Matt Small's Crushing Spiral Ensemble
Pop and rock groups tend to live the tenet immortalized by Led Zeppelin: “The Song Remains the Same.” But jazz cats typically turn this concept on its ear. Take, for example, Mat Maneri's recent upending of Miles Davis standards on So What? or Guillermo Gregorio's deeply personal, nearly unrecognizable readings of Red Norvo classics on Red Cube(d). Transforming a known entity (the tune) into something unknown (the interpretation) is precisely what gives the bravest jazz its night-after-night appeal.
As bassist/composer Matt Small will tell you, this process of tuneful transformation is also an inadvertent, if elemental, fact of the music business. Say another obligation compels the original players in Small's Crushing Spiral Ensemble to bow out of a particular gig. Then it's up to the bandleader to find substitute personnel, who will invariably be less familiar with his original material. Factor in sundry levels of interpretive skills and imagination, and, for better or worse, Small will bear witness on the bandstand to an unpredictable makeover of his music.
Which is exactly what lies ahead at the Freight & Salvage. The outstanding band featured on Small's gorgeous CD debut Pictures at an Inhibition has been entirely recast into what could possibly turn out to be an even headier Crushing Spiral Ensemble. Ben Goldberg (clarinets), Phillip Greenlief (saxophones), Scott Amendola (drums), and Jeff Cressman (trombone) are all top-tier improvisers who will certainly push Small's vision into other worlds. Klezmer-savvy Goldberg will likely play up the composer's Gypsy-like lyricism, while Amendola may anchor his circus grooves — à la Henry Threadgill or Club Foot Orchestra — with a boot-thumping funk. Of course, the songs will remain the same. But the performance of said songs by a whole new group ensures a listening experience unlike any other.
Matt Small's Crushing Spiral Ensemble performs Wednesday, Sept. 29, at 8 p.m. at Freight & Salvage, 1111 Addison St., Berkeley. Tickets are $13.50; call (510) 548-1761.