The Respect Sextet opens this crack live document with a good five minutes of schizoid and scatterbrained dissonance called “3 on 2”, but it’s a pump fake. What starts as a quizzical maelstrom slowly takes shape like the T-1000, liquid parts dribbling in from all sides, colors being added like you’re clicking around in Photoshop, shells slowly being defined. Somewhere the drum comes in, going from random bang-splashing into a judiciously formed skiffle, a theme pops out and before you know it, the damned thing has a Coltraney shape where before there was smoke, air and the unmistakable vibe of six brainy kids knowingly smirking at each other.
The New York-based outfit the Respect Sextet, formed in Rochestser, NY’s Eastman School of Music but sounding not much like it, comprises Josh Rutner on reeds, Eli Asher on trumpet, James Hirschfeld on trombone, Ted Poor on drums and Red Wierenga on piano; this live document also adds guest bassist Matt Clohesy. Throughout its brief but lively history, Respect has prided itself on both nominal alignment (their previous records: Respect, Respectacle, Respookt, and finally their official 2003 studio debut The Full Respect) and their ability to handle just about anything thrown at them (including, according to their PR stuff, Bulgarian tunes, and if you’ve ever attempted to get a handle on Bulgarian jazz you know how tough that can be).
In fact, The Full Respect, boasted a 24-second riff on the Mentos theme song that was multitracked almost as much as that last Madonna record, for anyone who thought that the words “free jazz” automatically precluded any sense of comedy (it also, for good measure, included the judicious employment of a squeaky squeeze toy). Jazz not being a genre particularly known for its zany clown characters or artful parodists, such unabashed tomfoolery could become cause for self-conscious head-scratching, but here it comes off as perfectly endearing.
There’s little pop culture goofiness on Respect in You, a live document of a May 2004 gig recorded in their hometown. And there’s no kids’ toys or klezmer either, come to think of it. But that it lacks the kitchen-sink bizarroness of their studio work makes it their most accessible effort to date, as well as, ironically, the best statement of that versatility. The Respect Sextet is equally comfortable in the worlds of hard bop, swing, traditional jazz and its free cousin. But in listening to the remaining 11 minutes of Fred Anderson’s “3 on 2”, and “Nation’s Capital”, (where Asher takes turns dribbling descending trumpet riffs all over his peers before the band works up a clanky polyrhythm with an undeniable funk to it), this is a sly little elf of an outfit that lives for getting in there and screwing around with the machine. There’s dizzy chaos in there, but there’s also the unmistakable sound of smart design and a sense of history. And for that they deserve their share of… hold on, there’s a word I’m looking for here.