Saturday, March 7, 2015

Quintets and Snap-Tets

Don't tell me you're surprised I began my evening with hockey.

No, not the actual game (I'm not that far gone), but with a documentary about the former Soviet Union's Red Army hockey team.

Go figure. Despite having been around in the '80s, I remembered very little about the momentous match where the U.S. beat the Soviet team or the era when Soviet players began defecting to this country and playing for the NHL.

Even my sports-loving parents don't bother with hockey.

Told for the most part by the former team captain, Slava Fetisov, it was much more cultural history than sports story, which suited me just fine.

Part Cold War primer (the film begins with a young Ronald Reagan railing about Communism), part USSR political lesson and part Olympic replay, the filmmaker had shaped a compelling look at a period I didn't know nearly enough about.

Because I'm clueless when it comes to hockey, I also learned the difference in how Russians played hockey and how the rest of the world did. And you know what? Even a non-sportsy type like me could recognize that the Russians were the ones doing it right.

Watching footage of the Russian "Ice Brotherhood quintet" who were tops in the world for years was like watching a ballet. It was not about violence, fighting or any of the general unpleasantness commonly associated with hockey.

Like chess, it was a matter of control and the Russians made it a sophisticated passing game, a thoroughly beautiful thing to behold. It's no wonder that their constantly weaving interplay - Slava played defense and was the second highest scorer on the team- produced record numbers of goals and befuddlement on the part of their opponents.

Sadly, it was done at the expense of the players' personal lives; they lived in a sports camp away from their families 11 months of the year and had almost no say in any kind of decision-making. But then, that was the Soviet way. The goal was to breed the best of the best in order to prove that the Soviet way was the superior one.

As always when I come out of a good documentary, I felt curious to learn more about the subject. Wouldn't that be something if I decided to do some research on Russian hockey?

Unfortunately, none of the other six people at the Criterion showed any signs of wanting to discus the movie with me, so I took myself to dinner instead.

821 cafe was completely full except for one bar stool and a favorite bass player - his black shoulder length hair now cut stylishly short -greeted me at the door, hugged me and led me to it.

The guy on the stool next to me was busy reading Chuck Klosterman's "I Wear the Black Hat: Grappling with Villains (Real and Imagined)," a fact which thrilled me since I so infrequently see people reading in restaurants anymore.

Ten years ago we were an entire subset of restaurant-goers, but, alas, no more. Seeing someone reading at the bar is downright noteworthy these days.

Of course his book was all it took for me to speak to him and hear his thoughts on it while I munched through a plate of black bean nachos and he sipped his beer.

He summed it with this nugget: the villain is the one who knows the most but cares the least. Come to think of it, I've known some men like that.

When I left 821, there were people standing on the sidewalk outside (temperature: 25 degrees) waiting for a table. Ditto at Dinamo, two doors down.

Come on, people, we've got too many good restaurants in this town to freeze your patootie off waiting for a seat anywhere.

There was no one waiting outside but it was a mighty full house at Crossroads for the B-Snap-tet pre-release show just about to get started when I arrived. After finding a chair, part of the nearby bench was vacated and I wasted no time moving to a cozy corner of it with a cushion.

Moments later, two guys came to stand beside the bench and I invited them to join me on the bench. The one next to me extended his hand and introduced himself.

Wouldn't you know, this being Richmond and all, it was two musicians I've seen play at the Cover to Cover shows at Hardywood? We were barely two degrees of separation apart.

They were also friends of bass-playing bandleader Brian's (who also plays in C2C shows), so he referred to them as the peanut gallery throughout the night, but I appreciated their musical insights when I had questions.

The guitarist ("I never get tired of Pat Metheny") told me how fun it had been to play the Lindsey Buckingham parts when they'd done "Rumors" while the drummer explained about the grooves and chiseling in the Snap-tet drummer's cymbals and how the reverberations produced what sounded like an incredibly fast shaker ball.

Meanwhile, the Snap-tet (guitar, upright bass, drums, sax) was playing music from their first and upcoming records, songs that ranged from funky to African-influenced, all with serious jazz underpinnings.

My favorite was "26.1," although it had drawn its inspiration from the tragedy of the Boston Marathon. Drummer CJ played the mbira, a thumb piano that resonated throughout the space, creating a sound that conjured up other lands. The drummer next to me was asked to come up and play tambourine for the song.

In many ways, it was the most impressive piece all night, moving and evocative in a way that swept up everyone in the room, even the loud talkers who some of us wanted to smack. Brian said he'd written it for everyone affected by the bombing, but in many ways, that's anyone who goes outside.

After a stellar set, the band closed with "Still Tree," a quieter song he said was the perfect note on which to go home to family, friends or to Sound of Music to see Kings.

So I was going home to none of that, but how many people had been lucky enough to start their Friday night with hockey? Huh, how many?

Sometimes, it's all about your perspective.

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