Paper burns at 451°F. At what temperature do master musicians start burning? When everything is going just right on stage? Broken Shadows — the quartet of Tim Berne on alto saxophone, Chris Speed on tenor saxophone, Reid Anderson on bass, and Dave King on drums — concluded their tour in Austin, Texas, last Wednesday, an appropriate location for a band united to celebrate music of Texas composers– Ornette Coleman, Dewey Redman, and Julius Hemphill. There aren’t many instances in which jazz today celebrates the works of Coleman, Redman, and Hemphill. Yes, they come up every now and again but in such a concentrated, celebrated form, this isn’t so much the case. A group like this looking at work like this is special. Coleman, Hemphill, and Redman were all from Fort Worth, Texas; it only made sense that the store would conclude in Texas, as Berne noted early on stage.
That being said, Texas came out for this show. Before it even began, the already astounding thing about this show was the sheer number of people here who actually care about this performance. Not so many bewildered newcomers. Nobody leaving part way through in disgusted confusion. Nearly full retention from the first to the second set. Applause, of course, but also the appropriate hoots and hollers. That’s not even to talk about the practical who’s who of the Austin jazz scene in attendance– pianist Graham Reynolds was there; bassist Ingebrigt Håker Flaten with guitarist Jonathan Horne, hand in nearly full recovered form (and rolling out new work from The Young Mothers), bassist Sam Pankey, drummer Daniel Dufour, trumpeter Jon Lundbom, and numerous others I’m likely forgetting and so many others I don’t even know and so many others I couldn’t even count. I was there with San Antonio compatriots The Whale– drummer Kory Cook and saxophonist Eddie Vasquez. It was a good crowd.This performance put together by Austin’s Epistrophy Arts, an organization that has known for quite some time how to present this kind of weird to the right kind of weirdos, was a particularly great one in an ongoing series of great shows.
As for the two sets themselves, there was vivacity and range. Speed’s sound was lower in tone, and mic’ed so, to encourage a deeper listening from the crowd. His statements were pure, resounding, detailed. They melded well with Tim Berne’s energy, as playful as he is in announcements, he’s even moreso as a player. Reid Anderson, as always, is a distinct bass player. He has always a clear thing to say, and infrequently the nature of how he plays while in various arrangements, particularly with The Bad Plus, know that he will not take the time to wait for solo, even though his solos are also equally spectacular. This group plays together; there are times when traditional structure takes place but this music often winds together, something Anderson has always been adept at being such a clear voice in playing while holding this balance. Therefore, let us go on to talk about Dave King. He is Animal in Dr. Mayhem and the Electric Teeth. He is that constantly moving, constantly interesting ball of energy that in such a disciplined fashion continues to keep that beat. (And that’s how he keeps getting the gig.) King never ceases to amaze and this tour has been no different. Few people can look like they’re having so much fun while cavalierly maintaining so much order. This is a group that plays music this particularly well because they are particularly attuned to do so.
It was noted a conversation after the show with Anderson that the reason why this quartet sounds so good together is because they particularly enjoy playing this music. They aren’t putting on airs. This isn’t some sort of intellectual exercise. They aren’t saying to listen to these composers that they are celebrating out of some sort of sense of eating your vegetables for historical purposes. They enjoy this music. They have had this music in their repertoire. They have played it before. In that it would make sense that they will play it exceptionally well, and for the City of Austin last week, for them to be the crowd to hear it live one last time (in this stretch). A bunch of weirdos got together to dig some kind of weird music that lasts the test of time because it’s weaving something so immensely beautiful that through folks like these, people still revisit it and appreciate it.
-Ornette Coleman “Humpty Dumpty”
-Ornette Coleman “Street Woman”
-Charlie Haden “Song for Che”
-Julius Hemphill “Body”
-Dewey Redman “Walls & Bridges”
-Ornette Coleman “Una Muy Bonita”
-Ornette Coleman “Civilization Day”
-Ornette Coleman “Comme Il Faut”
-Julius Hemphill “Dogon A.D.”
-Ornette Coleman “Broken Shadows”
-Ornette Coleman “Ecars”
Encore- Julius Hemphill “Rites”
Nextbop Editor-in-Chief Anthony Dean-Harris hosts the modern jazz radio show, The Line-Up, Fridays at 9pm CST on 91.7 FM KRTU San Antonio and is also a contributing writer to DownBeat Magazine and the San Antonio Current.