Friday, March 11, 2005

This Music Is Headed in the Right Direction

Last night was one of the most highly-anticipated concerts of the year: Directions in Music at Bass Hall in Ft. Worth. The three featured players are the legendary keyboardist/composer Herbie Hancock, tenor titan Michael Brecker and Texas-bred trumpeter Roy Hargrove; rounding out the ensemble this time around were bassist Scott Colley (whom I'd heard on the previous Brecker tour in '02) and drummer Terri Lyne Carrington.

The original "Directions" came about because of a concert at Massey Hall in 2001 that was conceived as a tribute to Miles Davis and John Coltrane on the occasion of what would have been their seventy-fifth birthdays. Joining the three headliners was the powerhouse support team of bassist John Patitucci and drummer Brian Blade (the same tandem behind Wayne Shorter's Footprints Live, a tour I also had the privilege of catching). From that concert came the Live at Massey Hall CD, released in 2002.

We had no idea upon our arrival if there would be any duplication of tunes from the original CD at this concert or if it was a sequel of sorts; the "Directions in Music" moniker always seemed to imply to me that the original was but one of a series, and that thought was borne out by the printed program, which noted that the current tour (which wraps up in Houston tomorrow night) is officially called "Directions in Music: Our Times" and spotlights the music of contemporary composers like Shorter, McCoy Tyner, Jaco Pastorius, Stevie Wonder, and Hancock himself.

The modern-ness was evident from the start, as Hancock began the evening coaxing sounds from his iMac G5 before he ever laid his hands on the piano (or the synth sitting on top of it). An otherworldly swirl of samples came bursting forth, enhanced by a fancy surround-sound setup. Some of the speakers were way up near where we were, in the highest level of Bass Hall, and the whole thing really added to the experience, as Herbie's synths and samples and Brecker's EWI were given added prominence.

In most concert reviews, I'd give you a rundown of the list of tunes, but that would be near-impossible this time. For one thing, they didn't announce a single title (despite the program stating, in true symphony hall fashion, that "[i]n the spirit of spontaneity, all pieces will be announced from the stage") and some tunes ran right into each other. In fact, nobody came to the mic at all until Hancock introduced the band at the end of the two-hour set (a 35-minute encore would follow). Also, Directions tends to specialize in the deconstruction of familiar themes, much as they did with the "So What/Impressions" pairing on the CD, so there were several times when a theme would seem familiar, only to veer off into something completely different.

But don't for a minute assume that the lack of recognizable thematic material made the concert any less enjoyable. From the opener, which seemed to be a reworking of "Dolphin Dance" (though the head was never played in its entirety), all the way to a rousing version of "Chameleon" that rounded out the encore, the soloing was nothing short of amazing. Sure, Directions is not for casual listening, and Breckerphiles like myself could perhaps quibble at the amount of time that the two horns spent offstage (there's no doubt that this was Hancock's show, but his four decades of contributions to the music have earned him the right to sit atop that pedestal), but there was a lot of top-notch musicianship on that stage, and we were reveling in it for the entire two-and-a-half hours.

Brecker did get his personal moment in the sun when the others left the stage for his solo EWI run (despite not knowing the theme of this tour, Halfling nailed the prediction of such a feature on the trip down). As he had done on his magnum-opus reworking of "Original Rays" during an early solo tour, about which I reminisced here, Brecker had fun with the different tonal possibilities and cool tricks like making what he played repeat over a few bars and accompanying himself with rhythm-box tracks (all of his effects came from an iMac that was a virtual twin of Herbie's). He even got in touch with his inner rock star, walking to the front of the stage at one point and playing some rapid-fire "guitar licks." (At the very end of the feature, he played a couple of figures that made me and Halfling both think he was going to segue into "Rays," but it was not to be. The rhythm section rejoined him and launched into what an Amazon reviewer of a previous stop on the tour said was Shorter's "Pinocchio," but I'll have to research that one.)

As far as other highlights: Hargrove's funky wah-pedal enhancements and amazing technique, augmented by high chops that seemed stronger than previous times I'd seen him (which included a stop at the late, lamented Caravan of Dreams down the street from where we were last night, as well as a solo performance--that's right, unaccompanied flugelhorn--at a Borders in Plano); Colley's nice, technical solo lines and solid foundation; Carrington's tasty Afro-Latin rhythmic meanderings and strong time support (changing from rock-solid to floaty, depending on the moment); and of course Herbie himself. Though he's almost as well-known for his electric work, it was great just to hear him play piano, of which there was a generous quantity. He's one of the living masters whom I had not seen live before this, and he was more than worth the wait.

We had originally been set to see this show in Houston tomorrow because tonight's show conflicted with Combo PM, but when a lot of the members also expressed interest, we got to turn it into a field trip of sorts (though we were scattered throughout the hall). Now I'm regretting selling the Houston tickets, because we definitely would have gone to see these guys again. With any luck, a CD will come out of this tour as well.

The aftermath: The evening wasn't done at concert's end--far from it. Halfling and I noticed on our way in that the stage door went right out onto the sidewalk, so we joined a small group of people hoping that the players would come outside. We initially envied the people who had actually congregated inside that door, deciding that they must have been invited there, but when Halfling recognized a few of his classmates in the group, he figured that maybe anybody could walk in, which is exactly what we did. After a decent amount of waiting, we were rewarded, as Brecker came out into the hallway. Though I had always heard he was quite reserved in person, he was actually extremely cool, quite friendly and very conversational; he signed autographs and talked with all of us for a good fifteen minutes. I also used Halfling's camera phone to take a picture of him and Halfling, who then did the same for me; that photo will be posted here as soon as it's uploaded and emailed to me.

Needless to say, that was a great moment, because, despite having seen Brecker four times before, this was my first time to meet him. Halfling and I also reveled in the fact that we had, in the past two semesters, gotten to meet and be photographed with pretty much our two favorite tenor players (the Bob Mintzer encounter is posted here), both in the same town. Ft. Worth has been very, very good to us.

We waited a bit to try and catch Herbie, but he had already gotten onto the bus; nonetheless, we waited out there a bit, having a bit more of a conversation with Brecker and watching one of the college guys actually bum a cigarette off Hargrove before he boarded the bus.

At this point, it was 'round quite a bit after midnight and we still hadn't eaten dinner. Despite Ft. Worth's downtown being much more lively than Dallas's (see below), everywhere we went was closed or in the process of doing so. Even the Taco Cabana in north Ft. Worth that we'd visited on the way back from the Dave Pietro concert was closed, so we hit its counterpart in Denton, which was totally hoppin' at 1:30 a.m. I crashed on Halfling's floor after that, totally agreeing with his contention that I had no business driving back at two in the morning (and reveling in the fact that I didn't have any students until nearly 9:45 today). Even though I had a short teaching day today, last night marked the official beginning of Spring Break '05 for us, and it definitely started off in fine fashion. And only two more days till Pat Metheny...

Cowtown after dark: It's long been known among Metroplexites that Ft. Worth has Dallas beaten by a long shot in the downtown department. Sure, we got done too late to eat, but there were plenty of options had we been there earlier: Chili's, Bennigan's, Razzoo's, Pizzeria Uno, and so on. Everything was clean and well-lighted, parking was plentiful and cheap (we even got a free curbside spot during our food-searching sojourn), bicycle officers were on nearly every block, and a few street musicians plied their craft along the sidewalk. Oh, and we felt totally safe the whole time and didn't get accosted by--or even see, for that matter--a single homeless person. Sure, the whole Sundance Square area was initially financed by money from the local magnates, the Bass family (even if the resources of one of its members couldn't keep Caravan of Dreams afloat *sigh*), but the revival has been going on for more than twenty years and shows no sign of stopping. (It also struck me that putting Bass Hall right in the middle of their revived downtown was a good move; there's nothing wrong on paper about the somewhat segregated Arts District in Dallas, but it's very cool to be able to go right out the front door of the Bass and have restaurants, movie theatres and a bookstore right there in walking distance.) The powers-that-be in Dallas should take a trip west on I-30 (if they can ever stop bickering amongst themselves on every little thing) and figure out what's going on over here, because it works.

No comments: