LIVE: The John Menegon Quartet @ A Place for Jazz, 10/24/14
Review by J Hunter
Photographs by Rudy Lu
It must be my month for revisiting musical trips to the Berkshires. While introducing his quartet to the swelling crowd at A Place For Jazz, bassist John Menegon told us that he and two of his bandmates – pianist Frank Kimbrough and drummer Matt Wilson – had all worked for the legendary sax player Dewey Redman; it had been my extreme pleasure to watch those same three musicians back a blazing-hot Joe Lovano tribute to Redman at the 2008 Williamstown Jazz Festival. And Redman was a part of this night of divine music, too, if only because he was one of a number of icons who inspired the compositions on Menegon’s 2013 release I Remember You.
Family was inspiring this night, as well. Menegon led off the evening with a hushed, in-the-clear opening to “Devonian Light,” a piece dedicated to Menegon’s son Devon. The sound coming from Menegon’s double bass was so rich, even when played as softly as Menegon was doing. As the rest of the group slid in behind their leader, we found ourselves spinning through dreamy acoustic rubato that was perfect for the Whisperdome’s legendary acoustics. Tineke Postma’s soprano sax was right on the money, playing with the melody as Menegon laid down a deep counter while Kimbrough and Wilson swirled around the perimeter. Wilson was only on brushes, but he was still the bespectacled beast we’ve come to know and revere, while Kimbrough’s Bill Evans-level sense of touch added brilliant colors to Menegon’s towering tapestry.
Things got marginally simpler after that, but the quality level stayed the same. Menegon pulled out the rolling “Blues for David ‘Fathead’ Newman,” which had Postma switch to alto and let Kimbrough show that he likes Monk as much as he likes Evans. Kimbrough’s lines were just off-kilter enough to make the music that much more delicious, and Wilson bebopped into a rising-and-falling solo he controlled like a show dog on a leash. “Pochismo” had enough of a Latin flavor to take the jumping piece to the next level, while the Horace Silver homage “Hi Ho Silver” finished off the first set with a tasty ball of fun that let Kimbrough do his own tribute to Silver without imitating him.
Kimbrough may, indeed, be the second coming of Bill Evans, but Kimbrough has one thing Evans never had: A little bit of Elvis. As massive as Kimbrough’s technical prowess is, it’s when he goes beyond the technical and into the visceral that makes your inner child prodigy jump for joy. His solos on the grooving “Late Night” and the wildly cascading “Dewey Knew” (Menegon’s Technicolor tribute to his former leader) left you completely agog. Mind you, if Kimbrough hadn’t made your jaw drop, Wilson would have gotten it on the floor in short order. A ball of blinding energy who was calling out encouragement to his partners all evening, it didn’t take much for him to put his stamp on a piece. During the dizzying intro to Ornette Coleman’s “Latin Genetics,” Wilson held a drum in his hands and strummed its underside strings like a guitar.
Postma may not have the resume of her compatriots, but the former Teri Lynne Carrington sideperson has Grade A chops and a sensational lyrical sense. Fighting through sound problems that dogged the Netherlands native until the start of the second set, Postma was eminently comfortable whether honking the blues on “‘Fathead’” or sending fusillades rocketing to the sky on “Dewey.” Vocalist Teri Roiger – aka Mrs. John Menegon – was also in attendance, and joined the band for one number in each of the evening’s first two sets: A knockout rendition of Charlie Haden’s “First Song” (from Dear Abbey, Roiger’s sublime 2013 tribute to iconic vocalist Abbey Lincoln) and a suitably dancing rundown of Menegon’s “New Ditty.” On the latter tune, Roiger scatted with Postma on the rideout, earning howls of approval from the crowd.
It’s become a cliché to say that something is a “labor of love,” but it’s clear that Menegon put a ton of love into his personal tributes to Newman, Redman and drummer Paul Motian. But all of that emotion was jam packed into “I Remember You,” the Johnny Mercer tune that titles Menegon’s disc and closed out this night. I’ll be honest: I am SO BURNED OUT on the “Great American Songbook,” and this specific piece tends to make me hide under the nearest building. That said, the level of loss and longing Menegon and his partners put into their haunting rendition was knuckle-bitingly beautiful, winning the quartet their second standing ovation. A few words with veteran observers of this series confirmed my suspicions: Not only was this show the best of the current series, but it was one that will be talked about for many years to come.
More of Rudy Lu’s photographs at Rudy Lu Photos