You would never suspect that the music of jazz quartet Buffalo Collision is 100 percent improvised. The group's ethos dictates that they don't write songs, but rather they compose in the moment, spontaneously. It’s an interesting concept given its members' credentials.
A snapshot of the players' cred:
+ Tim Berne, saxophone
An avant-garde legend who also plays in Bloodcount, and who will play with the Prezens Quartet at the Walker in March.
+ Ethan Iverson, piano
Also plays in The Bad Plus and the Billy Hart Quartet. A classically trained pianist, Iverson was the musical director of the Mark Morris Dance Group from 1998 to 2002.
+ David King, drums
With Iverson, completes two-thirds of The Bad Plus. Also performs with Happy Apple, The Gang Font, and Halloween, Alaska.
+ Hank Roberts, cello
Violinist Mat Maneri usually plays with this group, but this time Roberts, who has a long history playing with Bill Frisell, filled in. What a treat.
I attended the first of two sets last night at the Dakota (they played another set last night and tonight finish up their run with another two sets at 8 and 10 p.m.). The intimate crowd got more than their money's worth.
Improvisation can easily self-destruct. Someone goes one way while another goes the opposite direction; the dissonance disagrees and it fails.
Not so with these four accomplished musicians who, well, collided last night in a whirlwind of improvised, free jazz.
Each tune grew and developed seamlessly. One person started a tune, another added to it, the growing narrative weaving and jogging to and fro, and then yet another person built on it, and another. Finally, all four were playing together, and a mammoth soundscape had been designed—with no premeditation.
The foursome physically played into one another. At one point, saxophonist Berne faced Iverson—as the pianist, he was the other melody-maker—and awaited his moment to quietly re-enter the musical conversation with a stream of airy blows and squeaks. While Roberts swiftly finger-picked his cello, the conversation wandered; a whisper at times, a screaming match at others.
Iverson offered a crisp staccato, Berne slowed his playing to a drawl, and Roberts coaxed a warble from his cello almost as if it were a musical saw. Meanwhile, King provided soft, echoing cymbal taps to create a haunting backdrop.
In an instant, it was Latin percussion and superfast sax melodies while Iverson and Roberts patiently awaited their next entrance. And in another flash, Iverson's lightning fingers picked up on the piano and a whir of sound buzzed across the stage.
Eventually, Roberts rejoined this seemingly chaotic, yet somehow controlled, fray. And round it went—the quartet in a universe of its own making, one conversation after another. And all the audience could think was, Where are you going to take us next, and how are we going to get there?