Yonatan Gat’s Improv Thrills in the Round at Mercury Lounge

January 19th, 2016

Yonatan Gat – Mercury Lounge – January 15, 2016

There’s a funny sort of energy that goes through a crowd before a Yonatan Gat set. The audience is into two distinct camps—those who have seen him before and those who have not. People in the former group know exactly what they’re getting into and eagerly await an upcoming opportunity to see the guitarist and his trio do their thing. Those in the latter group were easy to pick out on Friday night at Mercury Lounge, looking on somewhat befuddled as the musicians cleared the center of the floor and set up their instruments. When the lights went down, though, the neophytes joined the veterans in collective amazement almost as soon as the music began.

Gat’s set involves a keen relationship among musicians, music and audience. Performing in the center of the Merc, the trio was like an inverted weather system, a tropical depression radiating bands of alternating low and high pressure through the club, totally immersing the crowd. They opened in an explosion, part instrumental metal jam, part multiethnic fairytale guitar, bass and drums generating impossible rhythms and intricate melodies at a rate that often just beyond comprehension. The set comprised of only three or four pieces, but each was merely a suggestion, as Gat’s guitar playing—constantly balancing endorphin and adrenaline—led the group through various levels of improvisation. Many times during Friday’s set things would get so far flung, skipping over continents with furious speed, only to snap back to something simple, elegant and beautiful.

The in-the-round setup is essential to the show, the square room transformed into a circle, a living, dancing, raging metaphor. Everyone watched the trio performing but, looking through the band, saw the same Mercury Lounge crowd they were a part of, seeing themselves mirrored in their bobbing heads and somewhat awestruck expressions. The final component of the experience is the light “show”: three desk lamps, one for each musician, red, green and blue—the trio a living RGB pixel. Each guy turned on and off his light during moments when he stopped/started playing to allow the others to take a moment in duo. The set-closing jam had Gat in blue alone as he noodled his way into a cycling riff, drummer Gal Lazer in red joining in, slowly at first and then picking up speed with each iteration until bassist Sergio Sayeg, illuminated in green, finally hopped in building, building, building to an ecstatic peak shared communally, everybody in the audience now completely as one. —A. Stein | @Neddyo