Admittedly, my main inspiration for going to this performance was because of the opportunity to finally get to see the New York based guitarist Mary Halvorson play live. I have been obsessed with Mary's music for the last year or more and she's quickly become one of my favorite musicians. I can't really describe what she does or how she does it or even why I love it so much, but it really resonates with my ears.
Since my friend and I had driven all the way from central Virginia and got there a little early, the concert organizers basically allowed us to sit wherever we wanted and I chose a seat directly across from where Mary would later be playing. The green Line Six Delay Pedal was a dead giveaway. I was literally four feet away from her the whole set with a direct view of her fast moving fingers. I was slightly concerned that the close proximity would be weird or uncomfortable but I don't think it was. Mary is used to this kind of attention.
The music of the Tomeka Reid Quartet was equal parts chamber ensemble, classic jazz and freeform improv. Every tune reached epic heights and touched on different themes and emotions - from light and airy to hard-hitting and heavy. Having now listened to the CD they were celebrating, it's clear that they were being quite liberal with their interpretations of these compositions last night, treating them as living, breathing things and not some stagnant dots on a page. It wasn't quite as free as, say Ornette Coleman free - there was always a foundation there - however, it did frequently branch out into some very intriguing experimentation, with a strong melody at the heart of each piece worth returning to.
I haven't mentioned bassist Jason Roebke yet because his playing was somewhat beguiling. Tomeka's cello already fills in a bottom end in a way, so Roebke's bass has to plunge deeper to find its place, which he did successfully for the majority of the set. The only time Roebke lost me was when he went on one of his particularly out there solos which were quite radical even in this setting. Not being familiar with his playing at all, I wasn't always sure what to make of it. There was definitely an edginess there that the more I think about it the more I kind of like. It kept you guessing, that's for sure.
We still had time to eat a huge, tasty meal at the nondescript Caribbean restaurant across the street and then scour the records for a few minutes in Normals. I got some Satchmo, Duke Ellington and Tiny Grimes LPs, but the best find was Konono No. 1's "Congotronics" album. That is some crazy music!!! Lastly, I should mention that Baltimore organist Liz Durrette warmed up the crowd before Tomeka's set with about 20 minutes of solo improvisations filled with blue notes and creepy cartoon-like motifs. That was pretty cool too. And home by 2:30am for a full 12-hour adventure!