The Vernon Reid Power Trio at work at Iridium

The Vernon Reid Power Trio at work at Iridium


Words by Hank Williams | Photos by Joyce Jones. Creative Commons CC-NC-BY-ND.
 
Guitarist Vernon Reid began the set of his “Power Trio” at Manhattan’s Iridium club on Saturday March 12 by explaining that it was the first time that particular combination of musicians had played together in 20 years. That didn’t mean that they were unfamiliar with each other—on the contrary—they were indeed so familiar with each other that the set had the feel of a jam session more than anything else as inside jokes floated around and musicians finished each other’s sentences. This was a good thing and set the tone for an intimate night of intense music.
 
Reid and drummer Will Calhoun have been official on-and-off bandmates in Living Colour for decades now in addition to sharing numerous stages for smaller projects, such as this one. The connection between Reid and bassist Melvin Gibbs is incredibly deep as well, as both are alumni of the late drummer Ronald Shannon Jackson’s Decoding Society band and the Punk Funk All Stars. All three are members of the Brooklyn-based Black Rock Coalition.
Guitarist Vernon Reid

Guitarist Vernon Reid


 
All of this is to say that to hear them playing means hearing a group of musicians so incredibly in sync with each other that verbal communication is secondary to the musical connection that happens on stage and emanates from deep listening and reacting to each other.
 
The second overarching theme of the evening was the legacy of drummer Ronald Shannon Jackson, whose songs provided the base for several of their explorations.
 
Indeed, the trio began the set with one of Jackson’s songs, with Reid setting the tone on guitar, backed by Gibbs’ distinctive distorted bass lines and Calhoun’s drumming.
 
Next came an innovative cover of Miles Davis’ version of “Freedom Jazz Dance”, which was perfectly suited to their treatment, as Reid stretched the familiar melody to the limits. The song finished with a back-and-forth between Reid and Gibbs, backed by Calhoun’s heavy foot on the bass drum.
 
There was also a song dedicated to the late percussionist Nana Vasconcelos, who Reid described as “a magician” who would “recreate the [feeling of] the rain forest” when he played. It began, appropriately, with a solo by Calhoun on an enormous mbira.
Drummer Will Calhoun on mbira

Drummer Will Calhoun on mbira


 
Gibbs jokingly introduced a cover of the blues standard “I Ain’t Superstitious” with the rejoinder that they were now going to play some American music. Reid’s capable romp through Willie Dixon’s classic lyrics proved that he can carry a tune as well as play a guitar like a man possessed. It also showed the range of the players as Reid and Calhoun effortlessly sunk into the blues rhythms, then exited just as quickly as the song ended in a glorious haze of distortion.
Bassist Melvin Gibbs

Bassist Melvin Gibbs


 
The set finished, appropriately enough, with a cover of Ronald Shannon Jackson’s “Street Priest”, led off by one of Calhoun’s trademark thundering drum solos.
Drummer Will Calhoun

Drummer Will Calhoun


 
Iridium’s bio of Reid accurately predicted the night’s set, noting that he’s “done a great deal to undermine stereotypical expectations of what music Black artists ought to play; his rampant eclecticism encompasses everything from hard rock and punk to funk, R&B and avant-garde jazz, and his anarchic, lightning-fast solos have become something of a hallmark”. And the group indeed delivered on pretty much all counts, with diasporic nods to Nana Vasconcelos and Africa thrown into the mix as well.
 
The early set drew an audience that nearly filled Iridium and was rewarded with a strong performance. Reid has curated an occasional series of guitar-based shows at iridium and promised a return engagement for Saturday night’s lineup, though had no definite date for the latter. Let’s hope that comes to fruition and if you missed this set, you’d be well advised to keep an eye out for the next one. Here’s hoping that the incredibly busy schedules of all three don’t result in another 20-year wait.
 
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Hank Williams is an associate producer for Suga’ in My Bowl on WBAI Radio and webmaster for the Suga’ and Behind the Mic sites. He is also a PhD candidate in English and Africana Studies at the CUNY Graduate Center and teaches at Hunter and Lehman Colleges and The City College of New York.
 
Joyce Jones is the executive producer and host of Suga’ in My Bowl. She is a graphic designer and her photos have been published in Black Renaissance Noir.

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