Redwood Jazz Alliance

Michael Formanek Quartet
Sunday, June 5, 8 p.m.| Morris Graves Museum of Art, 636 F Street, Eureka

"A group [that's] vibrant and instinctive, performing music that combines rigor and reckless abandon."
Jazz Times

“Michael Formanek has proven that he can do it all: stunning bassist, adept composer, top-notch bandleader, and first-call sideman to many of the most highly regarded artists in creative jazz. Given his string of accomplishments over the last decade, jazz fans can remain hopeful that Formanek has even more to offer in the years ahead.”
All Music Guide

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Michael Formanek Quartet
L-R: Gerald Cleaver, Craig Taborn, Michael Formanek, Tim Berne
©Valerie Trucchia, ECM

Michael Formanek’s driving double-bass propels two of our favorite discs of the past decade: multi-reedist Marty Ehrlich’s Song (2001) and trumpeter Baikida Carroll’s Marionettes on a High Wire (also 2001)—just two of Formanek’s seventy-plus recorded dates as a sideman or collaborator in the last twenty-odd years.  (He’s worked extensively with Lee Konitz, Peter Erskine, Uri Caine, and the Mingus Big Band, among others, and Elvis Costello picked him to anchor the rhythm section for his jazzy 2003 song-cycle North.) 
 
But the busy session player is also highly regarded as a composer and bandleader. 1994’s Low Profile, featuring past RJA guests Ehrlich and Dave Douglas, was actually the highpoint of a string of influential albums that Formanek made for Enja throughout the 90s, when he and longtime musical partner Tim Berne were standout figures on New York’s “downtown” jazz scene.  (Formanek was also a core member of the alto saxophonist’s influential quartet Bloodcount.) 

So when word came in 2010 that the bassist was returning to the studio as a leader for the first time in over a decade—for the prestigious German label ECM, no less—jazzheads were hugely excited.  And they weren’t disappointed: The Rub and Spare Change was hailed by the New York Times as one of the “essential jazz recordings of 2010,” an opinion shared by scores of other critics (including DownBeat, who gave the album a rare 5-star review). 

The tunes—some flinty and boppish, others languorous and hypnotic, still others cascading and abstract—were written to showcase the talents of the group’s all-star members:  angular altoist Berne (Julius Hemphill, John Zorn, Drew Gress), versatile pianist and keyboardist Craig Taborn (James Carter Quartet, Chris Potter’s Underground, David Binney’s Third Occasion, Chris Lightcap’s Deluxe), and muscular drummer Gerald Cleaver (Roscoe Mitchell, Matthew Shipp, Miroslav Vitous).

These four constitute a veritable supergroup of contemporary New York jazz, but they have such long and intricate relationships outside of this setting that their playing here feels comfortable and familiar, marked by mutual respect and strong group interaction.  Formanek and Berne go way back, of course, but Formanek has also toured and recorded with projects led, co-led or featuring Taborn and Cleaver, and those two, in turn, have a long history of mutual collaboration. (Cleaver has also played frequently with Berne, while Taborn has been a member of Berne’s “Science Friction” and “Hard Cell” bands.  Both have also recorded notable sessions as leaders, and Taborn, DownBeat's 2010 keyboards "Rising Star," releases a highly anticipated solo album on ECM this summer.)


Tickets ($15 General Admission, $10 Students & Seniors) are available here at our website, or at Wildwood Music, People's Records, and The Works.


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  • Michael Formanek at ECM Records

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