted from the music, caught up in wondering “How does he do that?” and “Why does he do that?” A combination of sticks and mallets and elbows (to raise the pitch, he leans on the drum head), it seems like a trick or a gimmick.

Except it’s not. Like a pianist plucking the strings or a percussionist bowing a gong or a throat singer chanting chords, Hoenig is pushing his instrument, pushing himself (and us) to new places, shaking up our expectations of what’s normal, adding momentum to the whole of music.

Playing melodies is not all he does; that would be a gimmick, and he would not be doing his job as a drummer. So he usually plays a solo head, then returns to playing rhythms when the piano and bass enter in – although there are moments of overlap, when all three are playing melody, and those are thrilling.

Bill Carrothers by John Whiting
Hoenig played the Artists’ Quarter in St. Paul last night, the basement club that remains devoted to jazz. He was joined by the marvelous Bill Carrothers on piano. In 2007, they made an album together, “Keep Your Sunny Side Up,” with bassist Ben Street for Carrothers’ French label, Pirouet, but had not performed together since. The trio was completed by Twin Cities bassist Chris Bates, who’s on fire this year, having recently released his first CD, “New Hope,” as leader of his own group, Chris Bates’ Red 5. “New Hope” has been getting a lot of press and acclaim, deservedly so, but Bates still practiced like crazy (he said later) for his weekend with Hoenig and Carrothers.

We heard two wonderful sets of music by Monk, Carrothers’ “Church of the Open Air” from “Sunny Side,” a tune that started as “I Got Rhythm” and wandered freely from there, maybe “Evidence” from “Sunny Side,” a fantastic “Moanin’” (for which Hoenig played the head, and prior to which he tuned the snare, thanks to percussionist Peter O’Gorman for noticing this), something that sounded classical, a few ballads, and tunes so fast and fierce that sparks flew from the piano. Both Carrothers and Hoenig can play vast numbers of notes/beats in a short time, but it’s always music, not mere virtuosity, and sometimes very playful. Midway through the evening, Davis Wilson, the AQ’s beloved doorman, said later that “Carrothers just pours music out, like pouring it out of a jug.”

Chris Bates by John Whiting
It was one of those great nights at the AQ, and it will be repeated tonight, only differently. Go if you can. 

Hear Hoenig find tunes in toms and a snare, then surprise you all night long; he’s completely unpredictable. Did he suddenly go from soft to loud, or slow to very fast? Did he really change the rhythm radically mid-phrase? Did he just toss his sticks and mallets onto the drums? Don't expect a groove or a steady, foot-tapping beat. Hear Carrothers do what he does best, which is pretty much anything: play beautiful, intimate, and touching melodies, burn down the house, mine music history, toss in quotes (last night, mid-Monk, I’m pretty sure we heard a phrase from “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You,” and later a bit from an old Maxwell House coffee commercial). Hear Chris Bates more than hold his own with these two crafty masters.  

All three are so good, so on, so tuned into the group, the moment, and the music that at first you can’t decide where to put your focus, until you give up and do what you should have done from the start: listen to the whole sound, or as much as your ears and head are capable of grasping.

Again: Go if you can. If you heard this music anywhere in the world – walking down a street in Paris, maybe, or Buenos Aires, New York or Tokyo – it would stop you in your tracks.



The Ari Hoenig, Bill Carrothers, Chris Bates trio continues through tonight, Oct. 13. Carrothers returns to the AQ next week with Dave King and Billy Peterson for the launch of King's new album on Sunnyside, "I've Been Ringing You."

Between Sets: A Conversation with Bill Carrothers (2011) (link takes you to the NPR website)
Ari Hoenig and Jean-Michel Pilc Project (2008)
Bill Carrothers: One of a kind (2008)
First must-see of 2008: Bill Carrothers' "Armistice"

1 comment:

  1. The concert review seems to be a lost art on some levels now unless you are a major league popular music artist. All the glory and momentum is given to the preview article to help generate buzz. They both serve their purposes but frankly, I would rather know someones impression of the music that WAS experienced rather than what you MAY experience.
    Thanks for posting your thoughts on this show Pamela. cb