from marsalis to brotzmann: the jazz journey of eric revis

bassist eric revis performs with saxophonist and free jazz giant peter brotzmann and drummer nashet waits monday at the red mile round barn.

bassist eric revis performs with saxophonist and free jazz giant peter brotzmann and drummer nasheet waits on monday at the red mile round barn. photo by emra islek.

If you were to follow a stylistic trajectory for the jazz music bassist Eric Revis is helping create this year, you might believe your travels were about to encounter some turbulence.

Most jazz audiences know Revis as a mainstay member of the Branford Marsalis Quartet, the Grammy-winning ensemble that this year celebrated its 10th anniversary (although Revis’ membership is closer to 12 years). Such an alliance has taken the Los Angeles-born bassist to most every jazz port in the world – except, of course, Lexington.

That changes on Monday, when Revis finally makes his local debut. But his company will be very different here. He will playing alongside a longtime pal, drummer Nasheet Waits, and one of the most influential European free jazz saxophonists, composers and bandleaders of the last 40 years, Peter Brotzmann. Prior to their current tour, Revis has performed with Brotzmann exactly once.

“We have been talking about touring for quite some time,” Revis said of Brotzmann. “We played together three or four years ago in New York. He had been doing some duo work with my good friend Nasheet. So it just happened that they invited to me to play a gig with them at (the now defunct New York experimental music club) Tonic. That, of course, was really cool.

“I saw Peter again about a year ago in Austin. He said, ‘I’ve been thinking about the trio. We need to do something.’ And here it is.”

Brotzmann is more than just an improvisational music patriarch with a volcanic, almost confrontational saxophone tone. His 2002 concert at Memorial Hall with his monstrous Chicago Tentet was the catalyst for Outside the Spotlight, a concert series organized locally by Ross Compton that has since brought over 100 performances to Lexington by leading free jazz and avant garde artists from Chicago, Sweden, New York and, in Brotzmann’s case, Germany.

Playing bass for Brotzmann places Revis in some pretty elite company, as if his longstanding tenure with the Marsalis Quartet wasn’t prestigious enough. The bassists that have performed with Brotzmann at past Lexington concerts have included Chicago’s Kent Kessler (a member of the Chicago Tentet and the Vandermark 5, which has also played several shows for Outside the Spotlight) and the veteran New York composer and improviser William Parker.

“Growing up, I was into a lot of different music.” Revis said. “Some of it might even be considered hardcore punk. So the first time I heard Peter’s music, my initial response was just to the visceral aspect of it. It was like, ‘Wow. I don’t know what the hell these guys are doing, but I’m feeling it.’ There was something about it that was very, very engaging.”

Brotzmann’s music could be viewed almost as pure anarchy when placed alongside Marsalis’ recordings. But there are undeniable links in the work ethics of both saxophonists, especially in how they relate to players like Revis.

Brotzmann pushes improvisation to the forefront. In fact, when asked if Monday’s concert was going to be entirely improvised, Revis replied, “I hope so.” That means interaction and communication between three distinct musical voices.

With Marsalis, the freedom to explore and refine that musical voice is encouraged. On the Marsalis Quartet’s newest album, Metamorphosen, Revis contributes two compositions, including a solo bass interlude titled And Then, He Was Gone. Marsalis himself only composed one tune for the recording.

“Branford is a great leader in as much as he is very specific and definitive about how he wants to present his music. But once that is addressed, he is extraordinarily open to you doing your own thing. That has provided me with a platform to actualize my voice.”

Performing with Brotzmann, though, largely means throwing out the game book altogether. But as Revis, Waits and Brotzmann have yet to record together (although the bassist is hoping they will after the conclusion of their tour) and have only played as a trio once, there are no proven performance strategies to fall back on.

“Peter and Nasheet are so creative and so in the moment,” Revis said. “You have to balance not only the idea of responding to them instantaneously, but to interjecting your ideas while that is going on. It’s a challenge. But it’s also something I’m really looking forward to doing on a consistent basis.”

While Brotzmann has yet to record the trio, Revis has hit the studio on his own. He independently released his second solo album, Laughter’s Necklace of Tears, in March. The record, not surprisingly, frequently shifts stylistic course, from a blues meditation (Faith in All I Fear), to a Monk-ish joyride (The Deaf Schizophrenic) to guitar accented bop (Shuffle Boil).

“I don’t try to purposely contextualize these different things. I just want to get to the point where, hopefully, the singularity of my voice translates into those situations. In terms of mindsets, I don’t really approach any of them differently.

“But with Peter and Nasheet… well, I think playing with them will be more a question of pure stamina than anything else.”

Peter Brotzmann, Eric Revis and Nasheet Waits perform at 8 p.m. Monday at the Red Mile Round Barn, 1200 Red Mile Rd. Admission is free. Call (859) 536-5568.



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