More than a celebration of some of fusion's current undisputed cream—featuring, in addition to White's group and McLaughlin's current Fourth Dimension lineup, sets by guitarists Jimmy Herring, Alex Machacek and Wayne Krantz, Indian drummer Ranjit Barot, and the first live appearance by fusion supergroup-in-the-making Human Element—it was also a chance to see just how far Dutta's Abstract Logix has come, since it morphed from web-based fusion storefront to record label. Starting modestly with just one release, Project Z's Lincoln Memorial (2005), AL has grown to become the premiere imprint for today's fusion, the "Little Label That Could," against the many challenges facing Indies today. The New Universe Music Festival 2010: Abstract Logix Live! isn't quite like being there but, at just over two hours, it's a compelling condensation of the many highlights (there were many more) that took place over two days in November, 2010—an expansive picture window into what made the festival a great experience and tremendous success.
With tracks culled from each of the seven groups' performances, spread across two discs, it captures the essence and variety of each set, from Machacek's knotty writing, almost unfathomable voicings and cerebral yet searing work with the same lineup as The Official Triangle Session (Abstract Logix, 2009)—powerhouse drummer Jeff Sipe and the lesser-known, but equally deserving bassist, Neal Fountain—to Herring's more groove-driven but no less contextually challenging quartet, also with Fountain and Sipe, along with another surprise of the festival, keyboardist Matt Slocum.
Herring's set was one of the best of a thoroughly high bar festival, so it's appropriate that he receives nearly as much time as McLaughlin—who gets the most focus at over 26 minutes—demonstrating his good ol' boy combination of Jeff Beck-worthy tone, southern lyricism and undeniably monster chops on Sipe's high-velocity "Rainbow," and his own dark ballad, "Gray Day," from Lifeboat (Abstract Logix, 2008). Herring's thundering version of George Harrison's "Within You, Without You" dovetails perfectly with the Indo-centricities of Barot's set, where a remarkable duo with violinist Bala Bhaskar ("Vignesh Kirtanam") sets up "Origin," the fiery closer to the drummer's AL debut, Bada Boom (2010), here performed by members of Human Element, along with guest guitarist Krantz, who delivers a characteristically quirky, visceral and gritty solo.
Human Element's release had been delayed until April, 2011, so keyboardist Scott Kinsey, über-bassist Matthew Garrison and percussionist/vocalist/puckish mischief-maker Arto Tuncboyaciyan—with Barot subbing, with complete confidence and commitment, for regular drummer Gary Novak—gave a preview of what was to come, as Kinsey's "Essaouira" and the more incendiary "Sometimes I..." demonstrate the quartet's sonic blend of Joe Zawinul-informed landscapes, world music concerns and Tribal Tech-like displays of unbridled improvisational power.
Krantz, in addition to longtime drummer Cliff Almond, brought another bass legend to the festival. Anthony Jackson's 2010 AL debut, Interspirit, may not have been represented at the event, but his contribution to Krantz's trio more than made up for it. Krantz offers a different kind of cerebralism than Machacek, one driven more aggressively by groove, and a knottier disposition towards unexpected time changes, as "Why" clearly demonstrates, shifting gears halfway into a high velocity free-for-all that builds to a fever pitch.
White's AL debut, Anomaly (2010), was a cast of thousands (well, 23) affair, but his touring band brings the album's material into sharper focus. With Herring—a sometimes member of the band—guesting with the current quartet lineup, White has a tremendous frontline that also includes New York guitarist Tom Guarna, stepping away from his own more mainstream recordings, and bassist Richie Goods, who's new to the AL family but from whom more will hopefully be heard, kicking the swinging blues at the core of "Door #3" into high gear, with Herring and Guarna turning the heat up with a series of nuclear-burn trade-offs that lead to White's closing solo, which starts quietly, and ends even more so ("How about that," White quipped, at the show, "a quiet drum solo."). Keyboardist Vince Evans, a regular White alum, is another new face to AL, but his combination of Jan Hammer-like synth lines and, in particular, his Rhodes solo on the up-tempo "Gazelle"—ambiguous voicings combining with a seemingly endless flow of thematic ideas, as he weaves through the song's knotty changes—makes him another player worth following.
"Recovery," from To The One (Abstract Logix, 2010), demonstrates how much McLaughlin's Fourth Dimension group has evolved since its 2007 North American tour, documented on Official Pirate (Abstract Logix, 2007). With bassist Etienne Mbappe replacing young firebrand Hadrien Feraud, keyboardist/drummer Gary Husband and drummer Mark Mondesir are able to breathe a little more. The music is no less incendiary when it needs to be, but there's a greater sense of fluidity at the bottom end, and a more unshakable anchor, making a short but sweet version of "Recovery" the perfect, succinct representation where the group is now.
But it's the closer to McLaughlin's set that's the greatest peak amongst so many others. "Mother Tongues," a longtime McLaughlin closer, is stretched to over 21 minutes and features a lengthy, mid-song duo between McLaughlin and surprise guest, tablaist Zakir Hussain, that proves the undying strength of musical friendships forged as strongly as that of these two masters. They haven't played together for many years—since the last time Remember Shakti toured—but the bond they share clearly hasn't weakened one iota, as McLaughlin and Hussain push, pull and work off each other, the guitarist's rhythmic roots in Indian classicism on full display, as Hussain moves into a three-way trade-off with Husband and Mondesir that has everyone on their toes, creating the kind of fireworks that drove the audience into a frenzy.
Rumors are there's going to be another New Universe Music Festival in 2012, and with a growing roster that now includes guitarist Chris Taylor, and a second installment of Husband's Dirty & Beautiful Volume One (Abstract Logix, 2010) hopefully coming up—leading to hopes that the keyboardist/drummer will get the chance to front his own band—there's every chance that the next festival will repeat and expand upon the successes of the first installment. For a first-time event, spearheaded by the Duttas and their seemingly tireless Director of Operations, John Angello, the 2010 New Universe Music Festival went off with very few hitches—putting many festivals that have been around a lot longer to shame.
n November 20 and 21, 2010, maverick record label Abstract Logix hosted a series of spectacular performances, featuring an array of artists who handily defy genre categorization in favor of unbridled expression. The first New Universe Festival was a die-hard music lover’s dream, defined by artists who seamlessly mingle compositional ingenuity and improvisational grace and fervor. This coming September, Abstract Logix will release a 2 DVD set, featuring a generous selection of festival performances and bonus material (additional performances, interviews, and more), filmed in high-definition throughout the event.
Among the featured musicians were pioneering guitarist John McLaughlin and his current band the 4th Dimension with special guest, world music legend tabla maestro Zakir Hussain; Widespread Panic guitar hero Jimmy Herring with his electric band; Return to Forever Drummer Lenny White; the all-star quartet Human Element (keyboardist Scott Kinsey, bassist Matt Garrison, percussionist Arto Tunçboyaciyan; fearless guitarist and improviser Wayne Krantz appearing with the amazing Anthony Jackson on bass; visionary Indian composer and drummer Ranjit Barot; and emerging guitar visionary Alex Machacek.
“I feel honored to participate,” says festival headliner John McLaughlin, while on tour promoting his Grammy-nominated album To the One. “My life has been dedicated to my instrument and music, and I continue to devote myself to music in order to be worthy of such a privilege. You will hear the kind of complicity that exists between us all – this is a very special element, and frankly essential for making good music.”
Jimmy Herring very succinctly put it, “This is real music played by real people, happening in real time. We’re up there listening and reacting to one another, and people genuinely respond to the risks we take. This is human music in a mechanized age.”
On the face of it, this live double-album is an expert genuflection to jazz-rock fusion, with five guitarists and a crop of punchy drummers (including Return to Forever's Lenny White and percussion virtuoso Zakir Hussain) to confirm it. But the playing of the seven bands is anything but predictable. The members sit in with each other here, and their embrace of risk and the pleasure they take in spontaneous performance are palpable. John McLaughlin and the 4th Dimension have Hussain sit in for usual drummer Ranjit Barot in two fiercely vivacious pieces, including an infectious, choppy, 20-minute Hussein showcase, Mother Tongues. Barot leads a violin-dominated Indian-inflected sextet featuring the New York guitar maverick Wayne Krantz as a guest; Krantz also appears with an edgy avant-fusion trio. The chord-crunching, metal-inspired guitarist Alex Machacek opens proceedings with a fast-moving group extensively featuring electric bassist Neal Fountain.
It was a veritable smorgasbord of fusion, with many of the top-notch artists in the genre coming together for a series of performances. Jazz-rock fans attending the inaugural event heard legends like John McLaughlin and Lenny White, established names such as Wayne Krantz, Human Element and Jimmy Herring, as well as up-and-comers like Alex Machacek and Ranjit Barot. From start to finish, the music was electric, even when it was being played acoustically. There was also a palpable sense of community as artists generously participated in listening sessions and sat in with each other throughout the event. I highly recommend this festival and look forward to seeing and hearing its second incarnation in 2012.
– Lee Mergner, Editor in Chief, JazzTimes
The New Universe Music Festival brought together an astonishing roster of legendary and upcoming jazz-fusion musicians—especially guitarists—in an intimate setting charged with excitement. As might be expected, the music was superb, culminating in a heartfelt tribute to fusion and world music pioneer John McLaughlin. I look forward to attending the next NUMF, though the first one will be very tough to top.
– Barry Cleveland, Guitar Player
2. Very Sad;
6. Sometimes I...;
8. Gray Day;
9. Within You, Without You.
5. Mother Tongues.
Alex Machacek: guitar (CD1#1-2);
Neal Fountain: bass (CD1#1-2, CD1#7-9);
Jeff Sipe: drums (CD1#1-2, CD1#7-9);
Ranjit Barot: drums (CD1#3-7), voice (CD1#3-4);
Bala Bhaskar: violin (CD1#3-4);
Scott Kinsey: keyboards (CD1#3-7);
Matthew Garrison: bass (CD1#3-7);
Arto Tunçboyacian: percussion and voice (CD1#3-7);
Wayne Krantz: guitar (CD1#3-4, CD2#1);
Jimmy Herring: guitar (CD1#7-9, CD2#-2-3);
Matt Slocum: keyboards (CD1#7-9);
Anthony Jackson: bass (CD2#1);
Cliff Almond: drums (CD2#1);
Lenny White: drums (CD2#2-3);
Tom Guarna: guitar (CD2#2-3);
Richie Goods: bass (CD2#2-3);
Vince Evans: keyboards (CD2#2-3);
John McLaughlin: guitar (CD2#4-5);
Etienne M'Bappe: bass (CD2#4-5);
Gary Husband: keyboards and drums (CD2#4-5);
Mark Mondesir: drums (CD2#4-5);
Zakir Hussain: table ((CD2#5).