Marc Copland / Gary Peacock / Bill Stewart at Birdland, NYC
New York City, New York
March 20, 2008
However much we might wish that jazz, or indeed any art, be devoid of any relationship to economics, the the numerous extra-musical things that go into making a record, from promoting it to setting up a gig, can sometimes conflict with the purest of intentions. This particular event was part of the promotion for pianist Marc Copland's latest release New York Trio Recordings Vol. 2 - Voices (Pirouet Records, 2007), and yet it was advertised by the club as led by bassist Gary Peacock. Furthermore, the drummer was Bill Stewart, who appeared on Copland's previous release Modinha (Pirouet Records, 2006), and not Paul Motian, the drummer on Voices.
On top of all of this, admittedly non-relevant, confusion, the sound at the bar side of Birdland was particularly unbalanced, with Stewart's drums many times overwhelming everything else. As well as he plays on Modinha, Stewart is not Motian, whose music centers on subtlety. At least Stewart's inclusion with much older musicians speaks well of the esteem in which he is held.
Regardless, Copland is a masterfully subtle player whose strengths lie in understatement, harmonic control and coloration, melodic implication and an almost sensuous keyboard touch rather than in pyrotechnics. All of these seemingly self-effacing musical qualities are balanced, however, by an continuously incisive and quick mind combined with a deep and strong will.
The story, as told by Bob Blumenthal in the notes to Haunted Heart And Other Ballads (HatOLOGY, 2002), that Copland was originally a saxophonist and took up piano only at 35 demonstrates both his will to create and the talent to make that creation happen. Self-taught, Copland's piano playing shows that he has a direct mental connection the music, the physical act of playing the instrument a mere detail. That he is forever smiling completes the telling, endearing picture.
It became less surprising that Peacock ended up as the headliner upon consideration of his long, highly acclaimed career. He has played with many pianists, not just Keith Jarrett (twenty-five years) but (besides Copland) Paul Bley and Marilyn Crispell. In each instance, his musical contributions have been distinguished by forceful yet responsive support and counterpoise.
The full house heard a set that was nicely paced, with a mix of well and lesser-known standards and one original. Because Copland is so inventive, standards are actually welcome, as the listener becomes engrossed in how a familiar tune is bent, but never broken, particularly harmonically. Peacock was a full partner, leading as often as following, and taking solos that grew organically out of what had preceded. He is indeed a very physical player, playing in a vertical pattern as his fingers fly up and down, rather than across, the fingerboard. Able to play freely, but then drop into a strong rhythmic role, Peacock is the perfect foil for any pianist who can match the bassist's musical reflexes and imagination.
Each piece became a musical adventure, an extended fantasy, with a dramatic arc that was built expertly by the trio. Copland practically paints with the piano, the sheer lushness of his physical sound, when mixed with his harmonies and their piquant dissonances, washing over the audience. For his part, Peacock took the music to many unexpected places, and there were many knowing smiles during and after each tune.
Copland deserves much wider recognition, as this performance by the trio demonstrated. Perhaps next time he will be the headliner.