The Bottesini Project
Friday, October 16, 2009
Notably Fine Audio
Better than: Any other local collective improvisation group.
One of the great things about Bottesini Project shows is the uniqueness of each performance. Since the shows are based completely based on collective improvisations, there's a freshness and vibrancy about the performances that's not found in rehashed jazz standards or playing tunes that have been completely mapped out. While the idea of free jazz might confuse some people with its loose structure and disregard for musical rules at times, there are times where spontaneous pieces can actually sound like pre-written tunes.
As the leader of the Bottesini Project, saxophonist Paul Riola usually recruits high caliber players who excel at the art of improvisation, which is documented on the group's self-titled debut album that features Tortoise guitarist Jeff Parker, drummer Scott Amedola, Ron Miles, and DJ Olive. On the Bottesini Project's outstanding new album, Naima's Grass Pajamas, Riola brought in Wilco guitarist Nels Cline, San Francisco-based bassist Keenan Wayne, lap steel player Glenn Taylor, reedsman Mark Harris and guitarist Janet Feder.
As with other Bottesini Project performances, Naima's Grass Pajamas started off as collective improvisations recorded live in the studio and were then later reconstructed. It was fitting that the group celebrated the release of where the album was recorded - Notably Fine Audio. Friday night's septet featured five of the musicians on the album as well as guitarist Roger Green and Colin Bricker at the laptop.
Although some of the pieces the group played Friday drifted into completely different territory than some of the tracks on Naima's Grass Pajamas, the group's set was equally as compelling. At other times, the group explored similar textural landscapes, anchored by Bricker's laptop-based beats. After Riola opened the first tune on tenor sax, Bricker fired up a tabla beat on the laptop while Taylor created some intriguing sustained terrain using an EBow and Feder tapped on the body of her nylon string guitar. The piece then cascaded into slower section with Green holding up a small music box to the front pickup of his Telecaster. After switching from tenor to alto, Riola bounced off lines off with Harris back as well as weaving lines that vaguely recalled later-era Ornette Coleman.
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Wayne opened the second piece with percussive harmonic tapping on his bass. Feder joined then joined in by using mallets on the top of her guitar's body while Riola delivered some breathy tenor work. Green, surrounded by a multitude of guitar effect pedals, created some brilliant reversed guitar loops that later disintegrated into some wonderful textural volume swells a la Bill Frisell. Somewhere in the midst of all of this, Bricker summoned a beat that recalled Another Green World-era Brian Eno. Harris started tapping his alto sax to the beat, Feder started tapping her fretboard while Taylor and Riola traded off lines. After Bricker switched off the drums, the other players kept the pulse going with sort of sidewinding, angular March of the Munchkins kind of thing with Riola laying out some bluesy lines over it. It was brilliant. After finishing the tune, Riola said the piece was titled "Anterior Lateral View."
The last piece began with Harris humming into his sax, almost chant-like, while Green created some gorgeous ambient echo-laden guitar washes and Taylor sounded more like a guitarist by running his lap steel through distortion. After Bricker played rain forest samples, the group locked into a groove anchored by Wayne thumping bass that just kept intensifying for maybe five minutes or so until they all stopped.
PERSONAL BIAS: I've seen the Bottesini Project perform with many different line-ups, but this was one of the group's most engaging sets.
RANDOM DETAIL: Although the group only played three long pieces, they each sort of felt like suites.
BY THE WAY: While Naima's Grass Pajamas for sale at the show, the official street date is October 27.