Last Friday night, A Place For Jazz presented the fourth of their five annual fall concerts in the First Unitarian Society Whisperdome in Schenectady, and this time there was a twist – a double-bill of trios sharing the same bassist and drummer.
First up was jazz pianist and composer Bruce Barth, playing an impassioned mix of originals and standards. He swung hard by putting his whole upper body into action, coaxing every note needed and more out of the grand piano. One minute he was leaning into the keys, head down and wearing a grimace, and in the next he was leaning back, eyes closed in reverie.
Embracing his upright bass, Schenectady native Gregg August’s fingers nimbly ran up and down the lumbering instrument’s fret board, while drummer Rudy Royston switched between brushes and sticks keeping the beat restrained, but Swiss time-piece accurate. Sheet music was sprawled out on music stands and across the piano. “Blues in F,” “Afternoon in Lleida,” and “Why Not,” among other playful tunes, bounced around the Whisperdome, enthralling the audience.
After intermission, it was as if a whole new band came back for the second set. Gone were the music stands. The piano bench was vacant. And the rhythm section from the first set – August and Royston – seemed poised and ready for anything.
Tenor saxophonist JD Allen was there to blow that night, and blow he did. The boundaries between compositions disappeared while a collective stream of consciousness appeared driving the three musicians to push the musical envelope dynamically, lyrically and rhythmically.
Allen’s horn darted around August’s driving bass and Royston’s drum attack. All three men listened acutely to each other’s changing rhythmic lines and shot intermittent glances to one another, anticipating and adjusting for whatever was coming next.
Somewhere in the middle of this magnificent set of balls-to-the-walls improvisation the familiar lines of the jazz chestnut “Stardust” sounded out into the room. It was like being greeted like an old friend with warm applause. Yes, the audience knew that one for sure. But it may have been the only one they knew, as the music churned on.
Of course, if Allen had been a different kind of sax player doing the same old time-tested jazz standards, the brilliant and skillful improvisational talents of August and Royston might never have been heard. After all, what can you do with “Green Dolphin Street” that hasn’t been done a thousand times before?
By the end of their set, JD Allen and company had captured what jazz was really all about: creation and improvisation.
A Place for Jazz wraps up its fall 2010 season on concerts at 8pm on Friday, November 5 with a performance by the Hot Club of Detroit at the First Unitarian Society Whisperdome. Tix are $15; students $7; children under 12 free.
Review and photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk
Excerpt from Michael Hochanadel’s review at The Daily Gazette: “Subtle, strong and swinging behind Barth, August and Royston then flowed right into Allen’s very different musical world of fiery free jazz: assertive, acerbic and often arid; spiky and challenging.”
NOTE: Bruce Barth is back in the spotlight again as a member of the Luis Bonilla Quintet, celebrating the release of their new CD, “Twilight,” at 7:30pm Saturday at the Greenville High School Auditorium in Greenville. Tix are $10; seniors $7; students $5. (More details here)