Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Ari Hoenig show and jam session

There was a wild night last night— Ari Hoenig played at Portland's 1905 Club, followed by a jam session, led by Ron Steen— a great drummer and long time jazz community leader in Portland. Several of the best, most active drummers in town were there: Alan Jones, Michael Raynor, Chris Brown, the young Domo Branch, several other younger guys I didn't know. We all played and had a nice time. One unfortunate younger guy had to play right after Hoenig sat in— and played very well despite being nervous. 

I posted some thoughts about Hoenig's playing after seeing him with Kenny Werner's trio in 2014, and I guess those comments hold up as well as they ever did. Here are some more notes— they're kind of rough, I keep polishing them...   

They played the standards Shiny Stockings and My Ideal, and Deluge by Wayne Shorter, a couple of Hoenig's tunes— including a Balkan style blazing 7/8 (I think if averaged out to that?), which I guess all the New York guys are doing now?— and this tune, called Scoville, which is either a John Scofield tune, or an homage to a Scofield tune: 

He's kind of a rhythm cubist. There's some next level stuff happening with rhythm, which... I'm damned if I can follow a lot of it. I guess it's a philosophical thing about music whether time should be followable or not— and another question how much we as drummers should be able to handle that stuff ourselves. Either way, the energy and creativity carry the show, as did the big resolutions— where the time seems to have completely shifted, and then resolves on the 1, or on a key hit in the arrangement. I feel like there's a game element to it. 

There is that very advanced rhythm thing, but the major thing happening is that he's a jazz drummer , and is playing the tune. There's the time, the harmonic rhythm, and the melody of the tune, and the space around the melody, and any other arrangement elements— rhythm figures. And he knows the idiom extremely well, and knows a huge amount of drumming content. He has a lot of ideas for how to express those things on the drums— stating a melody, setting it up, guiding the group from section to section— and what he's doing is a couple of levels beyond what's obvious much of the time. Or sometimes it'll be very obvious— he's using the entire range.     

You can't help but notice his technique. He uses a very ugly German matched grip, even on the cymbal, back fingers off the stick half the time, striking the snare drum at a funny high angle. I wouldn't call it a beautiful sound— rendering an impeccable beautiful sounding performance is not the idea. Plays largely heel up with the feet. At times he was hitting a pulse with the heels of both feet in unison. I wouldn't call it a chops-heavy performance, though you can see in the video there was plenty of that at times.

There's a sort of vaudeville/show drumming element happening— I'm thinking Jo Jones— to degrees among some of the other players present, too. Lots of drumistic announcements being made— I am doing this, this is about to happen. It is part of the craft and tradition. Doing it very actively requires good judgment— done badly, listening to someone go Now this! Now this! Now do this! Now do this! all night can wear you out. We're helping the other players out with that, but we're also giving orders and asking for attention. 

It was a great, exciting, inspiring evening of music. I do find myself differentiating between music like this, which feels geared towards blowing away a festival audience, and regular music I listen to, and play as a job, and do as art.   

We were lucky to have Ron play a couple of tunes at the beginning of the jam session, to reset things from blow-your-mind mode to regular nightclub mode. Watching all that, your head kind of empties out. What do I do? What do I play? Your own thing kind of goes away. I used to be bad about worrying about I don't do what they do. But I can play the drums. You start and your ears engage and your hands do their thing. I like where my playing is— I don't try, I just engage, and things I like happen.  

About these overwhelming performances: there's room for everything— simple music played simply as well as complicated music played complicatedly, and everything in between. Everybody has the same problem of figuring out how to make it worth the time it took to listen to it. 

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