gathered a host of friends and treated Northeast Ohioans to a rare performance of his The Way of the Sly Man (Being Time, 2010). The piece, based on the ideas of 20th-century spiritualist G. I. Gurdjieffmixing jazz with Middle Eastern, Indian and African music plus Gurdjieff's own musical ideashadn't been performed live since premiering in three local venues over a weekend in October, 2009 and it certainly deserves a wider airing. Here, it served as an energetic, intellectual and inspiring kickoff to the fest's ruby anniversary, an affair that also featured the Yellowjackets
tribute. They tackled "The Masquerade Is Over" from that set, plus "Fever," the song Peggy Lee made famous in the late 1950s, and "Gypsy In My Soul." Eller's full, easy vocal style, replete with effortless dynamic lift, coupled nicely with the featured instrumentalist on each song: twining thrillingly with Howie Smith
and drummer Eddie Davisa chance to shine with heady, often effects-laden, zest.
The Way of the Sly Man began after a brief intermission. Eller introduced the first movement, "The Way of the Fakir," as she would subsequent movements and the parts therein, with spoken-word glimpses into Gurdjieff's thought. These explanatory notes perhaps tempered the force of the piece moving forward uninterrupted, but they did successfully set the movements to their philosophical underpinnings. While the first part of "Fakir," "The Search (Seekers of the Truth)," opened on the drone of Schantz's harmonium and gentle brush from percussionist Jamey Haddad
's large, broom-like implements, Smith wasted little time in driving his soprano sax into mad, extended exclamations well at home with terrified horses. It was an urgent departure from the recording, and it carried over into trombonist Chris Anderson
's own rather desperate warbling on "The Law of the Three (Dervish Dance)"the pair fashioning something of a sonic Guernica. Anderson shone later on "Identifyin' (Blues for G)," which he opened alone with a growling antagonism that soon coupled with more positive, self-affirming tonesthe duality continuing throughout the piece as an intriguing battle with self.
The absence of guitarist Bob Fraser and pianist Dan Wall
, who played on the recording and original performances, seemed to inspire Morgan into re-crafting. He had vibraphonist Ron Busch open "Harmonious Development" in Fraser's stead, and Haddad (with a jangling frame hand drum) fill in for Wall on the intro to the closing "Esoteric Circle." Both supplied nice, re-characterizations of their associated pieces. And this night, guitarist Anthony and pianist Leaman each etched new, individualist wrinkles to the overall compositionfitting, it would seem, to the Gurdjieff ethic, and, certainly, to the ethic of jazz and live performance in general. With any luck, music fans in Northeast Ohio andhopefullybeyond will be gifted with additional readings of Sly Mantruly one the new century's great compositions for large ensemble.