Derek Bailey and Ikue Mori (Tonic) - April 10, 2003|
Derek Bailey and Cyro Baptista (Tonic) - April 11, 2003
Derek Bailey and Shaking Ray Levis (Tonic) - April 12, 2003
Derek Bailey is a masterful soloist whose collaborations can fly or fall flat. So it was more than promising that he began a three-night stint in New York with one of this town's master
Ikue Mori often burrows deep in the mix during joint projects, but in
this duet each opened with defined roles: Mori setting a fluid, pastoral
mood and Bailey gently playing atop. As if looking to upset the apple
cart, Mori soon shifted her laptop from elemental sound to jagged
electricity, coaxing Bailey into harmonics and hum. From there, it was
anyone's game, the duo somehow working as a quartet, each playing both
under and over the other. Simply put, great improvisers often make great
The question has been posed before whether Bailey really listens when he
plays with others. The answer seems clearly to be yes, but only when
viewed from afar. Bailey isn't the sort of player who engages in call-and-response
and riff mimicry. He's as often engaged in soliloquy as in dialogue.
But that's in part because his vocabulary on the guitar is just so extensive. His playing varies with different
projects, and he refers more to the way in which collaborators
plays than to what they just played. With Mori, he left open spaces of feedback and hum, custom built
for her to fill. He thumped his low strings to suggest her percussive
flights, he strummed quickly and laid on and off the volume pedal,
emitting distorted shrapnel as Mori's rhythm lines sometimes explode,
pan and fade.
Bailey and Cyro Baptista, who paired off for the second night, are an odd and long-standing duo. The
percussionist is full of fast and abrupt shifts, moving helter skelter
through an array of drums and devices. Bailey's changes are just as fast,
but aren't built of alterations in instrument, tempo or mood. With no
central nervous system, the duo presumably would need to be aware of
where the other is at all times for anything to happen at all.
That, however, is a challenge for Baptista, who leads far more than he
follows. For this duet, he had an unusually large arsenal in tow, including a six-piece gamelan, bass, conga and clay drums
and electronics, in addition to his myriad of handheld devices. As it
happens, his unending evolutions worked well with Bailey; while there's
never a thing to hold on to for more than 10 or 12 seconds, the broken
phrases and splintered thoughts kept motion forward, and Bailey,
surprisingly (and to his credit) became the backbone. Baptista's
electronics (primarily reverb and delay applied to voice or mouth
instruments, and an electronic drum pad) weren't used to smooth the
edges of his scattershot playing, but did help to create some less hyper
For the second set, however, roles were reversed, with Cyro in charge, swinging Brasilia, laying
down funky harp, looping, speeding up and singing along with himself on
"All the Way." Bailey played Oscar Peterson to Baptista's Ella
Fitzgerald, a pure accompanist, chordal structures and arpeggios. The meeting of two good-humored souls shone through.
It's a bit of camp, and all told not the most satisfying of Bailey's
meetings, but pure entertainment, right down to Bailey blowing the smoke
off his pistol-finger to close the set.
The third night's meeting with the Tennessee two, the Shaking Ray Levis,
featured Bailey's heaviest playing of his visit, going more for volume
and overdrive than in the previous two relatively subdued affairs. His
distorted guitar meshed nicely with Dennis Palmer's keyboard wash, and
his fast lines fit well with Bob Stagner's quick drumming, making this
the most overtly ensemble playing of the three nights. The Levis alone
are a dynamic ensemble, mixing drum flurries and swaying electronics
with occasional vocals.
If the previous two nights were about Bailey's circuitous, obtuse means
of collaborating, this was straightforward from the top, at times verily
avant rock. Bailey let distortion ring over clustered notes, while
Palmer let loose the occasional blues holler. "Well, George Bush is
doing alright," he drawled. "You can bet he's raking in the cash like
nobody's business, and he's losing control like a sorcerer's apprentice."
And if Bailey didn't exactly play the blues with Palmer, he somehow
still played like a bluesman.
Over the course of three nights, what became apparent is that Bailey's choices makes sense, even if sometimes they make
sense of something that happened 20 minutes ago. He's ike a grandfather
sitting at a table, whittling or maybe fixing a clock, who suddenly
answers a question that was asked, ignored and forgotten already.
And you didn't think he was listening.
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