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Published: 2002/08/12
by Jesse Jarnow

The Turntable Sessions, Bowery Poetry Club, NYC- 8/7

NYC ROLL-TOP: Thirty-Three-and-a-third Revolutions-Per-Minute

Before the first week of Billy Martin's second annual Turntable Sessions
(being hosted this year by the newly opened Bowery Poetry Club), someone played a
recording of Thelonius Monk's "Straight, No Chaser" over the sound system.
It raised an interesting question: when and how did jazz mutate? When did it
move from Monk's realm to what was spread out on the stage of the Bowery
Poetry Club: two turntables, some microphones, an arsenal of handdrums, a
violin, and a pipa (an Asian string instrument)?

Last year, Billy Martin made an album of breakbeats called Groove, Bang,
and Jive Around and released it (on vinyl only) through his Amulet Records label. He invited
people to remix it (the results of which can be heard on the excellent
Drop The Needle record), but he also hosted a series of shows (dubbed
the Turntable Sessions) in conjunction with an art exhibition at SoHo's Exit Art gallery. Each week, a different
DJ performed a series of duets with live musicians (occasionally joined by
Martin on any number of percussion instruments). Last year's sessions – which included DJ Olive, DJ Logic, John Medeski, Chris Wood, Steve
Bernstein, Bob Moses, Ikue Mori, and other downtown notables – were a
resounding success. So, in good faith, Martin and co-conspirator Limor Tomer
were invited to curate another set.

The appeal of the Turntable Sessions is that they forcibly mix two different
approaches to making (and improvising) music. Live musicians control one set
of elements (pitch and its related attributes), while turntablists (and
remixers) control a different set of elements (sounds and vibes). These are
slippery definitions, of course. And, at any rate, their ability to work
together is often equally dependent on the DJ's sense of melody and the
traditional instrumentalist's willingness to abandon normal playing

Of course, a lot of the appeal of the Turntable Sessions is seeing what
happens when certain musicians are paired together. The lineups this year,
for the most part, haven't been as traditionally all-star as last year's,
which might account for the sparse attendance at the first two performances.
It's too bad, really, because some of this year's guests have been extremely
interesting (such as pipa player Min Xiao Fen, who will reprise her
performance next week). Last night's show, though, was advertised as
featuring Martin's MMW cohort John Medeski on keyboards — which, for good
or for ill, might well be why more folks showed up. Though Medeski was a no
show, the music was still some of the most adventurous and exciting
presented in New York this summer. Hopefully, the large crowds will continue
for the final Session, scheduled for August 14th.

The featured DJ last night was Scotty Hard, MMW's longtime producer (and
contributor to many related side projects, including Martin's Groove,
Bang, and Jive Around and Sex Mob’s Does Bond). As such, the
sounds he chose for his opening duet with Martin fit like a glove. The two
have been working together for a good five years now, and complement each
other well, Hard's subtly dirty sounds wrapping themselves nicely around
Martin's percussion. Martin scampered between his kit, a baliphone, shakers,
duck calls, and various pots and pans. Oddly enough, the first ineffective
sample Hard skilled up was off Martin's breakbeat record. It sounded distant
and forced.

The next musician up was tuba player Marcus Rojas, a low-end fixture on the
Tonic set. Owing mostly to its practically subsonic properties, the tuba
fared far better than most horn instruments do. Rojas was able to skirt the
line between ambiance and melody in a way that a trumpet or a trombone never
could, allowing his drones to occasionally be broken up by rhythmic bursts
that contributed to their linear development. Violinist/electric mandolinist
Charlie Burnham's contributions, unfortunately, weren't nearly as
interesting — though was still better than most electric mandolinists.

Near the end of the evening, after Rojas and Martin had returned to join
Burnham and Hard on the stage for a final jam, Martin hopped off the
platform and – still playing – walked to the back of the club. When he
returned, he had Bowery Poetry Club founder Bob Holman in tow. Holman, who
contributed spoken word to the first performance, took the microphone, and
started in. It soon became apparent that he was going to do more than
improvise spoken word. The dorky looking dude in shorts and a wide-brimmed
hat began to freestyle. The tone of his voice was stiff and clunky, but his
rhymes were damn credible. Martin ran over to the kit and dropped into a
hip-hop rhythm.

With that, the line between the old jazz and the new jazz was drawn swiftly
and beautifully. Spoken word tumbled into song, which fell into hip-hop and
the energy accelerated and shifted from one form to another. It is
jazz, in the sense that the term describes a way in which musicians
communicate with each other. That central idea isn't dead, it has just been
transformed by the energy of a changing culture — one which will likely be
changed just as much by information shooting through fiber optic cables as
it was by slabs of vinyl turning at 33-and-a-third revolutions per minute.

Jesse Jarnow believes that, in the
future, we will all be remixed for 15 minutes

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