Dimitrios Vassilakis at Birdland

| 16 Feb 2015 | 05:38

    Dimitrios Vassilakis, the whiz-kid tenor player from Greece, offered a live preview of his new CD, Labyrinth-Daedalus Project, hosted by Dave Liebman, who also performed with the group. The music reaffirmed that jazz, like every other major art form, is in a full postmodernist phase. I see the image of postmodernism as that of a shattered mirror, rearranged in mosaic by each individual artist. Prerequisite: a thorough assimilation of the tradition. This approach could be heard most clearly from drummer Ralph Peterson. His rhythms were a sequence of vignettes drawn intuitively from around the world: African patterns alternating with funk, with swing, with Latin?each one lasting for a few bars, generating almost overwhelming energy in distinct shapes. That was during the tunes; for his solos he went, more conventionally, for the range of drumming effects.

    Of the two pianists, the second, Emmanuel Saridakis, had the more distinct style. The first, George Contrafouris played the standard post-Herbie, post-Chick, post-McCoy amalgam one hears in most contemporary groups today?not that that isn't a solid accomplishment. Nonetheless, it evokes a hailstorm sooner than the story found in a more traditional jazz solo. In contrast Saridakis' solos had clear compositional direction. Energy and attention were focused on particular figures and developments. It was as if the clouds had parted, and the scene was suddenly visible and compelling.

    Leader Vassilakis' compositions offer a perfect platform for postmodern expression: simple repeated riffs over an explicit rhythmic pattern within a single harmonic setting. The tunes function as anchors, each distinct from the other, propelling inspired play from the musicians, spinning out their styles. One might observe that any solo can go over any tune and the danger is that, with minimal formal cues coming from the composition itself, solos tend to be the same, or at least very similar.

    Vassilakis' style was the post-Coltrane, post-Rollins style, analogous to that of his first pianist, that one hears a great deal of in contemporary quartets. High-energy and immensely fluid, Vassilakis draws stylistic fragments at will from the tradition, mediating taking the informed listener on a kaleidoscopic (or labyrinthine) ride through allusions and associations, all of which have emotional effects?overall, euphorically dizzying. Dave Liebman plays lines in a chromatic succession of keys. You get the effect of the kaleidoscope, if not the shattered mirror, and his solo lines manage to float at a distance above the accompaniment setting. Liebman is, of course, immensely well-acquainted with the tradition as well. The other band members were the marvelous Marc Johnson on bass, whose thoughtful solos provided a deeply comforting respite from the sometimes overwhelming energy of the ensemble; Satoshi Takeishi on percussion, whose sound effects added a rich organic element to the overall sound; and Bulgarian kaval player Theodosii Spassov. A kaval is a kind of wooden flute or recorder that Spassov played apparently using two different embouchures producing two different types of sounds. He got some grooves going, interspersed with honks, contributing intriguing timbres that evoked traditions outside Western jazz.

    Postmodernism is a form of mannerism, a style built upon earlier styles, relying on familiarity with them for its emotional impact. Such complicity between artist and audience can rarely last longer than a generation. Experience of the earlier styles fades from living memory and no longer carries the same weight for new generations, who must find their own way to express themselves. On the other hand, we are in a culture in whose history?a version of it at least?is unavoidably ever present and accessible through its media. So will we continue in this vein, or will the baby boomers' grandchildren revolt against it? Will the 60s come again?