Dmitri Kolesnik, bassist and composer, came from Russia (St. Petersburg) to the United States in 1991. Since studying with bass legend Ron Carter, Kolesnik has been leading small groups in New York. He has also made several tours to Russia, including an appearance at the Moscow International Jazz Festival. On a mid- summer Friday night in New York, he brought his thoughtful compositions along with his ensemble to Cleopatra's Needle.
Kolesnik frequently plays with his five-piece band The Corners Five (including prominent tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander), but tonight it was a quartet: Kolesnik, Grant Stewart tenor sax, Japanese pianist Mamiko Watanabe piano, and Oakland (Calif) native Willard Dyson at the drums. Sheet music stood on the music stands, even for the drummer, so clearly some involving music was about to be served up at Cleopatra's Needle tonight!
A centerpiece of the first set was was "Blues For RC," a tribute to Kolesnik's teacher Ron Carter. A mixture of bass bends and harmonics carried the blues groove through to its conclusion. The band was superlative, Watanabe displaying a brilliant touch at the piano, her playing sometimes classical in its expression. A graduate of the Berklee School of Music, she lists Art Tatum as her biggest idol ("I love Art Tatum," she says). Of his music she says simply, "It's classical." Having heard a little known but miraculous Tatum "air shot" recording of five masterful tracks from a 1934 Toledo, Ohio radio broadcast (performances that appear to travel well beyond jazz), this writer can only agree. Watanabe also lists Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea as important influences.
Saxophonist Stuart is a fluid player, and an expert "Parkerophile" as well: a curling "Steeplechase" (a sometimes overlooked composition from Parker's run of 1947-48 masterpieces) cropped up later, in the second set. Drummer Willard Dyson was ever powerful.
Set two began with "Five Corners," the title track of Kolesnik's second album (Challenge Records, 2007). Stewart took the first solo, his trusty tenor looking a little battered, the larger keys clearly displaying the aura of antiquity. But the sound from the bell was of a different nature, alive and modern. He wore a suit jacket, black shirt, and jeans. Both Kolesnik and Dyson wore colorful shirts.
The musicians were reading carefully, given the complex sectional nature of some of the music. There was a strong piano solo; then all slowed for the extended bass solo from Kolesnik, after which he announced the tune was dedicated to St. Petersburg. The next number was "Visionary Hopes," a melodic and carefully structured piece. Kolesnik's solo was "stuttering," like rain on a tin roof. The final note from the bass was the dominant, on a quiet finish. This was similar to the atypical end of the previous tune, where the bass ended on a minor third rather than the expected tonic note.
The third tune of the set saw a more driving bass from Kolesnik. At the piano, Watanabe seemed to smile as her quick fingers played another showpiece solo. Stewart followed with a sustained, fast 32nd-note passage, which was followed by a tight unison between sax and bass. The drums assumed thundering dimensions towards the end of the tune. Kolesnik's "Go To Hollywood" (which saw big applause for Stewart), and Charlie Parker's "Steeplechase" ended off the set.
During the first break, Kolesnik spoke about the history of jazz bass. Duke Ellington's early 1940s discovery (and the father of modern jazz bass) Jimmy Blanton was "the best." He started "a whole different approach to the bass." Of the few duo tracks Blanton recorded with Ellington, Kolesnik says "(There) you can really hear him." (An example is the famous "Pitter Panther Patter"). Growing up in Russia, Kolesnik listened to his father's records: Ella Fitzgerald, Oscar Petersen and Cannonball Adderley (of Adderley's albums, Kolesnik lists in particular the Live in San Francisco album (Riverside, 1959). Kolesnik was not at first formally trained in musical notation. He began by inventing his own language for writing down the notes: "Doing it is the best way (to learn)," he says. Kolesnik has a catchy composition called "Russian Caravan" (not played on this night) that he says describes the long tradition of Russians coming to America. He is one of the more recent!
The third set of the night began with Johnny Mercer's "I Remember You" (another Parker recording, from one of his last great quartet dates in 1952)an excellent way to begin a club set. Stewart is a great ambassador for these tunes. (He was also very good on the standard "You Go To My Head," in the second set.) Kolesnik began his solo by stating the melody, then expanding. A series of fast triplets near the top of the neck of the bass perhaps showed the tutelage of Ron Carter. After the leader's solo, the band bounced back strongly: there was applause after each section.
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