James Singleton Orchestra
July 15, 2005
James Singleton has been a great sideman and an essential part of any collective because he's the best bassist in New Orleans(honorable mentions go to Cassandra Faulconer and George Porter, Jr.). His spunk, dexterity, and wince-ready, nasty lines have made him the most requested string plucker in the city. Still, for some reason, he hasn't been able to get his solo projects steady gigs. It's probably best that Singleton doesn't have a weekly gig that gets him taken for granted, but it would be nice to hear his songs more often. The James Singleton Trio sputtered here and there a few times on Frenchman, but it didn't build up enough speed to roll people over. To really cause a buzz. The Trio would drop sick knowledge, only to be gone without the next gig in sight.
Waiting outside a venue to start playing on someone else's concert, James said about nine months ago he was writing a lot. This was great news. Not that he hadn't written before, but great! Can't wait to hear what it sounds like. Well, on Friday night at The Dragon's Den, The James Singleton Orchestra sounded like something new. It sounded like a band that didn't need to vanish again. The music was too good. I'm tired of the teasing. Hit us over the head hard, or don't hit us over the head at all. If Singleton can't balance focus on his music with other people's gigs, then I say focus on the music. This is his time. Finally. The Orchestra succeeded not only because it is different(bass, drums, alto sax, bass and baritone sax, drums, violin, cello, and opera singer) but also because Singleton approached the creation of the music with a zestful love for all genres.
Markers for difference were few and far between. Some moments were ambient or noise-oriented or funky or rockin' or groovy. But, Singleton's music snaked in and out of each genre quickly, taking what it needed and seguing into the next without anyone noticing. It was all mixed so well. A beautiful collage. A Where's Waldo if you're trying to pin it down.*
Drummer Marc DiFlorio was his usual wonderfully understated self. His talent was that he was able to keep the beat with sparse playing. He knew when not to play, and he smiled most of the way, looking like he was using some sort of mystical calm to influence the way he gently stroked his toms. DiFlorio's moment came when the violinist and the cellist were playing similar lines. DiFlorio took out his bow and drew it against his ride cymbal at a pace that mimicked the pace at which the violin and cello were played. It worked. Sounded like he was playing notes.
There were many highlights to the night. Saxophonists Tim Green and Dan Oestreicher battled from across the performance area. It was a wonderful cacophony of semblance. Another fine moment was when the bass, violin, and cello went off on their own. Things got off course and "experimental" for a little while, and that was fine. Instinctive and following muses. Unexpected horribly beautiful string pickings. Strange bow theatrics. And if you forgot that Singleton is using effects pedals more and more, he kept the main bass line looped while he created enjoyable weirdness with the other two.
The most impressive aspect of the concert was the opera singer--what's her name?--who stood next to Oestreicher and followed the sheets of music, singing the exact notes that the violin and cello played. It was unreal. I didn't know that was possible. What an amazing, trained voice!
The set ended with Green, Singleton, and DiFlorio building up a funkified rockin' jam until it go so kickin' and pleasurable that someone should have had an aneurysm. In other words, they locked up and played so well together and kicked it, yo. No frontin'. Direct and in effect. Right? Boom!
*Moses Asch, who founded Folkways Records and issued THE ANTHOLOGY OF AMERICAN FOLK MUSIC, defined folk music as "anything that is sound."