NYC Jazz Holiday on a Budget
Steve Nelson/Mulgrew Miller Quartet
July 29, 2006
I next set my sights on selecting my NYC supper club experience. I knew from the outset that this was going to be costly but I was hoping to find a show that was within my budget and that would meet my expectations. I headed to Smoke on Broadway at 106th St. as soon as I saw that pianist Mulgrew Miller was there with his trio in a special performance co led by the great vibraphonist Steve Nelson.
Miller is one of the premiere jazz pianists of the last three decades. He has a post-bop style that isn't too harsh with an emphasis on melody. Nelson is one of the finest working vibists of the last two decades and his interplay with Miller was sure to be a winner. Smoke with its fine menu and small setting is the perfect place to hear jazz in that classic club atmosphere. The evening's cover of $25.00 and $10.00 drink minimum would cut into my budget but for the roster and atmosphere I was still better off than in the pricier places in Midtown. Two surprises when I entered Smoke made me know that this was the right choice. Firstly, one of my favorite bassists, Ray "Bulldog Drummond who has lent his silky bass lines to a who's who of jazz, including legends like Art Farmer and Stan Getz, was a last minute addition to the quartet. If that wasn't enough, as I saddled up to the bar, who did I sit next to but audience member pianist Eric Reed. No, I wasn't following him. He just seems to know where the best sessions in town are going to happen.
Drummer Carl Allen, another leader in his own right, rounded out the rhythm section that began the evening with some smooth navigation through somewhat rocky musical terrain. Then as if Drummond saw the way, a simple knock on his bass coalesced the sound and things took off. The songs came together and you lost yourself in the interchange among these great musicians. A chordal strike on the vibes and the quartet was off in another direction, playing off one another and allowing each to alternately lead and follow. Miller found a slow meandering path and the tempo changed while all picked up on his groove. Lightning fast vibe runs blended into a ballad, all the time Drummond keeping an ever steady pace. Miller is such a brilliant melodicist and was so in tune that he and Nelson could engage in quixotic musical interplay that evoked awe and at times laughter from the patrons. Just as quickly a breezy Latin tinged piece was followed by a wonderful vibes blues, that included an impressive bass solo, and the set was over. This quartet in this atmosphere had made time and space irrelevant.
Marty Ehrlich Sextet
Museum of Modern Art's Sculpture Garden
July 30, 2006
My final night, as luck would have it, was a Sunday that featured free jazz in the Museum of Modern Art's Sculpture Garden. Entitled Summergarden 2006, the series alternates classical with jazz every Sunday, this evening's performer was downtown's reedist extraordinaire, Marty Ehrlich. The price was certainly right and it completed my fourth category with money to spare. Ehrlich's latest release, News on the Rail, was to be the featured music performed by his sextet that includes Ehrlich on alto sax and clarinet, James Zollar on trumpet, Howard Johnson on baritone and tuba, James Weidman on piano and melodica and another dream rhythm section of bassist Ben Allison and drummer Allison Miller. The doors open for the concert at 7.00 and it fills up quickly so arriving at 6.30 is advised to guarantee a good spot.
"Enough Enough began the evening as Allison and Miller set up a broad rhythmscape for Ehrlich's alto solo and Weidman's flowing piano lines. Ehrlich is a perfect introduction to the Downtown scene as his music is highly accessible while maintaining complexity and surprising turns. For example, the title cut from the CD had a front line of tuba, melodica, and clarinet but the audience, many of which who were being exposed to Ehrlich's music for the first time, seemed able to relate to the tune's freer sections. Unison hand clapping began "Dance No. 2 before piano, drum and bass joined in and tuba, ctrumpet and alto took over the lead. The rhythm combination of Allison and Miller gelled surprisingly well, given that it was the bassists first time playing this music. Allison's phrasing was impeccable in both purpose and direction and Miller used her entire set to become an equal partner in the proceedings.