BY DAVE ALLEN First thoughts upon entering the charmingly fusty Powel House Museum in Society Hill: “They play jazz here?” I would soon find out that the museum is one of jazz and avant-garde presenter Bowerbird’s regular sites in the “Bowerbird @ Landmarks” series. In addition to old paintings and ornate woodwork, the upstairs room where Philly free-jazz collective Shot x Shot played also held a harp of, presumably, Revolutionary War-era vintage. If one of the guys in the band gets a hold of that, I mused, things could get wild. Even without the addition of a harp to the band’s lineup of two saxes, bass and drums, they got plenty wild last night, with several improvisations erupting into staggering, combustive jams.
For the evening’s first set, the quartet was joined by veteran synth player Charles Cohen on the Buchla Music Easel. Cohen’s playing took on the feel of sonic weather, with clicks and plops that swirled like snow in alternately gentle and blizzard-like conditions. Against Cohen’s backdrop, the band’s two saxophonists, Dan Scofield on alto and Bryan Rogers on tenor, toyed with sustained notes and choked, chattering figures. Drummer Dan Capecchi’s varied attacks — bowing cymbals, striking pans and bowls, jangling keys and Allen wrenches on his snare’s head — showed just a fraction of the inventiveness he’d display later, and the band kept things similarly tidy, ending with a long, dulcet tone from Scofield.
Scofield emerged as a brighter, bolder force in the second set. After several cycles of a winding, circular figure played in unison with Rogers, he let loose with a loud, stunning cry. Flurries of notes later in the set fell easily beneath his fingers, and he became the more dominant figure in his duets with Rogers. Rogers’ approach had a deeper, more ruminative quality, with slowly unwinding figures and tossed-off grace notes. The rhythm section mirrored this divide in style, with bassist Matt Engle taking a subdued, straightforward role as Capecchi unloaded with three marching bands’ worth of tightly-coiled force. His playing took on the shape of Cohen’s synth creations: insistent and ever-present, with new sounds occasionally popping up in the mix. Capecchi was apparently not feeling well — he took a few hacking coughs between charts — but you wouldn’t have known it from the frenetic energy he showed.
The band worked from some notated scores but didn’t seem walled in by them. In a chart titled “Slightly Un,” a figure of brusque, ascending scales by the saxophonists turned gradually into scurrying, hard-edged polyphony as they diverged in speed and attack. Solos by Scofield and Engle grew cloudier, with more vibrato in the sax and thick, chordal playing in the bass. The overall sound of the night was more kaleidoscopic than collaborative, as the four players fractured in their own directions, though a second go-round with Cohen yielded a sweeter, less frantic result. Capecchi kept to his wild, busy style, but the saxophonists melded on tight harmonies and ended in a blossoming unison. Cohen’s whirring, creaking sounds recalled insects chirping on a summer night. Combine that with the dozen or so people packed in behind the room’s 50 seats and the resulting warm, humid conditions, and the cold temperatures outside were forgotten. It wasn’t an evening of hot jazz in the traditional sense, but things had gotten downright sultry.
Shot x Shot plays Sunday at SciFiPhilly with guitarist Rick Iannacone, saxophonist/flutist Elliott Levin and percussionist Ed Watkins. Gojjo, 4540 Baltimore Avenue, 9 pm. $5 cover.