Many aspects of last Monday night's show at The Flynn Space in downtown Burlington, Vermont felt as if they had been transplanted from past eras, even different locales. Nathan Moore, the opener of the festivities, was channeling the bravado and freedom of a Greenwich Village bohemian from 1962 and Marco Benevento, the band leader of the night's all-star headlining troupe, seemed to have an uncanny resemblance in the mind's eye to a young Miles Davis, breaking free from The Gil Evans Band in 1959 and forging his own musical path. And just like that jazz pioneer who has a stronghold on everyone's CD collection, Marco has begun to blaze a trail all his own and, on this night, all of the musicians around him were in for a treat, just like the rest of us.
I have heard of Nathan Moore, but before this live baptism into his music, I only knew him through what I have read. He is the front man of The Slip's side project Surprise Me Mr. Davis, so I always assumed that he was a pop singer. I am not intentionally taking anything away from The Slip in saying this, although I know I inadvertently have. What I mean is that, I assumed they would unite with one of their own. And they are, after all, at the front of the jam/emo/poet/pop scene. As a matter of fact, they define it- its only occupants. But this review should not be starting out with a rambling about the progressive nature of The Slip. It should be tantalizingly describing the soothing vocal styling of Nathan Moore. Lyrics that define him more as a poet and a prophet than a singer and a songwriter. Words that are comfortable and enveloping like a hearth and a blanket on a crisp winter night. So lets get back to it, shall we?
Nathan took the stage looking like a wealthy hobo. His suit was well worn but clean. His beard was thick but manicured. His voice was raspy, but strong. He greeted the crowd with what many folk singers are thinking about in this new age of hope. "I am Nathan Moore from the recently blue state of Virginia and I'm wondering what I'm going to do with all of the songs I wrote over the last eight years." Such a rumination, although jovial, cut to the heart of what many young people in this crowd, this town and this nation were thinking just then. And as the set of modern Appalachian folk music began to take shape, I realized that this is what a voice of the people- a true folk singer- can do. He took the thoughts right out of my head. He wasn't trying to give me an answer. That is not what folk music is about. He was simply making sense of all of the questions I have.
The message of the folk singer in the heyday of folk was concrete. Racism was a problem. The government does not represent the common man. Times are changing. These problems were on the tips of many people's tongues and the front of their minds. But today's problems, although as agonizing as those of yesteryear, exist in a much more abstract space. It is often hard to pinpoint individual reasons for uprising- but, we all feel revolutionary. Nathan recognizes this and tells the stories of people wanting more, not knowing exactly what more might be. It is the plight of what many see as an aimless generation- the semi-nomadic children of the late 20th century. And yet, he is not just a troubadour, he is a showman, interspersing in his set was the occasional tale from the road, sit in from Brad Barr, duet with a looped African chant and magic trick. He was a one man traveling show, even making his own novelty pins. At times I felt like I was watching a snake-oil salesman, and, if Nathan was reading this article right now, he would probably be smiling, because that's the image he wants us to see.
When Marco Benevento, Reed Mathis and Jon Fishman took the stage the music they were making couldn't have been anymore juxtaposed to that of the night's opening act. I mean, looking past the fact that the trio opened riffing on Led Zeppelin, these guys were creating a type of jazz that wasn't comparable to anybody's music today. This is what has begun to make Marco a symbol of his own style. The addition of players from different musical places served as a compliment to what Marco was creating, but it was still his music. No matter how good the wine is with dinner, chances are the entire meal is defined by the entrée and Marco is what's for dinner.
The three players worked through the opening tune and through a few of the originals on 'Invisible Baby' the album Marco released earlier this year, featuring Reed Mathis on bass and Andrew Barr, amongst others, on drums. The change in tonight's personnel made for a different take on how the drums fit into the music. While Barr's style is one of rigid creation, Fishman's is intentional and playful chaos. Once he gets locked into his rhythm, hold on tight because he will begin playing various slowed down triplets, hanging on the last note of a measure until those dancing are confused and amused just the same. Where Joe Russo, Marco's most common partner, and Barr spend most of their time driving the beat on the lower tom's and kick drum, Fishman's rhythm is defined on the higher toms and cymbals. His rhythm is not so much heard in the cadences he is playing. Instead those cadences have to be heard in combination with the spaces between these notes filled by the other member of the rhythm section- very jazzy and very dependent on a bass player who has complete control over the low end. Of course, this style grew out of playing thousands of shows with Mike Gordon, but it couldn't be better suited for the playing of Reed Mathis. Reed earned his chops on the road with the road warriors of the 90's, Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey. With JFJO, Reed filled the atypical role for a bassist of lead. Yes Brian Hass on keys, was also a lead, but that is what makes Reed's first musical love that much more unique. Since then, he has become the go to bassist for Steve Kimock and, most recently, joined Tea Leaf Green. In every case, Reed is called on to show a different side of himself, but this chameleon has the prowess to not only adapt to his surroundings, but also to always put his innovative stamp on what he is playing. Without a doubt, Reed has the ability to be the most creative bass player working today.
But as I said before, these two players, despite their insane amount of experience, confidence and originality served only as parts of the recipe. So while the music they, along with Marco, were creating seemed unmatched by any of today's touring bands, I found myself drawing parallels to the jazz scene of the 50's and 60's. A time when players moved between bands and each different formation made for a different sound. The Miles Davis Quintet of the early 50's had a sound all its own, yet that sound hinged on the charts Miles wrote or chose for the band to cover. The same can be said for Marco. He has begun to subtly create a scene defined by his music and his rotating cast of characters. When Miles hooked up with his new band in the late 50's, a whole new form of jazz was born, but it was still Miles. And, as it was with Miles, no matter who is playing with Marco, it is always his sound that is breaking through. He has taken to making modern jazz standards out of songs that sound like the background music for video games, out of classic rock, out of simple four-bar repetitions. Like an artist who can create a sculpture out of things he finds around the house, Marco find the hidden beauty in songs that may not seem so beautiful if played by someone else. He searches for the inverted chords. He is unexpected- complicating the simple and simplifying the complex. Yet he is always creating this in the moment, and he is always having fun. He can be cute, he can be dark, he can overplay, he can leave too much space, he can tickle, he can pound, he can distort and he can play without any effects. But no matter what he does, he is doing it as it has never been done before in the jazz world, but will always be done by him. Above all, he leads.
The superset of music was sending waves of heat through the sold out crowd and even the strongest of diehards were giving into their exhaustion as the band got deeper and deeper into what must have been a limited repertoire of music, as Fishman joined the band at the last minute, replacing Andrew Barr, who had another commitment. Near the 80th minute of the set, even Marco had to step away from the stage to catch his breath, but Brad Barr had stepped up to the stage and grabbed a telecaster which he made sound like a hollow body with nylon strings as he lead the rhythm section into one of he more psychedelic jams of the night, with Marco standing off stage watching with sweat dripping form his chin and a smile from ear to ear. But the night did not belong to Brad. He knew it and so did we and when Marco sat back down at the piano, the night's final jam brought the electrically charged crowd back up again. When the quartet plunged into the swamp rock jam of Credence Clearwater Revival's 'Have You Ever Seen The Rain', the only thing left was the kitchen sink. Marco had given his all and shown not only the dumbstruck audience, but the players who joined him on stage what the new face of jazz looks like.
Check out more photos from the show, thanks to Laura McDaniel.