Concert Log: Tom Rainey’s Obbligato at the Jazz Gallery NYC

Lucked into a trip to New York.  Here’s my thoughts on the Tom Rainey Obliggato show that I caught on my first night. (sorry about the picture Kris Davis is missing)

Tom Rainey’s night at the Jazz Gallery felt a lot like what it was: a return to standard practice through the lens of some of the most daring experimentalists in the contemporary jazz community.  Ingrid Laubrock, Kris Davis, Ralph Alessi, and Drew Gress took the notion of abstraction into everything they did.  Form wasn’t thrown out the window, but traditional tunes like “Stella By Starlight” and “What is This Thing Called Love” were stripped for parts with brief highlights of the melody thrown into the mix alongside wild improvised countermelodies and incredibly interactive rhythm section roles.  The lines between solos were extremely non-confining as musicians were gradually left alone in space as the previous musician finished off their ideas.  Each musician had a moment in the spotlight, but nothing felt forced, making for a set that flew by in an instant.

Rainey really gave the group its spirit.  His creative, lyrical drum style is perfect for gesturing towards a meter without articulating every beat.  On “Stella,” Rainey very rarely touched upon the ride, almost using the kit as a set of hand drums.  During his biggest solo, Rainey used his finger on one hand and sticks in the other to broaden his immense dynamic range.  Sounds I didn’t know were possible were ripped out of the cymbals and more primal ideas were expressed with pummeling shots on the floor tom.

Alessi showed off his biting technical prowess in a way that never felt showy. In one tune, he added a note into the final chord so quiet that it could barely even be heard—the true sign of a good trumpet player.  Later, he gave a glimpse of his capacity for acrobatic high notes with his invigorating, unaccompanied solo.  Never to be outdone, Ingrid Laubrock also jumped in for some electrifying solos and unleashed some beauty with her command of the night’s only ballad.

One of the most impressive aspects of the night was the lightness every musician was able to tap into.  Obviously the jumps into more pulverizing territory were entertaining, but when the group was all playing at once, there was a concerted effort for each player to articulate as quietly as possible, so that everything on stage could speak clearly to the audience.  This really helped push the malleability of the tunes because the musicians could easily hear each other’s ideas and provide responses.  Also, this ideology snuck into larger ideas of the concert as musicians clearly commanded the stage alone at times, but kept in mind the rest of the musicians involved so that the experience would remain non-hierarchical.

The night stood as a reminder for the amount of internalized jazz time and feel that all of the musicians in this community keep.  All of the deep dives into free improvisation never erase the fact that these musicians can play the piss out of a tune.  At the same time, it didn’t feel like a night with any real confinements, more-so a musical moment where swing feel, jazz melodies, and limitless improvisation all held equal standing.

-Donovan Burtan