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Live Reviews

Earshot Aural Snapshots: 2006 Earshot Jazz Festival, Seattle, October 27-30

By Published: December 15, 2006

El'Zabar began the second set unaccompanied, playing end-blown wooden flute. The piece was a feature for vocals and flute, "...warm and gentle, spiritually divine." A threnody for Malachi Favors Maghostut, it was pacific, hypnotic, and dolorous at times yet uplifting. "A music so pure, like no other you'll find...ancient to the future," sang El'Zabar. "...a rare being of the highest mind...MAL-a-chi FA-vors..."

Moving to the trap set, El'Zabar kicked off "Contrary Motion," another smoking free- bop romp. The interplay between Bang and Bluiett on this barnburner was ineffable if not incredible. Let's hope "they" don't make having this much fun illegal.

It was back to earth, drum and ankle bells, for the concert closer. "I think that good times are ahead," said El'Zabar, "Sam Cooke said 'A Change Is Gonna Come.'" There was more pizzicato violin and Bluiett shaking oleaginous overtones from his horn in a wild ride of a solo as this soul train highballed ahead. "If you believe in the spirit...If you believe with your heart and soul." The musicians encouraged us to clap along, and the ride ended with a "good times ahead" chant done in call-and-response with the audience, the band wending their way backstage.

The rhythmic clapping morphed into ecstatic extended applause. There are standing ovations and there are Standing Ovations; this was the latter, boldface in a big way. The encore had El'Zabar back on thumb piano and Bluiett staying primarily in the baritone's lower register in a house-rocking rave-up. There was an extraordinary hocketing thumb piano segment of fervent intensity before El'Zabar brought the dynamics back down, and then the four musicians interacted like an African drum choir, Bang tapping the strings with his bow, Ben Israel tapping the bass strings with his left hand and Bluiett keying with his left hand without blowing air through the horn.

Standing Ovation number two brought El'Zabar back for a funny, rhythmically ingenious, spirit-deep solo voice scat-de-dat tour de force accompanied by the audience. "Humanity is like the cloth, and your music, your words, are like the needle and thread that you use to bring people together," as Salif Keita from Mali said.

Andrew Hill Quintet
The Triple Door
Monday, October 30 (7:00 p.m. show)

If the Ritual Trio show was a full-course soul-food dinner, this one was a tantalizing appetizer. With trumpeter Charles Tolliver, Marty Ehrlich on alto saxophone, clarinet and bass clarinet, bassist John Hebert and drummer Eric McPherson, sui generis pianist-composer Hill remains one of the most intriguing conceptualizers in the music.

The second piece played had a very lyrical piano intro and a slow ballad feel, with a bass line moving in a second, faster contrary motion. Eventually the drums layered in yet another contrary motion. There was a pithy alto saxophone solo and a white-hot trumpet solo, Tolliver making superb use of the multiple rhythmic layers of Hill's composition in a crisp, clean, crystal clear torrent of interesting ideas brought to fruition. Hill's solo was methodical, slow to develop, dark and gently dissonant. He has a truly unique sound and style all his own; once you've heard his playing and compositions, you'll never mistake him for anyone else.

The third (and final!) piece had something of an Asian feeling to the melody. It reminded me of a darker, duskier "Sunshowers" (a Kenny Barron tune). Tolliver took another excellent solo. A major force in the 1970s, the trumpeter was pretty much flying under the radar through most of the 1980s and 1990s, and it's good to see him back in a relatively high-profile gig; he's one of the finest players of his generation.

Polite applause and no encore ended this approximately hour-long set. I wasn't able to hang out for two hours waiting for the ten o'clock set. As a long-time Andrew Hill fan, I have to say that I was a bit disappointed.

Earshot should consider booking more concerts into On the Boards and Town Hall in my opinion. Don't get me wrong. The Triple Door has fine acoustics, a pleasant atmosphere and friendly, unobtrusive service. But one set of three long pieces seems a tad stingy. And hearing the folks behind me carry on a conversation during the set like they were sitting at their kitchen table isn't my idea of respect for the musicians. I'd be interested in the musicians' take on their experience.

In Arthur Taylor's Notes and Tones, Tolliver responded to a question about whether he prefers concerts or clubs as follows: "Well, I much prefer concerts today, because people come knowing that they've got to pay attention. They're going to a concert, they're going to be seated and they are there to listen to what's going on..."

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