I enjoy living in Denver so much that having yet another reason to be here is almost an embarrassment of riches. Convergence playing here on a regular basis is a bonus comparable to icing on the cake, heated car seats, a guitar amplifier you can turn up to 11. There's no question that their regular performances significantly enhance the quality of life around here. For the two or three hundred people who made it to Dazzle Friday night for Convergence's monthly performance, life along the Front Range is a little bit better, just that much sweeter.
Convergence is basically an all-star band with some of the top players in town (and elsewhere) on their respective instruments. It's not a full time gig for anybody: they all have separate lives, other bands, other endeavors. At least half the band spends time teaching at the college and high school level, including the University of Denver, the University of Colorado and Paul Romaine's Conservatory for the Jazz Arts. That's not to say that this is just a jazz jam band, stringing a half dozen solos together and calling it a song. While they leave ample room for soloing, the tunes the band performed Friday night were highly arranged, sophisticated, intricate and generally delightful.
For most songs, the front line played the extended, complex lines in unison. The band's compositions are generally bursting with melodic ideas resulting in an ever changing jazz landscape. Several of their tunes seemed like driving a sports car on a two lane mountain road. In one section, the band would push the car into a series of tight turns to see how fast it would go and still stay on the road. Then the road would open up into a straightaway allowing the band to really put the hammer down. The highway would continue up and down rises, then into more curves. The car hugged the road throughout it all. Their tune "Eb 'n Floe" offered solid support of the metaphor, as the band would repeatedly alternate between dissolving into dissonance, then reassembling in swingsville. And they had fun with this sort of thing. For instance, John Gunther's tenor solo featured not only some classic bebop riffs but some barnyard sounds as well, a brief retro-excursion to the first jazz recording ever, the Original Dixieland Jazz Band's "Livery Stable Blues."
These guys couldn't pull this off if they weren't all virtuosos. Which is simply to say they are. If you need more proofbeyond hearing themthat they can play, here's an extremely abbreviated list of the jazz greats they've collectively played with over the years: Clark Terry, Woody Herman Orchestra, Dizzy Gillespie, Carmen McCrae, Eddie Harris, David Fathead Newman, Randy Brecker, Toshiko Akiyoshi/Lew Tabackin, Eddie Palmieri, John Abercrombie, Joe Williams, Horace Silver, Denver's own Ellyn Rucker, and the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra.
Eric Gunnison on piano was at his McCoy Tynerish best, pounding dissonant chords with his left hand while negotiating frenzied right-hand runs. In fact, the band played Gunnison's composition "Tynerisms" for its first tune of their second set. Not surprisingly, the piece had ample space for Gunnison to pay homage to one of his obvious piano inspirations. Normally, Greg Gisbert occupies the trumpet slot in Convergence, but Friday night, Scott Wendholt sat in. Wendholt is a Denver native who went to New York City, made the jazz scene and recorded several CDs as a leader along with playing jazz all over town in many different contexts. Not surprisingly, he fit right into Convergence, hanging tight with the front line in the complicated ensemble playing and consistently offering fresh and inventive solos when his turn came.
Mark Patterson on the trombone and John Gunther on saxophones each have their own musical personality, resulting in diverse and interesting solos, as the front line took turns stepping up to center stage. Mark Simon's bass playing helped hold everything together (which isn't necessarily easy given all the twists and turns lurking in each tune). A highlight was his tune "57" featuring a cool groove (that is, when individual soloists weren't exploring more open territory). Paul Romaine's drumming continues to be in a class by itself, both sonically and visually. He held to a steady pulse while pulling off a couple dozen polyrhythms at the same time, looking at everything except his drum kit and bouncing all over behind the drums (only sort of staying in the general vicinity of his stool). He also acted as emcee, explaining the various tunes with wit equal parts dry and droll.
Convergence has five albums out, dating back to 1994, the most recent released in 2004. A new CD is in the works for early 2008.
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