Fearless is the first word that comes to mind when I think about Ingrid Laubrock‘s music. Also, intrepid. Bold. Daring. Decisive. The bandleader remarked after the performance, “there’s nothing like performing new music with people who are up for taking risks … and these guys are not timid.” The band, which consists of Tim Berne (alto), Ben Gerstein (trombone), Dan Peck (tuba), and Tom Rainey (drums), explored plenty of new territory. The group grew out of Laubrock’s desire to form a band “with only horns and drums,” to give her recent compositions a voice and to experiment with texture. In a recent interview with Jazz Right Now, the leader noted, “the two brass instruments and two saxophones allow me to create textures where the sounds are both very alike and yet different at the same time. I am experimenting with microtones and very dark, dense clusters, yet at the same time the music has a definite rhythmic propulsion + groove for want of a better word. It all sort of sounds like a brass band gone wrong.” Indeed, Laubrock overturns much of what we might expect from a brass band in terms of interaction as well as the ability of individual voices to stand out amidst deeply interwoven lines.
The band played five extended pieces over two sets. The opening song featured the interesting mixture of Laubrock, Peck, and Gerstein, building a rich, fluid undertow upon which Rainey and Berne added occasional accents. The sound then gradually accelerated into fast-paced cohesion with Berne leading much of the way. The second piece began with concentrated bursts that surged together into a great, turbulent wave. Then this kinetic energy slowly receded as singular voices reemerged. Interaction between Berne and Gerstein, which was strong throughout the night, was particularly enticing here. The closing piece of the first set showcased Laubrock in a rare stint on alto, before switching mid-song to tenor. Rainey’s brushwork was positively magical, especially when contrasting the deep and fluid lower brass.
Laubrock opened the second set with a self-described “strange, nightmarish kind of ballad.” The performance that followed fulfilled this promise: Laubrock opened with eerie tenor paired with drum interactions. Rainey scratched cymbals and rubbed drum heads to build an unsettling ambient darkness that gradually grew around the horns. A series of concentrated outbursts from all of the horns, rising and falling, carried the musical noir forward over Rainey’s irregular beats. A superb work. The closing piece opened with the stretched sounds of trombone and drums, then with saxophones joining, with the three horns producing avian-like sounds. After a brief silence, deep drums formed a baseline for Laubrock’s searing tenor. Then the band built a confluence of voices towards conclusion.
I, for one, sat stunned after the performance. The music was deeply moving, complex, and filled with surprising turns. This was only the band’s second live performance, but there was little to indicate that they were not well acquainted. Instead, they exhibited raw excitement and spontaneity in their playing, and seemed to get swept up in the moment of the music. As Laubrock noted, “I tend to choose musicians whose playing has character and who are open-minded. I like strong personalities, sound, and expression and want to hear ‘her/him,’ not just ‘great playing’ in a generic way. Some of my music is rhythmically complex, so the musicians in my bands tend to also have a great time feel. And it’s important to me that everyone has a strong sense for composition. Usually people I play with are fantastic composers in their own right. I need this as I want people to make their own decisions as to where the music can go night after night.”
We have to wait only a month until the next performance by the Ingrid Laubrock Quintet at Barbes, January 22. Come by and check out the next stage of development of this very exciting ensemble.
–Cisco Bradley, 17 Dec 2013