Greg Abate Quartet
The Puffin Cultural Forum
January 27, 2007
"Bird never played one note of bullshit, Barry Harris once said about Charlie Parker. Harris' salty aphorism came to mind at the conclusion of Greg Abate's incendiary performance at the Puffin Cultural Forum. Although he's a stylistic descendent of Parker, by way of Sonny Stitt, Phil Woods, and Cannonball Adderley, during a five-song set the alto saxophonist rose above the influences and evinced a fervent, individualistic streak. Fronting a tight and youthful ensemble responsive to his every move, Abate integrated exhilarating risk-taking with a reassuringly steady, comprehensible course. And in doing so he produced vigorous, emotionally-rich sounds that radiated joy and energy.
"Buddy's Rendezvous, Abate's composition based on the changes of Benny Carter's "When Lights Are Low, was a straightforward way to begin the set. As the band settled into a medium tempo, the leader played the melody without benefit of amplification. Climbing high on the horn then falling abruptly into the lower register, his solo interspersed angular bebop phrasing and sweet cries. Pianist Drew Pierson, who met Abate for the first time only minutes before the concert, was a perfect foil to the adventurous Abate. Highly organized and assertive in a poised manner, he played off of drummer Carmen Intorre and bassist Matthew Rybicki's strong pocket. Staying in the middle of the keyboard for long stretches, Pierson made an impression by dropping a bulky chord in the midst of sensibly positioned lines.
Intorre's solo introduction kicked off an up-tempo version of Kenny Barron's "Voyage. The percussionist began by going from drum to drum in an abrupt, somewhat halting manner, as if casting out mere pieces of a longer, coherent message. Gradually morphing into straight jazz time, Intorre exhibited an impressive command of the bop drumming vocabulary. Consistently putting ideas together in novel ways, Abate's turn was passionate and exciting. One slurred note was stuck into the middle of a jarring run. High squeals and shrieks coexisted with familiar, repetitive motifs.
Abate began every saxophonist's requisite standard, "Body and Soul, alone. Although you could sense the arrival of a ballad, he was in no hurry to get there. A series of long guttural sounds suddenly careened upwards. When the melody finally appeared, it was as much caressed as played. The instrumentalist's absolute mastery of his horn and material came through as much in his interpretation of the tune as in his heated improvisations. The sharp, biting sounds and blues patterns in the solo that followed were played as if his life depended on it. Next it was Pierson's turn. As Abate cheered him on from the wings, the pianist began a solo in which everything was carefully weighed. When the band broke into double-time, he drilled a longer series of notes before moving to a conventionally melodic climax.
After exchanging the alto for a soprano sax, Abate briefly sketched out his composition, "The Bride of Frankenstein, to the band. Intorre's single shots to the snare and toms were in stark contrast to the wistful tune in three-four time. Spurred by Rybicki's firm walking line, Pierson rapidly began to build up steam, mixing McCoy Tyner-like interludes and some dissonant-sounding chords. As the band came way down in volume, Abate sprayed long streams of notes before finding simpler melodies. The drummer's turn next, Intorre started his solo on brushes, the bass drum responding to every few strokes with a fat, resounding hit. Briskly switching to sticks, he became even more rhythmically complex and expressive, repeating an intricate pattern between the snare and tom-tom, as well as some polyrhythms suggestive of the influence of Elvin Jones.
Abate dug into Dizzy Gillespie's "A Night In Tunisia like he owned it. Once again on alto, he took a bullet train break at the end of the head and without pausing launched a solo. His buzzing phrases burst into flames and then evolved into a snippet of the theme. Later on, a couple of the soloist's choice notes seemed to incite imaginative leaps from the horn. Cool and collected by comparison, Pierson tapped a few notes repeatedly, before moving to long swelling lines and an odd, discordant interlude. Abate's ending cadenza was a brilliant, free-form ramble that somehow managed to cohere.