LIVE: RBMA – A Night of Round Robin Duets at Town Hall

by Reginald Duvivier

For the 2014 edition of the Red Bull Music Academy Festival the energy drink overlords brought back a very popular show they debuted last year. It was an evening of music performed by the best in experimental music, jazz, rock, and blues in Town Hall. Lets let them explain what their Round Robin duets are:

One musician starts a solo improvisation lasting five minutes. Another musician then joins for five minutes of duo improvisation. After those five minutes, musician #1 leaves the stage and musician #3 joins musician #2 for another five minutes, and so on and so forth for two hours.

The night was as free-wheeling as the format. While Jamie Lidell struggled with technical issues partner Allen Toussaint got a much extended showcase; throwing in a crowd pleasing rendition of “Chopsticks” and even a teasing jab at Lidell’s technical issues with “Taps”. While most performers would lose their cool both Jamie and the stage tech had huge smiles on their faces while they worked to figure out what’s wrong; secretly enjoying what was happening on stage. After five minutes everything was fine and Lidell belted out the words “I’m sorry” as if it was musical theater.

Amp Fiddler hit the stage and even before picking up his trademark keys attempted to perform what could only be called a “Vocal brass instrument duet” with trumpeter Dave Douglas. Horns were heavily represented as instruments but James Carter’s forceful playing threw everyone for a loop including a pitch perfect Petra Hayden ditching her trademark violin to sing instead. Shigeto was in full jazz drummer mode, gleefully hunched over a minimalist kit. Jherek Bischoff veered between two different musical worlds in his set, slightly tapping out (and looping) a cute little melody on ukulele for a few minutes before picking up a bass guitar with heavy distortion and going for a full noise rock attack. It was a musical journey that pretty much covered all popular forms of music (sorry country). They closed out the night with all participants on stage for an encore in a symphony of beautiful noise.