James Singleton’s Illuminasti Trio at the Big Top

14 01 2011

Couched in the comfortable backdrop of the Big Top’s tapestry-shrouded stage, the Illuminasti Trio playfully ran through a series of improvisations and a few composed pieces on Thursday night, with help from Neslort trombonist Rick Trolson, the ubiquitous Tim Green and Chris Alford on guitar.

It was the first night of a busy weekend for the trio, which James Singleton formed with Mike Dillon and Skerik shortly after Hurricane Katrina, and the musical decisions were so fresh and honest that you could almost see rhythms change and melodic concepts turn new corners in each artist’s body language.

Singelton seemed to take particular joy in the meandering fun of Trolson’s ‘bone behind him, reacting at one point to the humor intrinsic in Trolson’s sound with a time shift that mirrored the giggle that escaped from his beaming smile. Later, the bassist coaxed a bluesy groove from an out duet moment between Green and Skerik by hand-signaling Dillon to jump back in the mix with him. The direction was given with another smile and a shrug.

After a solid 40 minutes of experimental jazz, Dillon suddenly recalled his rock tendencies and out of the blue, counted off a blindingly fast hammering of a drum riff that electrified the rest of the set, which included a few Singleton standards like “Foxy Roxy.”

Between the guest stars, Mike Dillon splitting his time between drums, vibes and tablas, and James Singleton occasionally finding a free hand to play trumpet while holding up his acoustic bass, the performance was just on the verge of orchestral. Simon Lott even showed up near the end of the evening and slid into Mike Dillon’s chair, allowing the drummer to focus on his vibes for a few tunes. Meanwhile, the intimate setting, fearless creativity (and maybe Jimmy Descant’s rocketships) worked together, creating an organic atmosphere where you could almost feel the risk involved with each chord change.

The Illuminastis perform again as a trio at the Blue Nile on Saturday, Jan. 15, and the following night at Snug Harbor.

Offbeat’s Zachary Young has more news about these guys here, including what I hope is more than just a teaser about some new recordings from Singleton and the band.




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