Elvin Jones Jazz Machine, Regatta Bar, Cambridge, MA- 1/31
As part of the Classic John Coltrane Quartet during the mid 1960s Elvin
Jones developed one of the most definitive drum tones of all time. Pick up _A
Love Supreme_ or any album from the quartet's 1965 recordings to get a sense
of the definitive sound. David A. Wild put it best in the liner notes to Sun
Ship, "[T]his was one of the seminal groups in jazz history, one that
defined a sound, a style, an approach, with an impact that changed the
vocabulary of the music itself" (1).
More recently, Bill Frisell solicited Jones for his album with bassist Dave
Holland. On that surrealistic project Jones adapted a new sound to adhere to
Frisell's concept, something Jones was used to from the Coltrane years.
"With John we could come in, he would give us two notes and we could play a
whole composition on two notes," said McCoy Tyner, then pianist in the
Coltrane Quartet (1). Today's jambands could only hope to reach such depths.
All these years I've been playing Trane's albums with an unrelenting
nostalgia for a creative pinnacle accessible only through recordings. If I
could live one decade, one ten-year period, I'd be 1955-'65, but as a
producer [a combination of Rudy Van Gelder's and Bob Thiele's lives]. A live
performance by Jones or Tyner is the closest I will come. Having seen Tyner
at Ryles in November, the Elvin Jones Jazz Machine sucked me in with
Jones's quintet played a four-night stint between January and February at
the Regatta Bar in Harvard Square. I caught the late show on the 31st with a
few friends, all of us giddy with the prospect of witnessing a phenomenal
happening. From the Charles Hotel's classy glass textures to the
window-length wood shutters the Regatta Bar was an ideal venue for this
performance. Our table was situated in the middle of the room next to the
engineer, a perfect seat for sound quality. We arrived five minutes late,
the last table reservation to arrive, not expecting the group to start right
up. Right away I sank into the scene, closed my eyes and drifted back before
Snapped to attention by thunderous skins, I peered between heads to check
out Jones. His fluid, jaw-dropping appendages exemplified true eighth-note
complexity. In the flesh the audience can realize the one-e-and-a-two-e
touch. Right away the rhythm section's ability to play the in-between was
apparent. Eric Lewis put down knowledgeable, leading chords over Gerard
Canon's developed bass lines. Along with Jones, Canon and Lewis worked the
up-and-down consistently and cleanly throughout the night.
The Jazz Machine churned out power-themes dressed with tight laments. During
one ballad Jones filled the room with sandbag-brushes while Pat LaBarbera
played soft, exact saxophone notes. Delfeayo Marsalis slid his trombone with
clean, tender assurance. At many points the crowd's quite attentiveness was
reflected in LaBarbera's enthused smile and intent brows.
The brief hour-long single set could have been the reason for restrained
solos. LaBarbera's fingers audibly smacked saxophone brass, but when he was
just breaking free into a true bop solo the theme returned. There were
hints, but nothing substantial. Surprising since many of them contributed to
the original movement. A mean, long run is the only thing that could have
improved the show.
When the band laid out, though, 75-year-old Jones let the young-bloods have
it. Sorry guys, Billy Martin's got nothing on Jones; he'd probably say so
himself. As if he had four arms Jones said it with clear
symbol-riding-intermittence, off-beat-bass-drum and seat-quaking-snare
complexity. He brought an irrefutable repertoire of rhythm and gave the
crowd something to think about.
I implore all you jamband fans and anyone else with ears to get up, get out,
and check these tunes. Wayne Shorter just passed through as did Jimmy Smith. These are the players that made it
all happen; we owe them a debt. And if you don't have A Love Supreme, well,
just get it.
1. Wild, David A. Liner notes to SSun Ship (New York: MCI Records, Inc.,