“Experimental” barely begins to describe The Respect Sextet’s performance in the first concert of this season’s Harker Concert Series. The New York-based group, rendered a quintet due to the unexpected absence of trombonist James Hirschfeld, is happy to wander outside conventional jazz while maintaining a healthy respect for why those conventions exist.
One could be forgiven for wondering where the performance was going the first time drummer Ted Poor abruptly left his kit and walked backstage, cymbal in hand, at which point loud crashing and banging could be heard erupting from the adjacent room. This came at the apex of a piece (an interpretation of Mischa Mengelberg’s “K Rhino”) that included extended, plaintive squeals courtesy of trumpeter Eli Asher, sudden pauses and tempo changes, and saxophonist Josh Rutner whistling along to the melody from Asher’s trumpet.
Then came a selection from “Executive Suite,” the band’s response to the late-2000s financial crisis, which opened with Asher and Rutner trading off – first as a conversation, then as an argument – ramping up the chaos before the rest of the band swooped in. In these situations, each member of the band seems to be on his own wavelength, until suddenly they converge. An exhilarating sense of contingency courses through every dissonant piano flourish from Red Wierenga, every tap of the tiny cymbals hanging from Asher’s music stand, every series of methodically atonal fits and starts, every thud from Malcom Kirby’s bass.
Somehow it wasn’t surprising that Respect decided to end its first set with “Danny Boy.” Take a room full of people to inner space for 45 minutes, and it seems only reasonable to bring them back to earth before breaking for drinks and hors d’oeuvres.
“It’s phenomenal,” said concertgoer Steve Lassman, “just better than anything I could have expected.” Also unexpected was the generous helping of food available for the attendees. “The food was a total surprise; we didn’t know anything about it. So that was a definite plus.”
Karen Lassman said the band was “wonderful. This group is amazing. From the get go, [I] didn’t really know what to expect. I thought it would be a little more traditional, and it’s not, which is great.”
Attendee Jim Cleveland enjoyed Respect’s take on “outside jazz,” particularly Poor’s drumming, which he said was “very reminiscent of outside jazz. And then the melodies, just beautiful.”
The band returned from the intermission with “Paper Root,” perhaps its wildest departure of the night, with Poor rummaging through a stack of papers, stylistic turns and sure, why not, a mid-song break to talk about how it’s really not all that rainy in Seattle.
In a nod to a legendary jazz figure who could very well be one of their muses, the group next performed Sun Ra’s “Angels and Demons at Play,” working splendidly with the song’s 5/4 time signature as Kirby and Rutner showcased deft interplay.
Not ones to let an opportunity for a humorous moment slip by, Respect also launched into a barbershop quintet number about the inherent irony of billing themselves as a sextet while only boasting five members for the evening.
The band ended the show on a fun note, by displaying its mastery and respect for the craft in a blistering version of Fred Anderson’s “Three on Two,” letting the appreciative audience know they hadn’t forgotten about the ones who made it possible for them to explore the periphery in the first place.