Eric Sbar Shows Off a niceJaquet
“ All three ensembles clearly rehearsed extensively to achieve a cohesion that seemed as spontaneous as the improvisations ”
Where Santa Monica Blvd falls dead at Sunsets doorstep, pfMentum held a cd release party for Eric Sbar and niceJaquet’s Cactus at the 4016 Gallery. Anyone looking for sanctuary from the cold December’s night kept walking past the bare concrete floor and walls of the gallery, with its rounded concave gray flake and peeling paint ceiling. Musicians blew on their hands, and stood before tiny floor heaters. Sbar wrote and performed an impressive array of music with three different ensembles. Despite some dalliance with trombone, Sbar’s main horn remains the euphonium, a tenor tuba. In his hands the horn comes in from the brass band, and becomes an agent of soul, emotion, and inspiration.
With the well-attended affair in full swing, Sbar began a somber solo near the door of the adjoining gallery. Across the room, Jennifer Jester began playing counterpoint to Sbar’s line on euphonium. Near the front door, pfMentum’s CEO, Jeff Kaiser, played a third variation on flugelhorn, and in the adjoining gallery Martin Loyato completed the quartet on flugelhorn. Ritualistically, the four walked slowly toward the stage while playing the deeper ranges of their horns. Sbar and Jester fell into a harmonized melody that the flugelhorns emulated.
After that reverent fanfare, the second band of the evening assembled. Multi reedist Cory Wright successfully steered a small crowd of winds through Sbar’s treacherous straits. 6-string bass ace Steuart Liebig exerted his melodic and rhythmic grace, locked tightly into the exuberance of drummer Corey Fogel. Even with the morguish chill of the night, Fogel created his own heat playing in barefeet, t-shirt, and jeans. Whenever possible, Tim Hatfield blew fire from his tenor sax.
With Sbar on trombone, and Wright on alto, the front line launched a jaunty arrangement seemingly stretched when the Fogel and Liebig joined polyrhythmic. The horns slid out of precision into freedom. Hatfield took a meaty turn on tenor. Liebig’s great ear allowed him to work off Hatfield’s invention. Fogel kept it steady for Liebig to unleash the beast and display his range. Wright and Sbar conversed sans band. Eventually, Fogel hit short bursts, each impact matched by Liebig. Hatfield recombined with Sbar and Wright, and the ensemble rushed into the coda deftly hitting rests.
Wright’s solo clarinet wound through the initial measures of “Abby and the Monk.” Sbar answered on euphonium and Liebig picked up the theme. Fogel entered, Sbar dropped out, and Wright led the trio. With Liebig and Fogel solid, the horns improvised over the increasingly funky beat. Hatfield blew gold again. The next piece found Wright on baritone. Small sounds set the mood, with Liebig tapping small clips attached to his strings. The three horns sustained low notes, and Sbar finessed a rich toned meditation that became acapella. Wright resumed exploring the ponderous ballad with Sbar. The ensemble returned and Wright continued his slow sad solo. Sbar on trombone and Hatfield played support, while Fogel kept it light with a brush and a mallet.
After intermission, a variation on the niceJaquet band took over. Only Jason Mears on alto and Ivan Johnson on bass showed up from the original session. Wright stayed on flute and clarinet, Jessica Catron played cello, TJ Troy hit percussion, and Jonathan Stehney played bassoon. “Gotcha” rocked harder than the recorded version, with the percussionists slamming and Mears flying on alto. As the structure evaporated, Sbar soloed over Catron and Johnson’s bowing, both drummers used hand percussion, and right on time everyone snapped back to the opening riff.
For the next improvised piece, Wright and Johnson created a darkly serious atmosphere. Mears played multiphonics, Catron runs, and Stehney pops. Fogel scraped his cymbals before an extended use of silence by the band. Sbar blew toneless air through his horn, occasionally poking the quiet, percussion used light gongs and vibes. On “Bubba Lou,” Wright played the sing song flute, and Johnson pulled an impressively dexterous solo. Returning to the airy theme, Stehney, Mears, and Wright read through some tough turns then the ensemble rose in improvisation. Wright’s flute pulled everyone back for the ending.
Finally, the beautiful “Chorale” ended the concert. A spacious seeming improvised opening coalesced into a rolling figure that allowed room for a warm Sbar solo and duet with Stehney. Jason joined the round and with fullness of the bowed bass and cello, the evening came to satisfying conclusion with a thunderous ovation.