Lewis Barnes’ Sonic Shades

At The Living Theater
New York, December 14, 2007

Trumpeter Lewis “Flip” Barnes quartet gig at a Lower East Side basement space that usually houses New York’s storied Living Theater, was notable for more reasons than being was one of the veteran brassman’s infrequent band-leading engagement.

Both expressive and assertive in his playing, the trumpeter is a long-time valued associate of William Parker, contributing to most of the bass man’s manifold projects, most notably the Creative Music Orchestra and Parker’s touring quartet. Astringent alto saxophonist Rob Brown, Barnes’ partner in that quartet was also in the front line that night in December, but Parker’s place was taken by bassist Todd Nicholson, who usually plays with violinist Billy Bang.

Most unexpected surprise of the evening however, was that the percussion chair was filled by Cooper-Moore. Cooper-Moore, whose reputation is as a humorous and hyper-kinetic pianist and manipulator of home-made instruments such as the hoe-handle harp, easily filled that role – without a full drum set. Instead, his kit consisted of a graduated series of unattached cymbals and stretched tambourine-like drum heads. Still the rhythm was every bit as prominent and supple as if a conventional trap set was used.

Barnes and the others pumped out a set of originals with a combination of relaxation and intensity, while lined up single file in front of the raised, angled stage. A lawn chair, swimming pool and other props from that night’s Living Theater production provided a bizarre backdrop to the improvisations.

Creative musicians’ constant search for New York performance spaces was the reason for this unusual backdrop for the Barnes quartet gig. Parker and choreographer Patricia Nicholson, moving forces behind the annual Vision Festival, are continually seeking new venues. This Living Theater show was part of a late-winter series that also presented combos led by drummer Gerald Cleaver, guitarist Bern Nix, violinist Jason Kao Hwang and saxophonist Sabir Mateen, plus a duo of Parker and Chicago tenor saxophonist Fred Anderson. Parker and Nicholson also spearhead RUCMA (Rise Up Creative Musicians and Art), which agitates for new performance spaces and funding for city artists.

At the Living Theater, bassist Nicholson maintained a steady pace and concentrated pulse. Eschewing flash, his solos often foreshadowed the others’ aural imagery. More relaxed than usual, Brown used moderato flutter-tonguing to vary his output, displaying sensuous lines as well as quicksilver reed bites. As for Barnes, when he wasn’t being the affable host, introducing the tunes and players, his tone was clear and assertive, at times unafraid to replicate the mellow valve effects of pre-modern trumpeters, but just as capable of sounding the most acerbic, chromatic bite.

Resplendent in shades, perhaps to display the proper Max Roach vibe, Cooper-Moore was a marvel. Utilizing a strong backbeat, colored with flams, ruffs and stomps, he marked time by occasionally tooting a penny whistle. Sympathetic as an accompanist, his drum showcases, especially the one which concluded the evening, contained enough muscle, syncopation and cross patterning to rival the refined skin trade of Roach and Buddy Rich in one of their famous encounters.

With the crowd visibly satiated after the gig, the necessity of nurturing no-holds-barred improvisation in unpretentious spots like this was confirmed as much as the players’ in-the-moment skills

— Ken Waxman

— For CODA Issue 338