When one approaches a novel situation – say like encountering a different way of producing and organizing sound – with an open mind, the results can be disorienting, or they can be exciting, even liberating.
The Pioneer Valley Jazz Shares audience, being generally open to new ideas, spent almost 90 minutes wrapping their heads (and arms) around the Mike Baggetta Trio at Hampshire College on Saturday, October 14. Baggetta, guitar and electronics, Jerome Harris, bass guitar and Billy Mintz, drums, were in the Valley on the last stop of a seven concert tour.
The wall-to-wall sound, coming in complex waves of beauty and uncertainty, put this listener in an exhilarated, altered state. Baggetta, who grew up in Agawam and was mentored by Ted Dunbar and Yusef Lateef at Jazz in July, relocated from New York to Knoxville a couple of years ago. Perhaps being so close to the center of country music has pushed him to explore what some now call “Americana.” But his was not the straight-forward, stripped down version we associate with Bill Frisell, but a thicker, multi-dimensional, ecstatic roots music. Not the flat paintings of Piet Mondrian or Jasper Johns, but the highly textured, impasto of Vincent van Gogh and Willem de Kooning.
With its simple melodies, elemental energy and emphatic beat, at points it also felt like rock music. Is this what Cream might sound like if they were today?
Baggetta played a custom guitar made by one of the world’s leading luthiers, Portland, Oregon’s Saul Koll, played through a new Aether amplifier by Fryette Amplification. In Baggetta’s own words, “the live sampling/looping and sound processing revolved around a short-length randomized phrase sampler and another longer-length, deeply manipulatable, sampler/looper that was being controlled from a mounted iPad via Bluetooth.”
In discussing the electronic manipulation of conventional instruments, cornetist Rob Mazurek recently told Jazz Times, “You want to get to the point where it just sounds like one instrument, not like something being done to something else. You want it to sound like one strange entity moving through air.” I’d say that perfectly captures what Baggetta achieved.
The results were hypnotic, cumulative. There was no silence, no breaks between sections, no place for applause and very little unaccompanied soloing. But despite all that sound, you could easily hear very subtle grace notes and bent tones. Periods of abstractness made the sections that were beautiful, even more beautiful.
Bass guitarist Jerome Harris was making the first of three Jazz Shares appearances this year. He’ll be back in February with the Ricky Ford Quartet and again in March, playing with his old friend Marty Ehrlich. (They were roommates at NEC, and have appeared frequently on each other’s records.) He provided the perfect grounding for Baggetta’s fanciful flights, anchoring the band while constantly shifting its center.
Like Jerome Harris and yours truly, drummer Billy Mintz was born in Queens, NY. Now back in New York after a long period in Los Angeles, Mintz had the introspective nonchalance befitting a veteran who had played all kinds music in all kinds of settings (Merv Griffin Show, Vinnie Golia, Gloria Gaynor, Alan Broadbent.) Although not effusive, you could tell how much he enjoyed this context. He was able to hold it down and color the sound. There was a point early on, during a real rise in intensity, when Mintz was full out bashing his cymbals, creating cascades of colliding overtones that mixed with the two electric strings to create a feeling of floating on a sea of overwhelming.
When you present music that is organized in an original way, with a particular palette and orientation, you’re bound to leave some behind, while enchanting others. That was the case at Hampshire College (a few found it too loud.) But many I talked to afterwards were genuinely moved, actually transported from one place to another.