By Mike Faloon | Photos by Michael Bogdanffy-Kriegh / Studio MBK
Here’s what I expect: I’ll walk in between sets, take a seat at the counter, order a drink, and find out what I’ve missed so far.
Here’s what I encounter: I step to the edge of a slo-mo mushroom afterglow moving across the room distorting time and space. Something’s gone off, and it’s still going on.
Photographer Michael Bogdanffy-Kriegh is a few feet in front of me as I enter. He’s crouched low, stage right. The direction of his lens leads my eye to the stage where Accortet leader Michael Bisio is bent at the waist, feverishly bowing, digging into the deepest recess of his upright bass. His actions are large and frenzied, yet purposeful, like a battlefield surgeon operating under fire. On a dime he turns, goes careful and quiet, small deliberate movements, an archeologist gently brushing an artifact. What is Bisio looking for down there? Escape? Salvation? A certain sound just beyond his grasp? Is he finding it?
Everyone’s tuned in, waiting to see what he’ll dig up next. I take a couple of steps back, snag a seat by the door. There’s no way I’m walking through that moment.
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In One Week Buster Keaton and Sybil Seely play newlyweds. They’ve just received a “build your own home” kit, but the parts are mislabeled. The house comes out all wrong. Everything’s there, but askew, acute or obtuse angles where right angles are intended to reside; the house is an abstract wonder. They may have used traditional tools and materials but they’ve built something decidedly unconventional.
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Rounding out Accortet’s line up are Kirk Knuffke (cornet), Art Bailey (accordion), and Michael Wimberly (drums). That kind of instrumentation has “traditional” written all over it, in fountain pen. In particular, the accordion catches my attention. Accordions evoke Lawrence Welk or Weird Al. But these days, following weeks of Jazz at Quinn’s indoctrination, what used to be judgment has been upgraded to curiosity: I trust that Accortet can use those traditional tools to traverse non-traditional sounds, but how?
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“Getting a little work done?” The guy next to me sees my notebook. I explain and he introduces himself as Ross. The band winds down a Thelonious Monk tune, “Ask Me Now,” cool and invigorating like the spring air that eases through the door. “Cozy on a Monday night,” Ross says.
That’s true. Accortet is. Or at least they can be. They can also stir it up. Case in point, originals like Bisio’s “Giant Chase.” Bisio exudes a big personality, but so do the other members of Accortet. Wimberly gives the quartet its rhythmic foundation, while Knuffke cements their disparate sounds and Bailey provides a variety of exteriors.
Ross has been buying instruments at yard sales, starting to play drums again, a little cornet, too. He’s got a place where he can play these days. He asks if I was here for the Joe McPhee show. And the Jason Kao Hwang show. And the Mike Dopazo show. What he's saying but not stating is that these Monday nights make him want to create, pick up instruments again, resume old habits, make something.
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For years I based my perception of Beacon on two local institutions: Pete Seeger and Dia: Beacon. Folk art and fine art. The shows at Quinn's draw from both. They start early and they’re affordable, perfect for those of us with day jobs. The musicians are approachable, down to earth, more like DIY punk rockers in terms of their art > commerce outlook. And the music is consistently compelling, challenging in the right ways.
I’m introduced to drummer Michael Wimberly, facetiously at first, because we share the same first name. He has that rare combination of being accomplished and humble. Anyone with P-Funk and Henry Rollins credits has reason to boast. Wimberly takes it in stride. When punk rock comes up he talks about his days with the Pony Boys in Cleveland--“the ties, the hair, the make up”; the lead singer who sailed through a liquor store window; opening for the Ramones, being booed. Through the chaos, Wimberly was making his way through school, spending his time with flashcards, “studying French or whatever.” A few minutes with Wimberly is like a tour of time, place, and genre, especially genres; the guy’s played everything. I say that I’ve always assumed that anyone who can play jazz can play anything. He takes a sip and laughs. “Nope.”
He describes Bisio’s songs as “compositions with room.” He tends to lay back tonight, but he knows when to take advantage, especially in the closing song, crossing back and forth between the cymbals. (Keepnews: “Oh yeah, the windshield wipers. Gotta clear it away!”)
So does cornetist Knuffke. His tone can be perfectly light and airy, like when he and Bisio duet on “Living Large.” He can push up the faders, too, crank it out sharp and cutting yet always tuneful. (It’s Knuffke’s birthday. He’s serenaded and treated to a candle-in-a-rice-ball, which is the first of two Quinn’s traditions that I learn about tonight.) Knuffke holds one whole note after another, the rhythm section percolates and Bailey interjects on accordion. He grins but never smirks, keeping kitsch at arm’s length. It helps that Bailey’s look—Fu Manchu moustache, long sleeve flannel, professor glasses—reminds me of Mike Watt.
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Bisio doesn’t say much from stage, but he’s funny, circuitous with his set ups. “I say stuff but I wish I didn’t. Here’s a song I wrote for Henry Grimes. He’s a hero of mine. I wrote it for Henry Grimes when he was still dead. He got alive. It’s still ok to play it now. First there’ll be a drum solo. Then I’ll play a G.”
That’s one way to snare an audience. Following up with another stunning solo clinches the deal. I’ve never seen a human strike an object with greater force. I cringe watching him bash those bass strings, wondering how any callus could withstand the impact. I wait for blood to splatter across his white shirt. The outcome, the sound, seems secondary to the effort.
Glass is half full = mortality’s got nothing on this dude, not right now.
Glass is half empty = Sisyphus, the strings aren’t going anywhere, the pain’s going to come back.
I side with the former. Bisio – 1, The Void – 0.
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The second Quinn’s tradition I learn about is Tubby Time. When the jazz is over and the night is winding down the sweet sounds of dub legend King Tubby waft from the PA. The contrast with Accortet says, Notice the change in music, time to leave. But the hypnotic music says, Relax, stay, work is hours away. There are drawbacks to Monday night shows.