(March 30, 2012)
Cow Bop at the Cafe 322 this past Wednesday were absolutely terrific. The fiddle player was outta town so they had a kid on tenor named David Wise fill in. He was perfect. I’d seen him do a quick sit in with them once before at the Cantina and loved his sound….very very old school, a lot of Prez, etc. He can play the newer stuff too, but also loves the oldtimers. He’s from Richmond VA I seem to remember and is laid back, a rather perfect fit for this town. He knew the Cow Bop form, too….used to sit in with a local band back him that was much along the same lines…a jazzified Texas Swing. Bob Wills and Asleep at the Wheel have left a whole tradition out there that the college kids and certainly not the boppers, post boppers and out cats are really aware of. Well Bruce Forman–from Texas–can play circles around a lot of jazz pickers in town and his bones are made of Texas country and roots…he’s all about bebop and country, deep down. He plays it like he was born playing it. He was hurling the bop lines at the kid on sax who took them easily….I don’t know nothing about playing the saxophone but watching a guy run through Bird on that bigger horn always seemed impressive. And of course the kid knew the whole Bob Wills thing, was laconic as hell and had the most beat up old wide brim this side of the Army of Northern Virginia It was a very loose night, Alex King and Jake Reed getting all smartassed on bass and drums, doing funny little bass player and drummer shit that was a ball to watch. Forman just seemed to encourage it. He ought to let them do Big Wind From Winnetka. That’ll show ‘em. Pammy was unflappable, though the band does their best to flap her. She backs out when the instrumental bits get crazy intense, comes in just right when the vocal is called for and all eyes are on her when she’s singing. Where the hell does she score them big old cowgirl skirts, btw? Do they even make those anymore? They are beautiful things, from back in the days when the dudes were decked out up there in the Nudie suits and the house lights would set the spangles glittering and the lady singer would wear a big pleated cowgirl skirt and colorful cowgal boots and a little widebrimmed hat with the brim curled up just a bit. The only place you can see that in town since the Palomino closed is on a Cow Bop stage. When’s Bruce gonna get himself some spangled Nudie Cohn western wear to go with that big ol’ Texas chapeau?
Bruce Forman’s playing…wow. He was taking long intros and even extended breaks sometimes and getting into these intense, light figured things…the players would sit still or maybe sizzle the high hat a bit and Forman would be experimenting…at one point he strained his left hand into some crazy chords and ran it up the neck in intervals…you could see the concern in his eyes wondering if the idea would pan out or crash. He turned to the players and said I can;t believe that worked as the band lit in. They just smiled, used to it.
Bruce Forman has a new album called Formanism that like a fool I didn’t bring into work with me today to listen to right now as I’m talking about it. It’s him and Jake Reed and Gabe Noel on the bass. They don’t do anything the right way. I mean you listen to a hundred jazz guitar trio projects and this doesn’t follow the rules. He busts them wide open. Now it’s a guitar record and unless you’re a guitarist, a really good guitarist, or a really good jazz musician, most of it will fly right over your head. It sure does mine, whoosh, a whole universe of concepts I can’t hope to dig. But not all of it…it’s different enough so that even a neophyte like me notices. Like the structure all’s different….that comfortable head/solo/solo/solo/head thing ain’t there. There’s some chamber music stretches, but chamber music with a big old kick drum propelling it along in places. That’s wrong. And there’s some almost furious bebop things that might have tripped up the cats at Minton’s since the usual pattern ain’t there, not quite. I dunno. I did the liner notes for it, and what a bitch that was. The music was deeper than I could see but still I got glimpses of something happening, something heavy. The coolness. The newness. So I went through I dunno how many drafts. I tried being a smartass. I tried talking about women. I tried sounding like a real live jazz critic. Nothing worked. I sent him a couple thngs and he cobbled something together. But it was frustrating. But I only bring this up because I’ve listened to this album a couple times since then. And I dunno if you’ve ever done liner notes but I know that by the time I’m done with them I never want to hear that fucking record again. You listen to something over and over and over again to get it down in words. Get sick to death of it. It winds up in the stacks somewhere down near the bottom, between a couple cds by jazz singers that I’ve never done more than look at the cleavage of. They came by the dozens, those CDs. Everyday. Standards and some ill-advised pop cover or two. It was depressing. But I am digressing here. I just mean that a lot of awesome albums I’ve done liner notes for are now stuck in the stacks that I never get to. So why am I still listening to Formanism? Because I keep hearing things there I didn’t pick up before? Because listening to a great, great jazz guitarist is like learning a new language that has nothing to do with English at all? Some alien tongue full of inexplicable ergative and oblique and weird temporal cases? For me it is. So I listen again to figure out more. Listen and listen.
Odd guy, Bruce Forman. Stretching jazz concepts way out when he does a trio, and sticking close to the bone when it’s Cow Bop time. Both work.