Rob Wagner's Newer Thing


March 11, 2005

Like a regular Jonathan Freilich, Kevin O'Day, or Jimbo Walsh, saxophonist Rob Wagner has become such a staple on the local modern jazz scene that it revolves around him more than he revolves around it. Wagner played with jazz/funksters Iris May Tango, formed his own trio, created the original New Thing, and most recently played his own compositions with a string band.

A mixture of accessible grooves and moments of jazz brilliance has set Wagner's music apart, but his Newer Thing took the groove to new levels of soulfulness and sultriness Friday night at d.b.a. Like the original, the Newer Thing was improvised music created within constructions. Wagner and Walter "Wolfman" Washington trumpeter Antonio Gambrell anchored the concert with synchronized sexy midnight moonlight smokiness. The Newer Thing would have been a good date concert. I wasn't surprised that the performance room was bustling with couples and singles alike.

The sensual music went back and forth between trippiness as Permagrin members Louis Romanos and Dan Sumner added their adventurous spaciness. Sumner used an e-bow and had an arsenal of guitar effects for ambiance, but he also played straight when drummer Romanos and bassist Nobu Osaki spiced up the pace.

Romanos played drum n' bass beats the whole night, and most of the time he didn't let them take focus from the music, but when he and Osaki went full throttle, it was fun to watch Romanos. Osaki tried to keep up with his flurry of hi-hat and snare notes, but it was no use. Still, Osaki was a worthy competitor, and they created wonderful moments that tested the boundaries of how many notes a bassist and drummer could weave around one another and still leave behind traces of a recognizable melody.

Romanos was the hero of the first set. He wore himself out playing an inhuman amount of notes at one time. Even Wagner, who I rarely see praise anyone without petition, was openly marveling with people about Romanos after the set. Romanos told me after the set he's practiced for many years to get to a point where he could re-create drum n' bass beats organically. He's still working on it, but his gig with Wagner was quite the mechanical demonstration.

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