Improviser's Round Robin at Brooklyn Masonic Temple
by Dan Lehner
The Improvisers Round Robin has the powerful ability to simultaneously be about individuality and community. Each approaching improviser has no rehearsal, no music in front of them, not even a concept of what kind of music they'll be playing until moments beforehand, and therefore must only rely on their acquired wits and talents, left naked for all to see. Yet even though the spotlight will be on them, their collaboration with the other improviser is the only thing that will keep the music flowing and maintain interest. This is the beautiful challenge Wednesday's concert at the Brooklyn Masonic Temple presented to an all-star lineup of artists from many genres.
Some of the duos worked hand-in-glove right off the bat. Hip-hop enthused jazz pianist Robert Glasper naturally fit with jazz enthused hip-hop artist DJ Spinna, trading scratch-work, Dilla-esque chords/samples and bebopish flute lines. Percussionist Martin Dosh and pianist/vocalist Julia Holter clicked with their expansive indie world views, leading the audience on a spacey and gorgeous Bjork-like excursion, and Kim Gordon's apocalyptic guitar slams and wails matched saxophonist James Chance's restless energy.
Other duos took a bit of time to find common ground, but resistance soon gave way to greatness. Drummer Glenn Kotche's auxiliary toys suffered from lack of audibility with cellist Erik Friedlander, but the hypnotic Eastern groove that followed was brilliant. Andrew W.K., whose presence was perhaps unfairly looked upon as a "gimmick," took a bit of time getting his Fender Rhodes work together with Bernie Worrell's astro-funk Moog voyage, but the duo ended up being one of the most inspiring of the night.
A good number of the duos were extremely pleasant surprises. Who knew that Don Byron's lyrical but intense saxophone playing would match Andrew Bird's cinematic folky textures so well? And few could have anticipated just how expansive drummer Questlove and saxophonist Matana Robert's duo would be, traversing both late-Ornette wails and thundering 6/8 Blakey runs. Guitarist Mary Halvorson made lush, fascinating, and at times almost flamenco/classical-style music alongside bassist Thundercat, and Roy Hargrove provided late-Miles-style Harmon mute musings for Martin Dosh's soundscape.
The amazing moments seemed unending: pianist Vijay Iyer's amazing pivot from a mournful classical dirge with Friedlander to gothic hip-hop with Glasper, Hargrove's cabaret with James Chance's piano, saxophonist Joe Lovano's jump from Andrew Bird's folk to solo bebop—these were just some of the night's many standouts. In the words of concept founder Adam Schatz, the music made that evening had never happened before and will never happen again, but the circumstances for its creation can (and must) happen again.