made his leader debut at Birdland (Jul. 14th), easily one of the best piano showcase rooms in New York, there was no doubt he would meet the lofty standard maintained at the club by such fellow pianists as Steve Kuhn and Marc Copland. Having recently recorded with Paul Motian
on bass. As on Play, he led off with "Beginning," an episode of rubato calm and rolling poetic cadences. Motian and Anderson reacted to Kimbrough's color-rich musings with finely honed expansions and contractions of time and phrasing. Motian would hint at tempos even in tempo-less passages, creating the feeling of running in place. If the set seemed to linger on dark, mournful moods and floating meter with Motian's "It Should Have Happened a Long Time Ago" and the traditional "I'm Just a Poor Wayfaring Stranger," this was balanced by Kimbrough's jaunty country blues "Lullabluebye" and his marvelously blocky invention "The Spins," as well as the trio's swinging, loosely spirited readings of "All the Things You Are" and "I Wish I Knew". On the brighter numbers, Kimbrough tended to lay out during Anderson's nimble bass solos, the better to highlight them in every small detail. It was an example of new textural options lurking at every corner, even with a mere three players.
likened the experience to peeing with the door open"you don't have to stare," he joked to an attentive early evening crowd. Indeed, in this setting one is fully exposed, with no external rhythmic or harmonic support. One is also contending with the precedent established by Joe Pass, Lenny Breau and other masters of a particularly demanding micro-genre in jazz. Bernstein rose to the challenge with an enormously satisfying 12-song set. Having recently issued the trio session Monk on Xanadu, he was able to call on a strong selection of the pianist's tunes, translating their dissonant lyricism to guitar with marked imagination and resourcefulness. He opened with "Pannonica," made a medley of "Introspection" into "Light Blue" into "Coming on the Hudson," then circled back to "Ruby My Dear" before closing with the Sinatra staple "Put Your Dreams Away". The time flowed freely on "Autumn in New York" and "Darn That Dream," yet swing was thick in the air during a gritty waltz rendering of "Yesterdays" and bluesy romps on John Lewis' "Django" and Jimmy McHugh's "Don't Blame Me". Here, in his head, Bernstein seemed to maintain an internal band dialogue. Years of working with masters like Melvin Rhyne and Dr. Lonnie Smith will do that. But hearing Bernstein's instrument by itselfevery buzz and burr of steel against woodwas a new pleasure and altogether unique.
The divide between jazz and R&B in its varying forms is narrow and often crossed; Stanley Turrentine to Wilson Pickett to Roland Kirk to Ray Charles are mere stones' throws. But somehow, inexplicably, the riffy, horn-heavy looseness of Sly Stone has been left largely untouched by the other side of the aisle. Which meant Steven Bernstein
could have had an easy job for his Jul. 16th tribute at Castle Clinton, part of a four-night Woodstock recreation. But Bernstein's a showman, a worker, an entertainer and above all a smart arranger and he has too much fun with this kind of thing to go the easy route. Nor was he going to go the easy route by having too much fun. While the songs remained upbeat (if with slow ramps to get there), "Que Sera Sera" as sung by Martha Wainwright was haunting-to-ecstatic and Shilpa Ray's bluesy punk vocals and harmonium on "Everyday People" was more insistently multi-culti than Stone ever managed. Bernstein was lit, snaking Arabesques and hitting backbeats through his nine-piece Millennial Territory Orchestra (archtop guitar and upright bass in a funk band!) with guests Bernie Worrell and Vernon Reid. But the focus was on the vocalists. Sandra St. Victor opened the show by embodying "Stand," but the linchpin was the astounding Dean Bowman. He and Stone are two of the world's very few yodeling funkmen. The two finally got the audience off its feet for the last song, a forceful "Dance to the Music".