Modern jazz is a messy business. There are traditionalists who steadfastly reproduce the sounds of yesteryear, dedicated to preserving and strictly adhering to a narrowly perceived tradition. But there is another world of jazz-related music in which there are no boundaries, be they stylistic or national; in which any instrument, any sound, and any technique is permissible.
One of the centers of such eclectic creativity is often referred to as “the downtown scene,” in reference to a general area of New York City, even though these days most of the musicians and many of the venues they work in have moved to Brooklyn and elsewhere. Tom Rainey is one of the most original and in-demand drummers among this loose group of musicians. He has performed with just about everyone on the downtown scene and has played in Ann Arbor countless times with many traveling groups. He has developed a distinctive drumming style, with a personal sound and an almost ragged way with rhythm that constantly plays with the beat and yet complements the music in unique ways.
A few years ago he teamed up with a new saxophone player who had recently arrived from London, and soon they were not only playing everywhere together but also married. Ingrid Laubrock, raised in Germany but musically trained in Britain, has been in New York for less than a decade but has quickly become everyone’s favorite tenor and soprano saxophonist. Laubrock developed a solid musical foundation in London and a wonderful sense of sound on the saxophone. Her first two records were somewhat traditional, often employing Brazilian and pop elements, but already revealed elements of a more probing musical intelligence and demonstrated her mastery of saxophone timbre. Soon her music, on recordings at least, moved in more experimental directions, and by the time she came to New York in 2008, she was ready to play with the best musicians on the downtown scene. Soon she was in many different bands and was leading her own groups.
The collaboration between Rainey and Laubrock seems to bring out the best in both. Rainey, after many years as a sideman, has begun working as a leader; his most recent recording is a fabulous, quirky, avant-garde reworking of jazz standards in which melodies and harmonies shift between tradition and innovation, while Laubrock’s flexible and ringing saxophone explores the full spectrum of sonic possibilities. At heart she is a melodist, and no matter how far she stretches the aural palate of her instruments, she always tells musical stories. Their newest collaboration is a simple duo, exploring pure improvisation at its best. They perform at Kerrytown Concert House on May 16.