Bobby Previte & Coalition Of The Willing
Centro Zo, Catania, Italy
March 15, 2006

It's quite likely, I'd say, that the name Robert/Bobby Previte will recall to one's mind, by way of association, names and labels like "Downtown Jazz" and "Knitting Factory": with the former being a convenient tag that in the early 80s tried to define - and promote - a group of musicians whose individual approach was quite fluid and personal, but who didn't really possess a collective stylistic identity as such; the latter being the name of the tiny place which in a short while became the place where one went in order to hear such avant-garde music (and later, a quite successful "mark of quality"). It goes without saying that the name Previte will recall those of John Zorn, Elliott Sharp and Wayne Horvitz - to mention just three musicians who used his remarkable abilities as a performer. But besides being a drummer and percussionist, Previte was also a composer, as demonstrated - starting from the mid-80s, and in just a few years - by albums such as Bump The Renaissance, Pushing The Envelope, Claude's Late Morning and Empty Suits. It was roughly at this time that I stopped keeping up with his work: Previte's music never lacked nice qualities, but with money and (especially!) time being by definition finite quantities, the two nice volumes recorded by the collective called The New York Composers Orchestra (the album of the same name, released in 1990, and First Program In Standard Time, released two years later) were the last time I listened to Previte's work inside a continuum.

I spotted Bobby Previte together with 8-string guitarist Charlie Hunter on the cover of the January issue of the USA monthly Down Beat. The best part of the interview was dedicated to their joint projects, with special attention paid to their variable-identity group called Groundthruther. Among their future projects, a group (and an album) called Coalition Of The Willing, in which Hunter plays a six-string guitar (a Telecaster) for the first time. Said Previte: "You have not lived till you've heard Charlie play just a guitar. He's a guitar god". So when I notice that the group will play near my home (the concert being part of the Festival organized by the Provincia di Catania called EtnaFest) I immediately decided that I had to better my life, so I bought a ticket. I was not really happy when I noticed that the concert was not to be held at the good-sounding Sangiorgi Theatre, but at Centro Zo, the venue co-producing the concert. Well, were Zo's acoustics on a pair with the courtesy of the people working at the bar, maybe Carnegie Hall would have a serious competitor; but things ain't like this, as demonstrated by three years of concerts held there, in quite bad acoustic conditions. It's true that the long and very meticulous rehearsals by the (drummerless) Phillip Johnston quartet had managed to defeat the cave. Will another miracle occur?

The line-up: Hunter, Previte, Steve Bernstein (I know him: The Lounge Lizards, Spanish Fly, Sex Mob) on trumpet (also "slide") and the young (but already quite experienced) Marco Vincent Benevento on keyboards instead of the previously announced Jamie Saft. The audience: about 250 strong, with Zo's famous folded seats section full, plus people here and there. The stage: it looks like a Fender showroom; from left, a Deluxe Reverb and another tinier combo behind; then we have the drums, and then another Fender combo; then, an organ - which looks like... a Hammond C3! (the frame having seen better days, the tubes show) complete with Leslie - plus a tiny keyboard, plus an Ampeg for bass, the head and cabinet type; another Fender combo, and two mike-stands with two different mikes, one being of the "normal" type, the other looking like the "bullet" type from Shure (the one which is usually advertised as being good for harp). The way I got it, things went like this: Hunter, with Telecaster, used the first amplifier; the keyboard player sent the Hammond's bass keys through the Ampeg, using the Leslie and the Fender for the rest; the trumpet went through the "normal" mike when it had to sound "acoustic", and through the "bullet" when it had to sound "electric": a wha-wha pedal was often used, and also a digital delay, with the typical bell-like, ring-modulated sound at the tail end of the delay.

The musicians arrive on stage, Previte goes to a mike and, after saying hello, says: "This is our first concert, and we are really eager to play". Then he sits down, and they start. It sounds like a mess: distorted bass, weak guitar, thunder-like drums, so-so trumpet. (Did they ever do a sound-check?) As soon as one gets used to the sound, some logic appears: Hunter comps without much colour, and sometimes plays leads with not much energy; the bass works as a "pedal" (it could be tasty were not for the fact that it sounds so distorted), while the organ is often similar to Jimmy Smith, and sometimes to "made in the USA" psychedelia; Bernstein plays the themes, the melodic parts, the solos with the wha-wha, the "acoustic Miles" and the loops with the delay; Previte plays really loud: he's good, he's fast, but he's really too loud. The tracks sound as being "modularly built" - A part, B part, then you play with me, then we play the A part all together, and so on - and one can easily see the seams; the material doesn't sound fresh, and it appears as having no ambition other than to be liked (this is what America sounds like now?). It's rock music as played by musicians who are not rock: I mean, it's fusion. At a certain point Hunter plays a riff that's not really rock-blues, but like mid-70s boogie and Previte pushes him with great energy: it's horrible. Bernstein plays well: sometimes he looks like he's not terribly convinced by it all, but maybe he's just shy.

At the end of the concert I'd like to chat with somebody, maybe listen to a few conversations. But these are things from the past: everybody goes out to have a smoke (tobacco: inside the venue it's not permitted to smoke). Wonder whether the other concerts were this bad.

Beppe Colli

© Beppe Colli 2006 | March 31, 2006