Bad Touch's Magic flow; plus Patricia Barber
By JON GARELICK  |  February 27, 2009

NO ATMS Bad Touch are one for all and all for one.

WFNX Jazz Brunch Top Five
1 The Bad Plus, For All I Care [Heads Up]
2 Marco Benevento, Me Not Me [Royal Potato Family]
3 Southside Johnny, Grapefruit Moon: The Songs of Tom Waits [Redeye]
4 Joe Zawinul, 75 [Heads Up]
5 Dave Fiuczynski, KiF Express [Fuzelicious Moresels]

It's standard operating procedure these days for young jazz bands to mix the free and the formal — passages of open improv alternating with predetermined keys, meters, and chord changes. In that sense, New York band Bad Touch — who come to the Regattabar this Tuesday — are typical. But Bad Touch are really good at it. Their success is in part due to the mix of personalities. Like the local quartet Gypsy Schaefer, the English post-bop band Empirical, or, for that matter, the old Modern Jazz Quartet, they're a collective. In Bad Touch's case, that means everyone is welcome to contribute compositions, and there is no nominal leader. It also means that this isn't a star soloist working with a backing band.

"The general mentality in New York is: where can I get work, and how can I work?" says alto-saxophonist Loren Stillman over the phone from Brooklyn. "There's no real bands or entities in New York that last. And I think there was a difference in the attitude with these guys: 'We love this, and yes, we do a lot of gigs we don't like doing, but this happens to be one we all feel strongly about.' So we pool our resources and nobody has to walk to the ATM machine at the end of the night" to make up for a weak club paydate.

In fact, the band began as Stillman's project about four years ago. In his mid 20s, with a growing résumé that included stints with Dave Liebman and John Abercrombie, he began writing for organ, bass, drums, and guitar, and eventually he settled in with guitarist Nate Radley, organist Gary Versace, and drummer Ted Poor. It was the first time — even as a leader — that Stillman, now 28, found himself working with a band of people roughly his age.

And in their æsthetics, the bandmembers all come from that tight-and-loose mentality. Four of the six pieces on their debut, Like a Magic Kiss, are by Stillman, two by Poor. But all share a sense of four-way push and pull, as though any player could take a piece in a new direction at any moment. That said, Poor's pieces — "Bad Touch" and "Wade" — tend, after preliminary airiness, to the gravity of hard grooves. Stillman's — like "Man of Mystery" — hang on his light, lyrical alto melodies, the accompanying chords and rhythms from organ, guitar, and drums moving in contrary motion, accelerating and decelerating, then everyone unpredictably falling into a cadence together. Stillman's title track opens with a rubato-melody "Prelude" before shifting into meter for the tune proper. As in a lot of jazz these days, there's a destination in mind, some clear signposts, even if no one is sure how they're all going to get there. And it doesn't hurt that smack in the middle of the CD is "Wade," which begins with a two-string guitar vamp and builds to a rock-band-like rave-up of swirling organ lines and driving rhythms.

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