Stanton Moore Trio & Nolatet 2.28.20

Aladdin Theater
Portland, Oregon

Words and Photos by James Sissler

With moe., Umphrey's McGee, and Andy Frasco & the UN in town, there was no shortage of entertainment for Portland’s live music community Friday night. But for those who wanted to hear something a little different (or those who slept on getting moe. tickets before they sold out), there was Galactic drummer Stanton Moore’s jazz trio at the Aladdin Theater, with special guest Nolatet. Known primarily as a master of New Orleans-style funk drumming, Moore proved with his 2014 release, Conversations, that he could swing just as hard as he could groove. The record featured mostly New Orleans standards arranged for a jazz trio of piano, bass, and drums, with lots of inspired improvisation. Consisting of David Torkanowsky on piano and James Singleton on bass, the drummer-led trio developed their chemistry with a weekly residency in New Orleans that lasted a year and a half. They arrived in Portland after playing The Triple Door in Seattle to help close out this year’s Biamp PDX Jazz Festival, presented by PDX Jazz.

It was quite a unique opportunity to get to see such an accomplished musician do something, not necessarily outside their wheelhouse, but different from what they usually do, but for the real music nerds, the bill’s main draw was actually the opener, experimental New Orleans foursome Nolatet. Consisting of vibraphonist Mike Dillon, pianist Brian Haas, bassist James Singleton (yes he was on double duty), and New Orleans drum legend Johnny Vidacovich, who just so happens to be Stanton Moore’s teacher, the group released their debut album, Dogs, in 2016, followed by, No Revenge Necessary, in 2018.

Upon entering the theater before showtime, it was disconcerting to see Nolatet’s drums and percussion set up behind Stanton Moore’s drum kit, since typically the opening band sets up in front of the headliner’s gear, and then removes their equipment between sets. Even more questions were raised when the band took the stage without their drummer and began the opening song with Mike Dillon attempting to play drums and vibraphone at the same time. When they finished the song, they addressed the puzzled crowd, announcing that their “leader and patron saint of New Orleans,” Johnny Vidacovich could not make it because he was recovering from a medical procedure. “If anyone can fill in for Johnny, though, it’s this guy,” Mike Dillon said as he welcomed Stanton Moore to the stage to fill in for his mentor. The crowd cheered as Moore sat behind the drums and began to play Nolatet’s “Lanky, Stanky Maestro,” a tune written by the group’s keyboardist in honor of their absent drummer.

Disappointed as they might have been by Johnny’s absence, the audience cheered up quickly once they heard Stanton’s playing on the drum feature designed to showcase Johnny’s playing. No doubt the group sounded different than usual with a different voice on drums, but in true Stanton Moore fashion, the drummer stole the show with his very animated style of playing. Pianist Brian Haas gave him a run for his money, though, at one point standing up and kicking his own stool down in the middle of a wild piano solo. Released from his drum duties, Mike Dillon played some ripping vibraphone solos and had impromptu percussion jams with Stanton Moore that forced some in the totally seated venue to get up and dance.

Nolatet combines the traditional sounds of New Orleans with avant garde jazz, fluctuating from groovy to free, melodic to “out,” or dissonant, and utilizing a broad palette of experimental electronic sounds. Many of their extended jams were punctuated by sudden slumpy hip-hop breaks that surely would have sounded different with the older, more laid-back Johnny Vidacovich on drums. With Stanton Moore’s more aggressive playing instead, the band sounded similar to Garage à Trois, of which both Stanton Moore and Mike Dillon are founding members. In fact, after the two played an epic unison drum duet on a single drumset, they closed out the opening set with a unique rendition of Garage à Trois’s “Omar.”

Stanton Moore did a fantastic job filling in for his venerable teacher. In fact, his improvising wound up being a major highlight of the first set, which is not unusual at all except when you consider that he was basically opening for himself. Since he and James Singleton were each in both bands on the bill, changeover between sets simply required some adjustments to the keyboard rig and the removal of Mike Dillon’s percussion gear. One might have expected Dillon to sit in with the trio at some point, further blending the two bands together, but he had to go set up for his own band’s late night performance at Jack London Review (perhaps this is why he was set up towards the back of the stage, behind Stanton Moore’s drums).

After a short intermission, the second set started strong with a heavy New Orleans second line drum groove. The first song included an extended drum solo that hinted at a more traditional jazz style while maintaining a funky Galactic-esque groove. It wasn’t until the second song that Stanton Moore’s jazz chops really came to the fore. Playing perfect 6/8 swing time, the drummer’s comping could have been mistaken for that of jazz greats Roy Haynes or Billy Cobham. His soloing still sounded more like the funky drumming Galactic fans are used to than traditional bop playing, though. Likewise, most of the tunes, even the jazzier arrangements, tended to have an underlying groove to them. Heads bobbed constantly throughout the theater, and some stood to dance, even though the overall vibe was more serious jazz listening.

Moore’s thunderous drumming was complemented by the gentler sounds of the acoustic bass and electric piano, and the moving New Orleans rhythms were pleasingly interspersed with slower, R&B type grooves. At one point the drummer and pianist exited the stage, leaving James Singleton in the spotlight for an extended bass solo. They then closed out the set with a softer number that showed off Moore’s Philly Joe Jones-inspired brushwork before escalating to a medium swing. They ended a bit late (to the delight of the crowd), and then returned to the stage for an encore that included an atmospheric bass solo and one final drum feature.

After the show, Stanton Moore met fans at the merch table to sign CDs and chat. Those who wanted more music headed downtown to Jack London Review to catch back up with Mike Dillon.


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