Sacred insanity is happening at Coco 66.
For the past two years, this Greenpoint Avenue bar has been hosting inspired experimental music shows on Tuesday nights, featuring local jazz supergroup the 2s and 4s.
If you have not yet seen the manic weirdness that is a 2s and 4s show, you need to fix that asap! The set up, courtesy of 2s and 4s front man Julio Monterrey, consists of a large, nearly pitch-black room lit only by a circle of red bulbs, a few disco balls and an active large screen facing the audience. Most performances, ranging from poetry slams to dance bands, take place within the crimson circle – a lay out that not only creates a haunting visual effect, but also encourages artists to explore their ideas without any inhibitions.
The 2s and 4s certainly do not have any problems with musical exploration. Co-founded in 2008 by Monterrey and long-time collaborator and fellow saxophonist Matt Parker, the experimental ensemble is perhaps Greenpoint’s best-kept secret. Each member is a masterful jazz musician with a mile-long CV, but also, more importantly, sweats out his thoughts in ecstasy and with a good sense of humor. The burly, red-bearded Parker has a powerful, yet delicate sound, capable of both frenetic high speeds and soulful burners. Bassist Ariel de la Portilla (who has also played with local Williamsburg rock band Sineparade) has a seemingly unlimited palette of sound. Although the 2s and 4s have a drummer, de la Portilla is the group’s timekeeper, whether ferociously plucking away at his upright bass or wistfully bowing it. This rather clever move allows Danish percussionist Mikkel Hess (aka Hess is More) to be more of a colorist, even to the point where the 2s and 4s sound like a trio of saxophonists.
Then there is Monterrey, the sparkplug ringleader of the whole scene. He writes most of the music for the band and plays alto saxophone to Parker’s tenor – his adventurous, liquid lines recalling Coleman and Parker. He also appears to be the “face” of the theatrical aspect of the shows. Barely recognizable under a Mets cap and behind a featureless mask, the bandleader intersperses his solos with throwing flowers to his bandmates and playful asides to the audience. Such Monterrey-isms include: “Be aware of the sophistication of Charlie Parker!” “You can get credit for this; just bring us your paper,” and “This isn’t jazz; it’s a séance!”
That last phrase rings especially true for 2s and 4s shows. Through their own combination of improvisational music, performance art and video installation, the group attempts to commune with the ghosts of the iconoclasts that preceded them. A first-time observer of the jazz troupe never slips into boredom. In addition to the constant whirlwind of music, a video slide show by Manuel de la Portilla presents surrealist illustrations and ordinary photographs with simple twists, like red tints or a second pair of eyes superimposed on someone’s face. Even with one’s own eyes closed, one can still hear the band’s live music occasionally greeted with sound bites of screaming pigs, a man yelling “You suck!” and a gleeful chorus of “Happy Birthday!” Great art alone is simply not enough for Monterrey and his cohorts. They also want to have fun while they’re at it.
Numerous other artists performing at the space have shared this philosophy, including the vibrant Livio Almeida Quintet and world music bands such as Maku, which play a Columbian style known as cumbia. Joshua Gruft, who has been DJing and booking Tuesday nights at Coco 66 since August, says that the purpose of the shows is simple: “We want to give people freedom of expression; just to get different people in a room and watch them go. One of my favorite bands at Coco has been the Almeida Quintet. They met in college from all parts of the world, and probably won’t meet again. But they were great!”
Despite Coco 66’s popularity with the locals, attendance at the shows has been unjustifiably lower than unexpected. Perhaps this is a result of the general decline of popular support for jazz combined with the infamously fickle train service in Greenpoint and Williamsburg.
“It’s hard to get people from Manhattan out here,” admits Gruft. “They’re scared of the G train, but I assure you, it works beautifully.”
But the show will go on. In addition to the 2s and 4s, other groups set to perform at Coco 66 this March include the genre-swinging trio Chives, Japanese saxophonist Ayumi Ishito and a host of comedy shows.
Coco 66 is located at 66 Greenpoint Avenue. Tuesday night shows are free (!) and begin 9-10 PM. For more information, visit ajazzDJparty.tumblr.com. Interested artists can write to Gruft at ajazzDJparty@gmail.com.
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