My first trip out to Yoshi's so far this year was to see one of my favorite musicians, Wayne Krantz. He played at Yoshi's, the wonderful jazz club in Oakland's Jack London Square. Rounding out the trio was James Genus on bass and Cliff Almond on drums.
Krantz's music has for some years now (though a little less so on his last two releases, Krantz Carlock Lefebvre and Howie 61, both of which were more composed and included vocals by Krantz) been largely improvised. He takes some thematic elements – phrases, grooves, chord patterns – to give the proceedings something of a skeleton, and the trio uses these to navigate. To call them songs isn't accurate; maybe musical snippets is a better term? Nothing remotely like the typical jazz trio playing the head, then taking solos, trading eights, and repeating the head.
Along the lines of his most recent recording, this year's Good Piranha/Bad Piranha, some of the material was "cover material." On that record, he recorded two versions each of Pendulum’s “Comprachicos,” M.C. Hammer’s “U Can’t Touch This,” Ice Cube’s “My Skin is My Sin,” and Radiohead vocalist Thom Yorke’s “Black Swan" – one set with Nate Wood on bass and Keith Carlock on drums, the other set with Tim Lefebvre on bass and Nate Wood on drums. Gabriela Anders adds some momentary vocals to most of the tracks. Each touches briefly on the tunes but then gets Krantzified immediately. The two versions are almost totally different, as were the versions the trio performed at Yoshi's. It's recognizably Wayne Krantz – his distinctive qualities as a guitar player are sui generis – but you don't listen to Krantz expecting to hear specific melodies or tunes. It's all new each time.
It's a risky thing to do, and accordingly, he's not a household word, and his music isn't something the less-than-adventurous listener would be attracted to. The music is constantly in danger of veering off the tracks (the dreaded "bad night"); but to balance that out, there is always the chance of something transcendent happening.
Last night's show was decidedly not a bad night. You could see it in the faces of the musicians as they played. Krantz lit up like a child having the most fun ever, totally in control of his awesome facility with the instrument and the array of sound-modifying pedals he uses (wah, delay, a new device called a freeze pedal, and a ring modulator that turns him into a percussionist from outer space). He was clearly enthralled, and it was enthralling to the audience, who clearly got it, grooving and smiling and applauding and whooping out loud. There was a nice feedback loop formed between the performers and the audience.
Most people probably wouldn't call this jazz, but to me it's jazz at its finest, thrilling music arising out of the simpatico improvisation of gifted musicians, music that swings and grooves and rocks.
Read my earlier post about Wayne Krantz if you are so inclined.