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Published: 2004/12/10
by Jesse Jarnow

The Duo with Marc Friedman and Andrew Barr, Knitting Factory Tap Bar, NYC- 11/27

NYC ROLL-TOP: The New New Rolling Thunder

Sometime during the coked-up utopia of 1975's Rolling Thunder Revue tour, Bob Dylan declared that he would like to see the rotating caravan of musicians carry on without him, to continue traveling the country on the sly, with a hotline he (or other musicians) could dial at any time to find out where the tour was. Needless to say, it didn't happen, but – for the moment – the members of a handful of bands seems to have set up their own. In recent months (years?), members of The Duo (from Manhattan), The Slip (from Boston), the Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey (from Oklahoma), and others have found themselves sharing stages in various configurations, communicating in a mutually understood musical language that lands somewhere between the experimentalism of jazz and the dance appeal of jambands.

The latest episode found The Duo (whose two-man drums/organ lineup is built for collaboration) teaming up with The Slip's rhythm section at the Knitting Factory's Tap Bar, alongside a female percussionist whose name I didn't catch. And, like composer Charles Ives' colliding marching bands, they crashed together in a whirlwind of two-drummer thunder and the rich timbre of the Tap Bar's baby grand piano. Throughout the evening's three sets, they would frequently break down into pairs, playing off one another. At times, the collision was every bit as atonal as Ives' pieces. The Duo's Joe Russo and Marco Benevento alternated grooves with The Slip's Andrew Barr and Marc Friedman, before the two bands began playing at once, a jittering cacophony of accidental cross-rhythms.

But, unlike the marching bands, The Duo and The Slip reformed and quickly redivided, with Russo and Barr's drums pairing into a tom-driven jetstream while Friedman and Benevento surfed the top. Led by the aggressive Benevento, who discovered (or remembered) that it's hard to go wrong on an actual piano, the quintet danced from big block gospel rave-ups to Sun Ra-like cymbal gallops to wild arpeggios bursting into rock codas. When the band slowed to anything less than trot, though, they began to fall apart. Though each of the musicians is certainly quite capable of playing quietly, Russo and Barr seemed a little unsure how to translate that gracefully to two trap kits (all the more reason for the four to play again) (soon, please).

Like all hungry listeners, they tossed ideas around. And, well, I'm not sure how it happened, but it seems that Radiohead – a buncha experimental-minded sods from the mother country – have ended up as the touchstone for contemporary jazz. Their fingerprints are everywhere, both in the relative mainstream (Brad Mehldau’s solo piano covers, for starters) to the dissonant spaciness demonstrated (especially) in Benevento’s playing. Just as Medeski, Martin and Wood brought jazz back to large halls and dancers back to jazz, the pervasive influence of a band who once had a perfectly gloomy pop smash called "Creep" can only be a good thing.

And The Duo seemed to have officially arrived, by the way. With an album on the way, the local favorites have been jamming with The Slip, playing Zeppelin covers with Ween bassist Dave Dreiwitz and RANA guitarist Scott Metzger, and prepping for a tour with (former?) Phish bassist Mike Gordon. It's quite possible that they've become the hotline, or – at the very least – the house band for the New New Rolling Thunder. I left during the third set, knowing full well I'd be able to find the Revue again soon.

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