When: Tue., March 17, 8 p.m. 2015
Do you ever watch the sun rise? The faintest eastern light draws birds into tentative chirping. Kitchen and bathroom windows wink on. School bus gears grind. Soon, the sun breaks the horizon to flood the scene.
Classic jazz improvisation usually happens in the middle of a tune. A soloist steps forward and squints eyes with concentration and effort. But ensemble improvisation is another matter; it takes sunrise as a kind of musical playbook. One musician starts playing a musical line or even seemingly random notes. Another musician reacts, playing with or against it. Other musicians may enter, finding a way to develop the overall sound. They do this together, so no one instrumentalist steps forward to squint and blow. They flood the scene.
Raptor Billy, in town this week for two shows, embodies this decentralization. In fact, you practically need a passport to read the lineup. Saxophonist Brad Linde comes from Washington, D.C., while trumpeter and singer Tara Kannangara and bassist Julian Anderson-Bowes are from Toronto. Percussionist Jonathan Taylor is from Ann Arbor, while keyboardist Erika Dohi has history in Japan and New York.
The quintet's members met in Vijay Iyer's class at the 2013 Banff International Jazz and Creative Music Workshop, which makes sense as soon as you hear them. Raptor Billy shares Iyer's encyclopedic vocabulary of classical, jazz and world music, as well as his mathematical, iterative approach to combining such influences. Sometimes, the ensemble gives you the pleasure of hearing a system's self-elaboration; other times, it supplies the zest of overheard, clever conversation. At all points, it's operating as a deliberate whole. —Chris Vitiello