Cafe Oto, 6 December 2017. First night of a 2-night residency.
Review and drawing by Geoff Winston
Cafe Oto keep a wish list tucked away in their back pocket just waiting for the right moment. Patty Waters has been on that list for some time and her long-awaited appearance more than rewarded expectations. The Art Ensemble of Chicago (reviewed), another wish list special, had already made a triumphant return visit in October after their first in February, and two years ago Annette Peacock (reviewed here) had graced this tiny venue with a stunning solo residency. Waters was in good company.
To make this debut even more special, she had in tow Burton Greene, the pianist with whom she has worked since the mid-sixties. He's been based in Amsterdam for many years and completed the trio with bassist Tjitze Vogel (an independent spirit from Friesland, as Greene told me), hand-picked to achieve the perfect complement to Waters' incomparable delivery and to Greene's virtuosic invention.
Waters articulates lyrics which might normally wash over the listener with a visceral, anarchic passion, transforming them to become poetry in the extreme. Spotted by Albert Ayler when she arrived in New York she made a couple of key albums in the 1960s, Sings and College Tour, which revealed a radical approach to song and which have become beacons for singers such as Diamanda Galas who explore vocal possibilities out at the edge. Like Henry Grimes, the magnificent bassist with whom she toured in Europe ten years ago, she retired for around 30 years, before being tempted back to performing in the mid-'90s by pianist Jessica Williams.
Evident at Cafe Oto was a fluid democracy imbued in the trio's interplay which saw Waters focusing on a select handful of songs and allowing Burton and Vogel to stride out into jazz improvisation territory with the intensity and lightness of touch of masters.
Burton, who celebrated his 80th in the summer, revealed an open-minded approach to the keyboard that brought to mind Cecil Taylor, Keith Tippett, even Misha Mengelberg, with a touch of Monk thrown in. Greene joined Taylor's Jazz Composers' Guild in 1964 and subsequently played with the ICP Orchestra's co-founder, Willem Breuker, so the heritage was ingrained.
The quality of Cafe Oto's Yamaha grand shone at Greene's fingers. Just after launching in to Nature Boy Waters paused to ask him to play inside the piano, one of several interventions that could have qualified the piano as 'unprepared'! Vogel's fleet fingerboard work blended relaxed precision with an inventive streak that mirrored Greene's dextrous technique. Greene also dropped in a bright piece by Silke Röllig, Say Yes.
Their spiralling opening duo paved the way for Waters to break the ice with her opener from Sing, Moon, Don't Come Out Tonight, introducing the echoing repetition of 'broken heart', to invest each word with additional weight, as she did in Nature Boy. 'The greatest thing you'll ever learn Is just to be loved and be loved in return', repeating 'love, love, love …', kneading the words to carry the emotional power of experience.
Billie Holiday's unnervingly timely Strange Fruit with its acutely shocking imagery, 'Then the sudden smell of burning flesh', and her bittersweet Lover Man rubbed shoulders with the spiritual, Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child. In each were found anguished resonances as Waters drew out the crushed poetry embedded in the crevices of the lyrics. Hank Williams' I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry, which looks over its shoulder at Ellington's Mood Indigo for its title, took on a deeply personal slant as she wrung every nuance of emotional meaning from just those few loaded words. The nursery rhyme Hush Little Baby Don't You Cry, a line also famously appropriated by Gershwin's Summertime, popped up in various guises laden with far more than the surface innocence of the text. Waters ended the set with an impassioned Wild Is The Wind and the heartfelt repetition of ' wild, wild, wild, … wild is my love for you'.
And all bound together with the most lyrical of accompaniments and improvisations by Greene and Vogel.