Four years ago, at the Earshot Jazz Festival, Seattle bassist Michael Bisio played a luminous concert at the University of Washington. It was just a...
Four years ago, at the Earshot Jazz Festival, Seattle bassist Michael Bisio played a luminous concert at the University of Washington.
It was just a month after the twin towers had come down, so there was a somber, yet spiritually revitalizing mood to the evening. Bisio and his band mates — wind player Joe McPhee and French guitarist Raymond Boni — offered the music as a dual “remembrance,” of the New York tragedy and of McPhee’s father, who had died a few years earlier. Seattle writer Paul Harding contributed a dazzling jazz poem.
Next week, Bisio, McPhee and Harding reassemble to commemorate the concert and celebrate the release of a live recording of the show.
They perform at 8 p.m. Monday at the Tractor Tavern ($10-$12; 206-547-6763; www.earshotjazz.org).
“Remembrance,” as the album is fittingly titled, was produced by Craig Johnson, a Seattle-bred painter who started the CJR label to issue McPhee’s albums. “Remembrance” is the first CJR album in 30 years, testimony to Johnson’s love of this music.
Johnson introduced McPhee to Bisio — whom friends call “Beez” — and the musicians played their first gig together a decade ago at the Tractor Tavern, on an Earshot Jazz Festival.
Even more poignant, this may be Bisio’s last gig as a Seattleite. The day after the show, he is driving to New York.
“I’ve rented my house for a year,” said the 50-year-old bassist, whose career has long straddled world renown on the avant-garde circuit and humble gigs at home.
“One of the big things is access to opportunity,” said Bisio of the move. “Seattle is a wonderful place to live, and it’s got amazing talent, but I’ve got this mythological status, where people write about me, like, ‘If this guy really existed, he’d be really something.’ I’m not performing enough on the world stage.”
Too true. Hailed as “exemplary” by the Penguin Guide to Jazz, Bisio has played New York’s Vision Festival, toured with saxophonist Charles Gayle and developed a long-term relationship with the Cadence and CIMP labels, in upstate New York, for whom he has three current releases.
Here at home, he plays an occasional gig at Gallery 1412 and weekends at the Pink Door, and has been known to drive an airport limo to pay the bills.
A visually dramatic performer, he hovers over the instrument, seemingly lost in a trance as he plays, occasionally shaking his head, so his hair flies in every direction. His distinctive approach features an enormous sound, warm and woody; impeccable classical bowing technique; a soulful, moody feel for the blues and swing; and a bevy of extended techniques. They include bowing four strings at the same with grinding ferocity; plucking strings simultaneously above and below the bridge, for a percolating, thumb-piano effect; and a personal take on the old slap-bass gambit, which snaps the strings percussively against the fingerboard.
Bisio hails originally from Troy, N.Y., so the move is a homecoming, of sorts. (He recently played near Troy, with pianist Bob Nell, and was hailed as a hometown hero.) With his son at Columbia University and his wife finishing up a Ph.D. program in Kansas this year, the move seemed to make sense. He scoffs at sentimentality about his departure.
“Hey, I’ll be back for the Earshot Festival,” he says.
Well, yeah. That will be nice.
But we’ll sure miss ya.
Paul de Barros: 206-464-3247 or firstname.lastname@example.org