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Chris’ Jazz Café, 1421 Sansom Street, Center City, Philadelphia, November 2, 2010

Augmented Fourthtet

Dave Kaczorowski, bass

Herb Robertson, trumpet

Matt Mitchell, piano

Daniel T. Peterson, Sax and bass clarinet

Adrian Valosin, drums

There’s nothing like a day of packing in the good stuff.  Yesterday, after delivering two lectures and (sitting in on another), I had, by 6:30 pm. engaged a delicious range of musical topics: Miles Davis/1960s cultural politics/post-bop/the connections among Jewish and African American relationships to commerce, discrimination, and the American culture industry/Brazilian pop music from the Amazon region.  Throw in a feisty, collegial discussion about the future of music theory as a subfield in the academy (I and said colleague believe we had figured this all out in under twenty minutes), I was ready to get to the next part of my day.   All that talking put me in the mood for some live music making. Okay, for the record: I’m always in that mood.  Oh, and by the way, my kind lay readers, we have a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy concerning all “future of music theory” discussions, so I’m not going into that here.  Sorry you missed it.

I managed to get on-street parking in Center City (yes!) and stumbled into Chris’ Jazz Café, the only all-jazz venue in Philly these days.  On stage was the Augmented Fourthtet, a five-piece ensemble specializing in an improvisational language that moves between post-bop and avant-garde grammars.

They hit the right spots without even really hitting what one might call a groove.

Matt Mitchell and Dave Kaczorowski mixing it up

It was compelling to hear this group after arriving at the post bop idiom of modern jazz in my history of jazz course.  Their in-the-moment explorations of plush harmonic territories that were shot through with simultaneous, sparse melodic statements drew one into a musical orbit where ideas were allowed to organically emerge from five open and willing musical personalities.  Dave Kaczorowski’s contribution to the soundscape, in my perception, was key to this group’s success.  His playing was generally void of predictable ostinato patterns (those funky cyclic patterns that socialized your young butt to move) or “walking” bass lines (those swinging patterns outlining harmonic structures that say “ I’m jazz, sit down and listen”). Instead, his bass lines were fluid extemporaneous statements that commanded foreground airspace—lines that seemed ever searching for some dry land to plant its feet.

Pianist Matt Mitchell was a revelation.  His almost Bartok-ian pianism toggled among stylistic references to Herbie Hancock, Bill Evans, and Mr. T. Monk.  Mitchell’s crafty and artful accompaniment had the polytonal and off-centered intensity of a Charles Ives art song.  Add to the mix the delightful interplay between the “front line” of Daniel Peterson and Herb Robertson, and you got the feeling of an easy going Town Hall meeting—not the Tea Party brand of late—but one in which respectful interaction highlights the joy of process and not rhetorical excess for its own sake. I should qualify the term frontline here because the horn players did not position themselves in a hierarchical relationship with other band members.  They were all sonic equals.

Drummer Adrian Valosin pulled it all together for me by not emphasizing flashy timekeeping but by pushing around a mosaic of timbres that moved the soundscape through time like the ebb and flow of an ocean tide.  The songs were long though not oppressive.  And their ethereal, non-teleological quality frustrated one’s desire for goal orientation and closure.   This was jazz as art and art as jazz, augmenting an already satisfying day of musiking in Philly-town.  And although the fifths on stage were flatted, the local ale wasn’t.

Guthrie Ramsey