Fusion is still in.
Like a kimchi Reuben or steak sushi, Tortoise + Minneapolis Jazz All-Stars merged two disparate groups of musicians from two different cities (Chicago and Minneapolis) into one large superband last weekend for a special performance at the Walker Art Center.
The idea sprouted from a similar concert Tortoise– a highly acclaimed jazz quintet with an inimitable style and sound – performed in their hometown a few years ago with a group of similarly eclectic group of local musicians.
The Minneapolis Jazz All-Stars were chosen from various venues around the Twin Cities to form a similarly talented and edgy local foil to Tortoise. Their talents meshed well sonically, with Tortoise providing a solid rhythm/techno base and the Minneapolis Jazz All-Stars the brass, string and wind flavor to build upon it.
I’d love to be able to describe the set list, but it was never announced and wouldn’t really be applicable anyway. Tortoise + Minneapolis Jazz All-Stars was one non-stop music fest, each piece melting into the next, like a cheese laden kimchi on that reuben.
The obvious jazz charts were a treat to listen to, containing interesting twists on traditional jazz chord progressions. The squeaky door transition periods were less to my liking, although I suspect that many an abstract art or music fan enjoyed them just fine.
Preferences aside, there is no doubt that each musician was highly talented. When determining excellent musicians, look no further than their rhythm section. This show was no exception, where standouts included Tortoise drummer John Herndon, whose emotionally punctual strokes provided an indestructible driving force for the rest of the musicians. Similarly, Tortoise guitarist Jeffrey Parker strummed, plucked, scratched and roared his guitar through the set, with beautiful tone and mood-setting pacing.
Local musician-of-all-trades Douglas Ewart was undoubtedly the show-stopping highlight of the performance. I truly believe the man can play any instrument he lays a hand on, and the assortment presented in this performance included oboes, flutes, a saxophone, multiple hand percussion, a conch, and more. Anyone who can make a standard double reed sound like a circular breathing Kenny G on bagpipes is not to be ignored, and he did it unreservedly.
The other musicians were also excellent, although at times they hit the pitchy end of the spectrum. Many have played with high draw national tours (such as Bon Iver), and the influence of said tours was apparent in each of their solos.
As difficult as the abstraction of jazz can be for an ear accustomed to traditional music, it’s almost always a refreshing way to retrain your ear and musical expectations, and certainly more fun when the musicians you watch play it are world class. Tortoise + Minneapolis Jazz All-Stars was just such a reset kind of show, and a worthy accompaniment to the abstract modern art that the Walker is famous for.