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Review: Ari Hoenig at Road Trip

Ari Hoenig: Bert’s Playground
(Dreyfus Jazz CD, FDM 46050369192)

Review: Ari Hoenig, Road Trip Bar, Old Steet, 9th March 2009

An A4 sheet with six words in red and black bold capitals had been hastily sellotaped over the menu blackboard outside the Road Trip Bar in Old Street:

“ARI HOENIG , PUNK BOP, TONIGHT HERE”

What a symbol of the grit and the passion of the jazz promoter. Following the noise complaint which, for the time being, has silenced the music at Charlie Wright’s, Patsy Craig and Zhenya Strigalev have taken bold occupancy of other venues. And a crowd of very attentive listeners mainly in their twenties, has followed them to this new bar. None of them can have been disappointed by what they heard tonight. The same band will be at Zigfrid von Underbelly in Hoxton Square tomorrow, Tuesday 10th. This is a great band, for which only one word will suffice: GO.

I find genres confusing at the best of times, and the words “PUNK BOP” had me completely mystified as I listened.

The opening number, Wayne Shorter’s Fall had an extraordinary spaciousness in its harmonic rhythm, an irresistibly slow and inevitable sense of forward motion. I checked my watch at the end. I was surprised. This number had lasted a full quarter of an hour, but the compelling musical logic from its beginning to its end had engrossed me: it felt more like about five minutes.

I found Ari Hoenig to be a drummer of infinite variety, creativity and subtlety. In one straight-ahead bass solo by Dan Boller in Coltrane’s Moment’s Notice, Hoenig’s delicate brush-work was being consistently carried out within a space of just millimetres above the drum skin. Jonathan Kreisberg, a strong musician, struck me as playing as sensitively and gently as any guitarist I have ever heard. I found that Will Vinson’s alto saxophone playing in this group had a fluidity and flow such that he was equally at home in his burning and long-phrased runs as he was makng the simplest of melodic statements.

What, I asked Ari Hoenig and Will Vinson in the interval, is this “PUNK BOP” all about then? Hoenig, a New Yorker, told me it is that this band is all about being rebellious. Vinson, a 31-year old Brit who went West to Manhattan School of Music ten years ago, and has stayed, told me that in New York the band does “jazz gigs” but that on this European tour they find that they naturally want to stretch out way beyond the conventions of jazz.

So it’s about defiance, rebelliousness. I had just one thought. But I think it will stay with me: if being a punk is to create music which can defend its own internal logic, but which kicks strongly against convention by creating harmonic ambiguity and space….. then I am absolutely certain that Beethoven was a punk too.

This is the kind of gig where the attentive listening audience know they are hearing something special, well away from the mainstream venues. There must have been places like that in Vienna two hundred years ago.

The conclusion: a venue which has Patsy Craig’s sellotaped A4 sheet outside is the place where some of the freshest music in London is to be heard.

I also listened to this band’s CD (details above) in the car on the way home. And I’m completely hooked. And I think Beethoven would be too.

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