Throughout the set, Mr. Raghavan fed his own chancy energy into the mix, playing lines of lacing beauty and impelling the others to put their weight forward, onto the balls of their feet. Only on his own unaccompanied improvisations, typically wedged between tunes, did he pull the focus off Mr. Ross and Mr. Wilkins — who often took solos away from each other, wrangling in a friendly repartee.
THOMAS MORGAN iBeam Brooklyn, Dec. 14
Another standout bassist who typically sticks to the shadows: Thomas Morgan. This soft-spoken young player may be leading the competition for most appearances on ECM Records in the past five years. He plays with a precise touch and an amber sound, humming and peaceful but, thankfully, never entirely untroubled.
Mr. Morgan doesn’t usually perform as a bandleader, but at iBeam, he played a solo set that lasted close to an hour before joining the Emi Makabe Quartet for the night’s latter portion. His solo show was the public debut of material he’s been privately honing for a while; throughout the performance, he ran a series of programmed algorithms and patterns through his laptop, accompanying them with upright bass.
The digital sounds were a scattered, tinkling miscellany: cymbals, synthesizer tones and plucks on the samisen (a three-stringed Japanese instrument loosely resembling a banjo). They weren’t all percussive, exactly, but together they became a kind of nondefined rhythm to which Mr. Morgan’s bass gave form, like stars outlined in a constellation.
Speaking after the set, he revealed that he’d used a number of systems and formulas to create the computer’s feed. For one piece, he assigned a given sound sample to each letter in the nursery rhyme “Humpty Dumpty,” then let them all play out in succession. The music was promising, even if it did not answer all of its own questions. Mr. Morgan’s great power as a bassist comes from his ability to impart surety and clear framing, if not tranquillity, in an otherwise dicey situation. As he develops the project, he is likely to grow more comfortable and grounded in the aleatory digital space he’s created.
A Wide-Ranging Lineup at StoneFest
MILFORD GRAVES WITH JOHN ZORN AND BILL LASWELL, PETER EVANS, AVA MENDOZA TRIO The New School, Dec. 19
The New School in Greenwich Village will soon become the permanent home of the Stone, which for the past 12 years has operated out of a small room in Alphabet City, playing host to some of New York’s more freewheeling improvised music experiences. The new Stone will be located in the “glass box” theater at 55 West 13th Street, but in the week before Christmas, it was the school’s larger Tishman Auditorium that hosted StoneFest, a three-day tumble of music.
The final night hit its peak early, with a performance from three avant-garde luminaries: the drummer Milford Graves, the bassist Bill Laswell and the alto saxophonist (and Stone proprietor) John Zorn. The focus of that set fell hard on Mr. Graves, who played a tie-dyed drum kit with no snare drum and no hanging cymbals — just toms and a high-hat that he clacked and fizzled every so often. Mr. Laswell played the electric bass like an enormous, acid-drenched rubber band. His rumbling vibrations wrapped themselves up in the vowel sounds of Mr. Graves’s drums. Mr. Zorn spread out wide across this uncertain bed, sometimes moving with an elegiac lyricism, sometimes pelting his compatriots with quick, tremulous tones.
The young trumpeter Peter Evans joined the band for a final song, then played a set alone, putting his virtuoso talents in plain view. Using circular breathing for over half an hour, he hardly took a moment for respite or meditation. Mr. Evans played statements in what started to sound like concentric circles, but then he unfastened them, opening them up and letting them drift away like waves dissipating. He often responded to the sounds coming through his horn by smacking his lips and growling lightly, an outward reminder of his labors.
Finally, the metal-jazz guitarist Ava Mendoza closed the night with her trio, Unnatural Ways, playing loose and charging originals that started with a drone of guitar effects and gently draped cymbal sounds, then lurched into slashing power chords. On “Alien Goo,” Ms. Mendoza sang in a startled, soaring alto, stepping away from the mike occasionally to do some two-handed, corkscrew shredding toward the top of the guitar’s neck.
NIOKA WORKMAN, MICHAEL WIMBERLY AND GHAIL RHODES BENJAMIN The Clemente, Dec. 21
“Try not to spill the grief into the gravy,” the poet Ghail Rhodes Benjamin intoned. “Disagree bravely.” As she spoke, a series of long, low tones came from Nioka Workman’s bowed cello, and Michael Wimberly issued a gargle of percussion from the clay pot perched in his lap.
After Ms. Rhodes Benjamin finished her first poem, and the instruments hushed, Mr. Wimberly got up and walked across the room to two large bells hanging in a corner. They were part of a sound sculpture created by Jackson Krall, who’s a percussionist himself, and whose works were hung all about this one-room gallery at the Clemente Soto Vélez Cultural and Educational Center. With a quick tug, Mr. Wimberly got a loud, clacking announcement out of them. Ms. Workman activated a prerecorded bass line, and Mr. Wimberly took his seat again, then started rattling and rumbling his way through a heap of shakers and hand drums as Ms. Workman drew a whisper out of her cello.
The performance — one of three consecutive sets that night — was part of “Justice Is Compassion, Action Is Power,” a five-week festival of music, poetry and visual art presented by Arts for Art. (It continues through Jan. 12.) The trio’s performance ended with Ms. Rhodes Benjamin’s parading through the audience, bringing the room together in song — “I woke up, I woke up, I woke uuup” — as Ms. Workman hammered her bow hard on the strings, and Mr. Wimberly wove a loose rhythm on the djembe, using his hands and a stick made of bundled birch.