Sunday, February 3, 2013

VAX! This Is It!

On Friday February 1st, 2013, I attended a concert at the apartment of drummer Devin Gray. The night featured an eclectic variety of entertainment.

First was a short film by Zach Caldwell, complete with strobe like effects and plenty of dog footage.

Second was a mesmerizing solo improv set by clarinetist Joachim Badenhorst. It was the kind of playing that makes one listen to the instrument in a different way. He created textures that accompanied themselves, and timbres unlike any I had previously heard.

Third was a standup comedy set by Evan Davis. His set was good, and it was made funnier because despite his effort to dumb down his pop culture references for the predominantly jazz musician crowd, many of them still went over our heads.

But the real mothership of the night was VAX, a group consisting of Devin Gray playing drums, Patrick Breiner playing saxophone and clarinet, and Liz Kosack playing Nord Stage keyboard. I was expecting a good set, but what ensued was way beyond good. They performed a piece that was through composed in form, but featured plenty of improvisation. There were pretty moments. There were abrasive moments including a sustained high loud piercing sound from all three musicians (Gray on melodica) for something like five minutes -- much longer than one expected. There was plenty of humor in the show, for example Gray pausing a moment to put ear protection on before the aforementioned long note. There were sudden shifts and connections that came out of nowhere. There was laughter, there was composed rapping/dialogue/chanting. There was choreography. There were costumes. The set ended with a seamless transition into a dance party starting with a Justin Bieber song.

There were no scores. They had worked at this piece in over twenty four hours of rehearsal. They weren't paying each other with money, rather commitment and time. They had found a common goal among them, and decided to pursue it. They were a group. They were a thing. I am so happy for them that they found this. I'm envious. I'm inspired to work toward something like it myself.

Recently I watched a youtube video of some respected, big name jazz players backing a vocalist at a club in NYC. The music sounded fine, good composition, well-played, but these guys had their heads buried in the charts while the vocalist was out front entertaining the audience. And I immediately thought, "No. This is not where it's at." My reaction was not in regard to the music, which was not bad at all. It was in regard to the presentation, and the common NYC practice of hiring some great, but busy, players and doing one rehearsal (if you're lucky) and then the gig, paying them out of your pocket, and hoping you do well at the door. I think the economics of NYC have a lot to do with this norm, but that's another post. I feel this model doesn't always allow the music develop to it's fullest extent, although I must admit to following it more and more recently for my own music.

VAX was the antidote to this. It was so refreshing. It was an example of the highest potential of the great musicians of this city. It is my hope that more people follow their lead and start bands that find a similar commitment to each other and their art. Devin, Patrick, and Liz, if you're reading this, thank you thank you thank you! You have something special. Go with it. Get in a van and go play it everywhere you can. People need to experience it.

VAX : Devin Gray, Patrick Breiner, and Liz Kosack in Brooklyn 2/1/13

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