By Mike Faloon | Photos by Michael Bogdanffy-Kriegh / Studio MBK
Look close and you’ll notice that Ted Daniel plays his trumpet with the mouthpiece to the left, slightly off center. (Though, ironically, this is not evident in the photo I chose above!)
That’s exactly what I’m looking for. That’s why I come here every chance I get: genuinely compelling off center music.
I was unusually wiped out at school today. I could feel a haze by midday, a lack of clarity. My next science lesson tumbleweeded. (Bueller? Bueller?) I hit all the marks on my lesson plan. The kids completed their tasks, but I was off. I refocused during my next prep period pushed along by the promise of another show at Quinn’s.
Having drummer Jay Rosen on the bill helped. He plays in Trio X along with Joe McPhee and Dominic Duval. McPhee and Duval played as a duo back in January. After the show I overheard McPhee say, “We need to get our drummer up here.” I can’t wait to catch Trio X at Quinn’s.
In the meantime, the rest of tonight’s line up is intriguing, too. Daniel, on trumpet, and Michael Marcus on clarinet. A brass and a reed. That heightens my expectations, two lead instruments, presumably trading off ideas. I’m hoping it’ll be like a conversation, overlapping dialogue, like Touch of Evil or Mamet.
I was in Easthampton, MA last weekend. I ran into a friend I hadn’t seen in ages. He and his wife had recently moved to Boston. Before that Detroit and Atlanta. The biggest challenge of their nomadic travels was locating the local flavor in each town, “finding the weird,” as he put it; the people who are still exploring, reaching beyond the cineplex, who always seem to have a lead on a good read, a good slice, or a good record.
I mention Beacon. He lights up. He’s heard of it. He asks if Beacon is like Northampton. Later that night I have two similar conversations, only the comparisons are to Portland and Brooklyn. They’ve heard of Dia:Beacon. They’ve heard good things about the food. I want to get music on that list. I mention the jazz series. Each time it elicits surprise, elevates their estimation.
It’s cold, again. It’s a Monday. It’s a diner. Not an obvious set of factors for staging a successful music series yet here we all are. That’s part and parcel of finding the weird, right, pushing past, through and/or around the obvious?
Top-flight talent will do that. Jay Rosen swings and pings while Ted Daniel and Michael Marcus exchange ideas out front. Daniel and Marcus don’t front sell their tunes. They don’t delve into backstories. They dive in. They’re in sync at the top of the tune, and then off they go. Two compatible but divergent paths, a musical split screen. They trade spotlight time, going back and forth between solos, but they’re at their best when playing simultaneously, polyrhythmic.
But it’s not like a split screen, come to think of it. It’s not two separate images that happen to be placed next to one another. It’s one sound, along with Rosen’s contributions, densely packed with details. It’s more like a wide angle shot, a long tracking shot like the opening to A Touch of Evil, there’s so much to take in. We’re guided along the way, but given choices. The pleasure is in deciding where to focus, what to tune into.
Marcus plants his feet and twists his torso. Daniel is more about verticality, altering his angle. One moment he’s a right angle, bent over, blasting at the stage. The next he’s up and back, a reflex angle bursting upward. Rosen is the kragle, pulling the proceedings together, working the snare, left hand catching each bounce, right working the rhythm.
I luck into a great seat, arriving just as a couple vacates prime turf at the counter. I can keep all three players in sight without moving much. My neighbor to the left can, too, but he often chooses to look down or straight ahead. In some ways he’s the fourth player in my sight line—(left to right) Daniel, neighbor, Rosen, Marcus.
From the side he looks like Peter Russo, Corey Stolls’ character on House of Cards. He sees my notebook and introduces himself, brushing away my misguided guess work. He used to be a writer. Then “life got in the way.” (That feels like a William Kennedy moment.) He’s complimentary of the write-ups I’ve been posting. Later in the conversation he adds that he disagrees with my take on Donald Fagen solo records (see Kenny Wessel, 3/4/14). I appreciate the “nice jobs” that have been coming in, but the “here’s where you’re wrong”s lead to better conversations.
Rosen concludes a solo flowing back and forth between the toms and snare. He works the cymbals for a couple of bars then he seamlessly brings the band back. It’s such a smooth transition that we, the counter crowd, forgot the applause break. Over my shoulder I hear someone in back clap. I assume that the people seated past the kitchen are here more for the talk than the tunes. It’s reassuring to be set straight.
Daniel breaks out a mute for the next number. Muted trumpet goes even better with clarinet. Plus, there’s the sight of him manipulating that metal disc, a purely—delightfully—analog way of the whole thing. The dam bursts on the final number. Right out of the gates the trio is louder and faster. It’s an abrupt change. It’s also the shortest song of the night, and it’s all over too soon.
On my way out I’m introduced to Jay Rosen. He’s hunched over a bowl of chili. Even though he’s wearing the same floral print shirt from the show, seeing him now—post-gig—is like seeing a ballplayer out of uniform, in his civilians.
“Oh hey, nice to meet you,” he says, “did you like the music?” His curiosity seems genuine. He’s been playing out for nearly 25 years, recorded dozens of records, played more shows than I’ll ever count and he’s still approachable. Daniel and Marcus exude this, too. When I ask them about a CD they’re selling, Marcus says, “Unfortunately, that one’s expensive.” I notice it’s on a German label, which bumps up my estimate. Twenty-five to thirty, I’m guessing. “Fifteen,” he says.
Later, as I’m trying to make sense of the trio’s music, I trade messages with Rosen. I inquire about the names of the songs they play at Quinn’s. Rosen says they were completely improvised. He’ll know more about titles after he hears a recording, which brings new meaning to the phrase “to be named later.”
I’m awake and alert as I step onto Main Street, refueled by the weird. Too bad my class isn’t here. I’m ready to try that science lesson again.