Notes from the Underground | Music Feature | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Notes from the Underground 

Burlington will be bopping this week and next as the Discover Jazz Festival takes over town. While heavy hitters such as Branford Marsalis and Randy Weston bring the masses to the Flynn Center, stars from a slightly different cosmos will be throwing down downstairs.

The 200-person FlynnSpace, a cabaret-style venue located next door to the Flynn Mainstage, will host a trio of performances by some of jazz's most energetic performers: the Chris Potter Quartet, Steve Coleman and Five Elements, and Han Bennink and Eugene Chadbourne.

"It's a tradition to present really interesting, unusual emerging artists at FlynnSpace," says Flynn Artistic Director Arnie Malina, who finds those artists.

Monday night, June 7, the Chris Potter Quartet hits the stage for an evening of electrifying post-bop. Born on New Year's Day, 1971, Potter grew up in Columbia, South Carolina. He began playing the alto saxophone as a child and soon showed remarkable skill on the instrument. By the time he was 13, Potter was performing professionally, playing alto and soprano sax, bass clarinet and flute. In his early twenties, Potter moved to New York and began gigging with many of the city's best-known musicians. While attending the Manhattan School of Music, the young reedman started playing with veteran trumpeter Red Rodney's quintet. Potter logged many hours on stage before Rodney's death in 1994.

In 1993, Potter released Concentric Circles, a universally acclaimed record that established him as one of the hottest new players in jazz. Though only 23 at the time, he drew comparisons to jazz giants such as John Coltrane. Subsequent releases continued to cast him as a truly unique performer. In 2003, Down Beat magazine honored him with its Rising Star of the Tenor Saxophone award.

Recently Potter released Live at the Village Vanguard, cut with his Lift Quartet. The recording sketches Potter as an artist who is unafraid of bold experimentation, yet tied intrinsically to 50 years of jazz history. "He is a wonderful player and a great character," says Malina, acknowledging Potter's important position in "the evolution of jazz language... He is very a literate player, and [he has] a real soul-deep sax sound." Potter will also take part in a public question-and-answer session with jazz critic Bob Blumenthal prior to his FlynnSpace gig.

Steve Coleman and Five Elements kick things up a bit on Tuesday, June 8, offering a sublime journey through modern musicianship. He will also lecture on "Spontaneous Composition" before the gig. Along with Greg Osby, Gary Thomas and others, Coleman is credited with creating the M-Base sound. Short for "macro-basic array of structured extemporization," M-Base is an often-noisy, funk-based soloing structure that owes little to bebop. After catching Coleman's performance at last year's Montreal Jazz Festival, Malina says he was determined to bring him to Burlington.

Though he began his career performing in funk and r&b bands in his native Chicago, Coleman shifted his focus to jazz when he moved to New York. His idiosyncratic alto sax work was developed while playing hour after hour on street corners, trying out new musical ideas. The Five Elements, Coleman's first band, was composed of fellow street musicians looking to push the boundaries of jazz. His work with M-Base and exploration of other traditions such as West African music earned Coleman kudos as a composer. He has released more than a dozen albums. "This is an opportunity to hear a true master with an original sound and a whole individual theory of music in a very small setting," Malina notes.

The final show of the FlynnSpace three, on Thursday, June 10, features Dutch drummer and improv legend Han Bennink with New York multi-instrumentalist Eugene Chadbourne. "Bennink and Chadbourne are two great veterans," says Malina. "They've been playing together for over 20 years now. They are real 'art-pranksters,' very outrageous." The two will also take part in a discussion with audience members before the show.

Bennink has been a percussive force in jazz for five decades. Renowned for his avant-garde work, he's also earned kudos for his impeccable sense of time as a "straight" drummer. Bennink began playing drums during the early '60s, following the lead of his father, a classical percussionist. As a young artist he was often tapped to perform with American greats when they toured the Netherlands. By 1969, Bennink had backed Sonny Rollins, Eric Dolphy and Dexter Gordon, among others, and had earned a reputation as one of Europe's finest players.

In 1976, Misha Mengelberg, Willem Breuker and Bennink founded the Instant Composer's Pool, a nonprofit organization that promoted Dutch avant-garde jazz. Over the years he's produced work with the ICP Orchestra as well as with Peter Brotzmann, Derek Bailey, Don Cherry and others on the jazz edge. Bennink is infamous for his wild playing, which often makes as much use of the stage, random inanimate objects and his own body as it does a traditional drum kit. At one gig Malina watched as Bennink took off mid-set and walked into the bathroom, where he could be heard drumming on the fixtures and pipes. "You never know what's going to happen," Malina adds. Bennink will lead two lectures, on June 11 and 12, and a percussion workshop on the 12th.

Eugene Chadbourne is one of the most impossible-to-categorize performers in experimental music. He's played it all. His early obsession with The Beatles and Jimi Hendrix eventually gave way to jazz improv. He fled to Canada during the Vietnam War and didn't return to the States until '76. That's when he became immersed in New York's downtown music scene, often pairing up with avant hero John Zorn. Eventually, Chadbourne settled upon his own peculiar mix of folk, country-rock, jazz and mad experimentalism, all of which he has displayed on a number of solo and collaborative albums. "He has a wide knowledge of music," Malina says. "But he also has a great sense of fun." For this show, Chadbourne will match Bennink's percussion with guitar, banjo and vocals. Odd couples don't get better than this.

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About The Author

Ethan Covey

Ethan Covey

Ethan Covey was the Seven Days music editor from 2001 until 2004. He won the 2004 John D. Donoghue award for arts criticism from the Vermont Press Association.


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