The annual Red Bull Music Academy has grown into a hotly anticipated event of seminars, classes and performances, and being held in New York City for the first time has driven the quality and demand up to new heights. In one of the most anticipated events of the month long festival, A Night of Improvised Round Robin Duets at Brooklyn Masonic Temple was a magnet of multiple genres and sensibilities, making for an once-in-a-lifetime musical potluck that nourished music lovers of all types. Here’s a recap of every duet:
*Each duet was a duration of five-seven minutes*
Jameszoo & Questlove
Roots drummer/bandleader Questlove’s live, dynamic rhythms provided a combustible pulse to the hypnotic dubstep tones that came from the Dutch DJ Jameszoo’s cyborg set-up.
Questlove & Matana Roberts
Roberts’ squeaky, avant garde/Pharoah Sanders-style cries from her saxophone, heard in her collaborations with Burnt Sugar and TV on the Radio, mixed marvelously with Questlove’s primal tom-tom pounding (Quest even threw in a quick Purdie Shuffle for good measure).
Matana Roberts & Mary Halvorson
At times, Roberts and jazz guitarist Halvorson two synched their instruments with vibrating, syncopated playing so well, it almost sounded like a swarm of angry bees chasing you home from school. You could feel the hairs on your forearm stiffen.
Mary Halvorson & Thundercat
Thundercat, with a six-string vintage-style Epiphone bass (super sexy, BTW), followed Halvorson’s lucid lead. For a moment, it sounded like the two were rubbing their respective frets together like dueling violin bows. Thundercat’s right-hand man Flying Lotus would do himself good to take notice.
Thundercat & Julia Holter
Thundercat started with a descending bass line, reminiscent of a monster rising from the shadows in the climax of a nightmare. Los Angeles native Holter’s electric organ and vocals only made things sound scarier…and cooler.
Julia Holter & Martin Dosh
The collaboration between Holter and Dosh, a Minnesota-based DJ, was a practice in controlled chaos. Holter’s continued siren calls on top of Dosh’s unorthodox drum technique and looping could be the makings of a wonderful horror film score.
Martin Dosh & Roy Hargrove
Equally respected in Jazz and Hip-Hop circles for more than 20 years, Hargrove’s melodic, be-bop flavored trumpet spurts over Dosh’s on-the-spot live-to-programmed drum loops were amazing and swung heavily.
Roy Hargrove & James Chance
Known primarily for his saxophone play with The Contortions, Chance sat at the grand piano, playing classical underneath Hargrove’s dark soloing. This may’ve shocked Chance’s fans, as well as gained him new ones.
James Chance & Kim Gordon
Chance switched from piano back to his pride and joy, sax, and played a random sounding solo while Gordon, of Sonic Youth fame, filled in the blanks, first with wordless, muffled wails, then waved her whammy bar hither and yon for screeching feedback and rippling, isolated guitar chords.
Kim Gordon & Andrew W. K.
W.K., a singer/musician known for his abrasive enthusiasm and humor, pounded the high and low ends of the piano with bombast, surprising efficiency and virtuosity as Gordon earnestly strummed and screamed into the mic.
Andrew W.K. & Bernie Worrell
W.K. moved over to Fender Rhodes and played brooding chords with suspenseful building of a foundation for Parliament/Funkadelic alum Worrell and his “fonky” moog synthesizer. The ebb and flow between the two musicians was tingling and spastic, like two aliens having a secret dialogue between each other that only they understand, but the crowd could feel.
Bernie Worrell & Glenn Kotche
Thanks to Worrell’s imaginative moog work, he and Kotche sounded like a trio rather than a duet. The Wilco drummer had some heavy gurgling seeping from his instrument, tailor made for Worrell’s spacey keyboard tickling.
Glenn Kotche & Erik Friedlander
Friedlander’s driving, haunting cello led the way while Kotche was extracting rustic, ambient noises from the drums, rubbing the sticks on the side of the toms and dragging his fingernails across the snares, mixing New York Philharmonic style tradition with heady, down-home experimentation.
Erik Friedlander & Vijay Iyer
Iyer, a darling/denouncer of jazz, is on the Fender Rhodes which fans aren’t that accustomed to seeing him play, but will now hope to see more of it. Together with Friedlander, the two embodied Beethoven qualities: classical and frightening.
Vijay Iyer & Robert Glasper
Still on cloud nine from his Grammy win, Glasper wasted little time, immediately running through super fast arpeggios on grand piano while Iyer, still on Rhodes, accented them with earthy tones. Soon enough, it turned into a friendly match of who-can-keep-up-with-who, before they ended things off with killer head nodding chord strikes.
Robert Glasper & DJ Spinna
Spinna’s unparalleled selector prowess has overshadowed his mastery of the turntables and cross fader, which he gladly displayed with Glasper making things denser with a double fisted attack of Rhodes and synthesized flute. The two had that SV/Dilla vibe down pat.
DJ Spinna & Don Byron
Byron rocked his sax with the spry, lively soloing he’s lent to Allen Toussaint and Jason Moran, as Spinna provided some wild, sexy rhythms, from James Brown’s infamous “Funky Drummer” loop to the dark bass acoustic bass line of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (likely The Bad Plus’ remake).
Don Byron & Andrew Bird
Bird can do things with a violin that few people can do (only Miguel Atwood-Ferguson comes to mind), and showed off his virtuosity, playing the woodwind like a guitar as Byron followed with thick, soulful lines. The X-factor was Bird’s whistling, which sounded like the sweetest theremin you’ll ever hear.
Andrew Bird & Joe Lovano
Closing the instantly classic night out was Bird with Blue Note saxophonist extraordinaire Joe Lovano. Together, with Lovano’s ice cold, razor sharp tenor solos along with Bird’s lilting, languid violin flourishes and plucks, if you closed your eyes, you’d swear it was Stan Getz playing with a full orchestra. Lovano closed the book on the evening with a blistering 10 minute solo that sent the sold-out hall home with enviable memories.
Words by Matthew Allen (@headphoneadditct)