By Ryan Garmoe
Two weeks ago on Saturday, bassist Charlie Lincoln led his quartet for the second installment of Saturday Night Jazz at kj’s hideaway. The stellar group featured Ivan Cunningham (alto sax), Bryan Nichols (piano), Ben Ehrlich (drums), and Lincoln and his compositions. It’s always interesting to hear the original music of busy rhythm section player; more often than not these players are hired guns, playing someone else’s music. Everyone needs a bassist, right?
In short, Lincoln’s compositions are dark, challenging, and wildly engaging. They strike a fine balance between algebraically precise arrangements and expansive sections of exploratory solos, not an easy feat to compose nor perform. The most band’s most impactful moments of the evening appeared in the transitions between these two mediums. Once such example was “End of the S’, where Cunningham’s and Nichol’s opening conversation evolved into an arresting bass line and perfectly disjunct groove by Ehrlich. The power of the transition allowed Cunningham to soar even higher, wailing in the vein of Ornette Coleman.
Lincoln’s approach to these jazz compositions is based less upon strict delineations of solos and more upon interesting uses form, texture, and interaction. This can be off putting for those unfamiliar with the style. However, Lincoln’s compositions also have grounding in recognizable bass lines, ostinati, or grooves, which one might find in progressive rock or electronic music. This comfort of repetition creates an entry point for the listener allowing them to grasp the more challenging aspects developing over top.
Throughout the course of the evening Lincoln’s band grew more adventurous with their sonic choices. Cunningham utilized extended saxophone techniques like pops, honks, and altissimo screams to his advantage, while Nichols frequently finger plucked strings on the open grand piano. The tour de force in this regard, however, was Ehrlich on the drum set. Ehrlich utilized stick clicks, cymbal shrieks, and a variety of mallets to perfectly complement the moment’s musical need. It was treat to hear a musician extracting such a variety of sounds from their toolkit. Again, the credit goes to Lincoln and his compositions for creating an environment where musicians feel comfortable not only pushing their technique, but an environment where such techniques sound natural. Sometimes extended techniques can feel gratuitous or self indulgent. Lincoln dispelled the stigma through carefully curated composition and choice of musician.
If you frequent jazz gigs in Minneapolis you’ll likely hear Charlie Lincoln again soon. That being said, do make an effort to catch the next time he is leading his own band – it’s worth it. Those of us at kj’s last Saturday heard one of the Twin Cities’ most exciting bassists in a completely natural setting, one where he was able to define the parameters of musical engagement. Though these types of performances are few and far between, they can be the artistic lifeblood of the scene’s busiest musicians and listeners keen enough to seek them out.