The Casual Avant-Gardist

Adam Lane

Sartorially splendid in Motorhead T-shirt and black jeans, with a slaphappy attack on acoustic bass and an orchestra named Full Throttle, Adam Lane could easily be mistaken for another indie rock johnny-come-lately to jazz. But that’s a disservice to an artist whose interest in music has always been to compose, and for whom jazz was simply the card to emerge from a stacked deck.

Hooked on sonics since childhood piano lessons, Lane “took in so much music from ages seven to fifteen. But nothing made sense until I saw the Art Ensemble of Chicago.” That jazz quintet’s juxtaposition of different musical genres was the perfect analogue to his individual tastes, wandering across tracks of Hendrix cover bands, John Lee Hooker blues, classical piano, and the Dead Kennedys. “The Art Ensemble was absolutely borderless in what they were doing, but so well connected. For me, [they were] the perfect foundation: a jazz base with eclectic range.”

After a stint at Wesleyan and graduate study among New York’s downtown jazz crowd, Lane came west to CalArts, with the sole intent of making a record. It turned out to be 1999’s Hollywood Wedding, and a forthcoming album on Cadence Jazz documents the development of his compositions for full-throttled orchestra. With tongues planted firmly in cheek, blowing wet raspberries in your ear while lasciviously licking the lobes of Mingus, Stockhausen, and Captain Beefheart, Lane’s sextet has the flexibility to pivot from the interstellar space of meditative jazz exploration to the warp speed of hard bop. Like Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Full Throttle makes the biologically impossible commonplace, producing polyglottal music that screams with common purpose.

Writing nations-into-a-groove was a natural outgrowth of Lane’s days as an eclectic record selecter, but acquiring the same flexibility in his bass playing came harder. “The goal of my musical education was more about avoiding predictability than acquiring any technical wizardry.” With fingers better suited to writing scores than to pressing down strings, Lane discovered, “As soon as I graduated CalArts, it was just me and my instrument.”

Thus followed a period of intense practice that has made Lane a bassist much in demand, notably with tenor saxophonist John Tchicai. Known as a voice in the sax choir on John Coltrane’s Ascension, and as a leader of the seminal free jazz New York Art Quartet, Tchicai first hired Lane in 1998. Lane considers himself fortunate to have recorded with Tchicai on 1999’s Infinitesimal Flash: “I felt I was just getting to the point of being a sideman. I wanted to be able to … not just [deliver] good playing but to play bass compositionally.”

Tchicai’s one Bay Area gig this summer, interrupting a European reunion tour of NYAQ, reunites the Infinitesimal Flash group, with tenor Francis Wong supplying the burn to Tchicai’s high-fluttering stratospherics. Lane sees his portion of Saturday’s show at the Starry Plough (9 p.m., 510-841-2082) as a neat encapsulation of his past three years of musical growth. With another recording date and a Full Throttle tour this fall, Lane put together this weekend’s explorations in sound expressly for us.

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