by Steve McPherson
It's a somewhat bitter pill to swallow for many musicians whose passions lay in the direction of jazz or blues that greater success is to be had in Europe than here, in the land where the music was born. Expatriate bluesmen, including Luther Allison, found greater success while living abroad in places like Paris than they had ever experienced on these shores, but by Allison’s own admission, it was hard to live apart from the place that had given birth to him and the music he loved. The sur Seine festival is seeking to bridge these gaps, bringing together the European (predominantly French) musicians that have carried the torch of jazz (free and otherwise) in their own country with the under-appreciated purveyors of all things jazz in this country.
jazz isn't music for everybody, but if you can acquire a taste for it, it grants
unique pleasures for the listener, bringing performance into spaces outside
the bounds of traditional song structures, expanding your idea of what music
can do and be. Add to this the seemingly chaotic, but actually heavily structured
avant-garde music of groups like our own Happy Apple, and you have an intoxicating
mix of exploration and virtuosity.
I wanted to take a moment to highlight a show I'm looking forward to in this
festival. The thunderous rhythm section of bassist Sonny Thompson and drummer
Michael Bland have teamed up with the just unbelievable Philly guitarist Jef
Lee Johnson to form News from the Jungle. Their
2001 self-titled debut has defied proper release here, but has enjoyed success
in France, and it's the kind of headspinning, nimble-fingered jazz fusion freakout
that Vernon Reid has been trying to make ever since Living Colour called it
quits. It confidently hearkens back to the heyday of the Black Rock Coalition
movement that spawned 24-7 Spyz, Follow for Now and other politically-conscious
groups from the early- to mid-'90s. Like taking collard greens to a cheese grater,
the result is soulful shredding, layered with spacey sounds, overdriven guitar
recalling Eddie Hazel's work with P-Funk and rock solid backbeat. I'd be dreaming
if I thought that this kind of stuff could ever gain mainstream acceptance,
but maybe it doesn't have to so long as concert series like the Sur Seine festival
can bring it to the appreciative few.
News from the Jungle perform Thu., Oct. 20 at the Varsity Theater. 11 p.m.
All Ages. $8/$10.