What: Medeski, Martin and Wood
Where: The Orange Peel
When: Wednesday, April 30
It's a given that members of the jam-jazz trio Medeski, Martin and Wood are all supremely talented. They've each got an incredible sense of timing, and some of their solos at the recent Orange Peel concert -- particularly those of percussionist Billy Martin -- bordered on outstanding.
But virtuosity alone does not a memorable show make -- that is, unless all you require of a live-music experience is to jam out, enjoy the light show and experience the occasional wicked solo.
Another kind of listener -- myself, for instance -- wants something a bit more lasting than just, say, keyboard, upright bass or percussion prowess. Nothing big -- just a melody I can't get out of my mind, or a consistent musical theme with which to tie the evening together.
I can't say I got either on April 30.
In the jazz world, of course, song structure and melody are often little more than a loose guideline upon which to improvise. But there's a limit to how much instrumental noodling that philosophy should allow. The trio's first set was essentially an hour-long extended jam -- at times intriguing in the extreme, but never more than interesting in the moment. Nothing I could hum for you now.
An honorable death by Japanese urban graffiti
We sit in the basement art studio beneath Forever Tattoo, listening to the soundtrack to the anime masterpiece Akira and talking about late-period Japanese woodblock prints. In this dark, cramped space lit by an industrial work light and smelling of drying latex paint sit two of the area's most impressive up-and-coming artists: urban painter les caison III and graffiti-and-tattoo ace Rob Hunt.
Their new joint exhibit, Seppuku -- named after a form of honorable ritual suicide practiced by Japanese nobles -- sits in various stages of completion all around us.
"The show is based on Japanese art from the 16th to the late-18th century," explains Hunt, who works in a white undershirt, his heavily tattooed arms visible as he points out the merits of each of the pieces. "It's all based on the woodblock prints, and we're adding a sort of impressionist and pop-art style to the images that we come up with."
Hunt, the owner of the tattoo studio above us, is also a partner in the recently opened Ion Art Gallery. The space is intended to showcase local artists who often have difficulty getting their work seen in the crowded, and increasingly tourist-oriented, Asheville arts scene. It's that very need for artistic collaboration that inspired Hunt and caison's current show, they say.
"We'd worked together before on smaller projects," Hunt elaborates, "and that made us realize that we could do something bigger and a lot more outstanding."
"We were trying to find common ground for this collaborative effort," explains caison, looking up from tightening the brushwork on one of the show's more striking pieces, a depiction of a pair of sandal-clad feet on a wooden floor. "We both like graphic art, and we both have graphic elements to our art. We decided on Japanese printmaking -- that era of art -- because it's one of the earliest and well-known forms of graphic art. It's also more immediate, and that's where we're coming from."
I've been impressed with caison's art since I saw his show Day & Night last June. His work is distinguished by a powerful narrative quality, evoking a mood of distinct time and place -- almost impressionist in that respect, though with a much stronger illustrative feel. Paired with Hunt's stark, dynamic line work (perhaps an extension of the self-described "crossover" from his tattoo and graffiti background), caison's is a perfect fit. It's hard not to be drawn in by these artists' vision.
"We identify with the Japanese art, and we respect it," Hunt declares, painting the outline of a playing cat. "The Oriental style says a lot of things about simplicity. We think that it's something that a lot of people will be into."
Seppuku is on display at Ion Art Gallery (98 Lexington Ave.) through Saturday, May 31. For more information, call Forever Tattoo at 236-1681.