May 2, 2013


Questlove, Kim Gordon, Andrew WK Go Avant Garde at Red Bull "Round Robin" Show

Twenty musicians of disparate genres, including the Roots' Questlove, Sonic Youth's Kim Gordon and Partier-in Chief Andrew W.K., came together Wednesday night as part of the month-long Red Bull Music Academy to attempt the insane: An improvised round robin concert that paired up DJs, jazz saxophonists, avant-garde drummers and funk keyboardists into one night of unplanned chaos.

"The music made tonight has never happened before and will never happen again," boasted the show's program. 

The idea at Brooklyn Masonic Temple was as audacious as it was unpredictable: Start out with Questlove performing an improvisational jam with Dutch DJ Jameszoo for five minutes. When Jameszoo left, alto saxophonist Matana Roberts played with Questlove for five minutes. When Questlove left, New York guitarist Mary Halvorson took over to jam with Roberts. And so on and so forth. You get the idea.

What sounds like a gimmick or novelty on the surface ended up yielding bizarre, and at times brilliant, collaborations. Parliament-Funkadelic keyboardist Bernie Worrell and Andrew W.K. talked to each other through keyboards. Veteran New York saxophonist-pianist James Chance and legendary jazz trumpeter Roy Hargrove turned the venue into a late-night jazz club. DJ Spinna, a New York-based hip hop DJ rooted in jazz and funk, scratched alongside keyboardist Robert Glasper. 

And then there's Gordon, whose thrashing around on stage amid a wall of feedback and slapping the mic with her hand to create a rhythm made her collaborations almost seem extraneous.

The nature of the event ensured its share of shambolic rambling, but that was the point. Desensitized by so many non-jazz performers working to make their set as tight as possible, it was refreshing to watch someone like Brainfeeder electric bassist Thundercat or singer/violinist Andrew Bird study whoever was on stage before them and attempt to lock in some quasi-spiritual vibe with a person they've never played with before (or possibly never met before today.)

It was Dr. Frankenstein meets Dr. Octagonecologyst; a mish-mash of genres and musical styles showcasing the true nature of collaboration and improvisation.

Tonight, we are all avant garde.