Published in 'the NYC Jazz Record' NY@Night column, October 2018
Milford Graves and Shahzad Ismaily (photo by John Pietaro)
MILFORD GRAVES/SHAHZAD ISMAILY
September 6, 2018, Unitarian Center/Issue Project Room
Performance review by John Pietaro
The atmosphere was understatedly thick; on the heels of a late summer heatwave, the remains of the strangely grey, painfully humid day lined the interior of the Unitarian Universalist Church (September 6) like a padded cell. Aurally mimicking the heat was the opening performance of airtight electronic soundscapes, leading to sweat-soaked near blackouts before the headliner emerged.
Milford Graves took the stage defiantly, tossing down his cane in marked protest of aging if not time itself. Launching into beautifully flowing vocalization drawing on African tradition, the veteran drummer soon added a blurring counterpoint over his historic, single-headed hand-decorated kit—that which he’s had since the days with Ayler, Bley, Sanders, Sun Ra and the New York Art Quartet, now expanded with hand drums and a single timbale. No cymbals outside of the hi-hats which typically chattered triplets, his use of this percussive combination precluded the need for anything else to ride on. Shahzad Ismaily’s electric bass matched Graves’ pulsations, blending into the high-ceilinged roar like an organic bassosaurus. During the course of this fascinating set, Ismaily also emoted on synthesizer, electric guitar and 5-string banjo tuned to mountain modal, simultaneously backing and challenging the master percussionist.
Graves’ drumming reflected no sign of the years as he rained polyrhythmic perpetual motion, sang and spoke to the crowd. When the volume came down, his drumsticks skittered lightly over slackened heads, occupying the sonic world of an African drum choir.