25 September 2010

Thinking about food last night

I was thinking a lot about food at a remarkable concert by The Bad Plus last night. I can taste food, taste a dish and notice a seasoning, an influence, a remarkable combination of ingredients. A good reuben, a classic coq au vin, a 9x13 pan of baked macaroni and cheese, a single thick slice of a sun-warmed Brandywine tomato, a bowl of cereal before bed – every dish offers up something for which we delight, give thanks, and dig in. Food nourishes and gives, reminds us of our need for sustenance and soul, for fellowship as well as calories. The traditions of France, Thailand, and Vietnam, the serendipity of leftovers in the fridge, the strength of oatmeal on a cold morning, the joy of a quick lunch with my wife – these are the things of food, the stories and the context for what we eat and why we eat. There are stories and harmonies and seasons that play off one another, ingredients that shine or support, stand out or blend in.
I’m not trained in music; I know nothing formal about it at all, and I listen to very little recorded music. But live music is different, and though I don’t hear nearly enough of it, most live shows I go to send my soul flying. The few and far between shows of the past year have included the Dave Rawlings Machine, the Takacs Quartet, and last night’s show by The Bad Plus. I’m least familiar with jazz, especially new, cutting edge jazz, and before the show started I was wondering how to listen to it, wondering if there was a way to listen to music that was like tasting food or drinking wine. If there are similarities, I'd say both require attentiveness, a willingness to notice things, an ability to be surprised, an open mind, and flexibility. I started listening to the amazing drummer Dave King and I thought to myself, sure, he’s roasting the bones I’ll use to make my stock. He was wild, hitting the drums and cymbals with intensity, speed, and a lightness that bedeviled my eyes – how did all that movement result in such a light, clean sound followed by a power surge that stood my hair on end? Look, I said to myself, there’s the bassist steadying the universe with his string-pulled throbs, with his leeks, reducing wine to better define the edges of bone and char. I listened and I thought of food, and that let my ears relax so I didn’t work too hard to try to hear something that may or may not be present. Just like food, I thought. Enjoy it, taste it, sniff it and savor it. Ethan Iverson’s piano playing was a real engaging conversation, a collaborative energetic and joyful noise, one that pounded and touched those big Steinway strings in so many ways I didn’t know how he did it himself. And all the time I’m listening I’m thinking to myself, so this is jazz, this constant rearrangement of the ordinary, an extension of something small, a noticing, a wild exuberance that stretches and reaches and stops and there I was with my ears on high and I thought, I want to make a Bad Plus rabbit stew, a fat-wrapped rabbit with a deep black sauce, a red wine and chocolate and red pepper black pepper stew that’ll go with some kind of pasta – maybe thick, maybe thin, I don’t know. We’ll see what the fall brings. Last weekend I butchered eleven big rabbits and tomorrow we’re going to the Cities. Maybe we’ll stop at an Asian market and buy a big slab of pork belly and I’ll start next weekend’s stew.


  1. This is a great comment on TPB's show. You hit (I think) on the thing that makes me like them almost more than any other musical act, present or past: the way they turn things - concerts, songs, sound - on their side, and not necessarily in a "I could never do that!" way. I could never play jazz like them (or at all), but their music makes me think I could do something else - write? parent? run? - as innovatively as they kick out the jams.

  2. Thanks, Christopher. I hope I can see them again!