It’s conventional wisdom that bands perform best when there’s a packed room of adoring fans. With jazz, though—especially the freaky, noise-cult variety—the opposite might be true. Unencumbered by potentially judgemental ears and the stiff formalities of the concert experience, adventurous improvisors often thrive in the humblest environs. This was the case when legendary downtown drummer Bobby Previte brought his trio to Red Square on a quiet Tuesday.
Seated behind his kit, the 61-year-old Previte cut the image of an esteemed soccer coach: fit, commanding and dressed in a track jacket. His team were baritone saxophonist Fabian Rucker and electric guitarist Mike Gamble, a young trio inspired by his Plutino project with Italian musicians Beppe Scardino and Francesco Diodati. Likely, much of the set’s material was drawn from that 2012 release. While the instrumentation would suggest that Rucker command the tonal center, behaving as a bassist might, the group’s formula for improvisation and the sketchlike compositions that led them, often defied that expectation: Rucker squealing in the higher register of his instrument while Gamble plodded through obtuse chord clusters and eerie atmospherics. For his part, Previte took a somewhat barabric, punk-rock approach to the pocket, pounding out the primitive rhythmic figures and fraying a steady sense of time.
Unlike a lot of “free” jazz players, though, the trio seemed not to overthink their parts, allowing right-brain flights of fancy to guide the exploration but telepathically bringing the whole thing back to a simple left-brain figure soon enough to prevent navel-gazing. This kept the performance muscular and propulsive, something that was evident in the body language of all three performers, but especially Previte, who seemed to visibly relish in the revery of a single cymbal crash. The effect was playful in a way it might not have been, had there been a discerning international jazz crowd on hand, and as the trio passed a single glass of water between them after songs, the whole thing felt like a good scrimmage.