Cleveland Jazz Project at Nighttown
Cleveland Heights, Ohio
January 3, 2009
It's always refreshing and exciting to see young musicians eager to stretch their wings. Especially young jazz musicians in Cleveland. While there were times during the Cleveland Jazz Project's show January 3 at Nighttown when things didn't quite work, when the dueling saxophones of Nathan Davis and Wenzl McGowen tripped over one another, it never lessened CJP's headlong charge. A regression to safe bop covers was never in the playbook.
Featuring several originals along with the little-explored rock numbers "Packt Like Sardines in a Crushd Tin Box" by Radiohead and Pink Floyd's "Great Gig in the Sky," with the Jimmy Heath nugget "Ginger Bread Boy" thrown in for good measure, CJP displayed a musical urgency that escaped even from the group's slower, more somber pieces. The tenor sax of McGowen, one of two non-Clevelanders on board for the evening (the other being bassist Nick Jozwiak), screamed hoarse into its upper register and boomed scratchy lows. Beside him, Davis' alto sax ran dizzying scale-climbing exercises broken by mad, release-hungry howls. Personal statements of a talented student searching for the ideal way to express himself, to be surebut ones just as valid, no doubt, for any audience members feeling the personal or societal press of modern life. A ridiculously long, single-note screech launched by Davis late in the first set turned even the heads of those theretofore more engrossed in their conversations than the music around them (a problem, sadly, that plagues too many Nighttown shows).
Bassist Jozwiak wriggled his body into curves befitting the f-hole carvings of his instrument. The sustained bends, plentiful slides and cut-note pops were especially effective on his solo introducing the Floyd tune. Pianist Jacob Bergson waited until the encore of the late set to unleash his best solo. Or, maybe it's better to say, he built up to that solo throughout the evening, making us in the audience wait. Pounding out chordal blocks that stepped into and over more fluid, lighter runs of bop, the solo brought to mind the line, dot and solid-color-block paintings of Joan Miro. Drummer James Muschler was given limited space to shine, but provided nice accents to the efforts of his compatriots. And he took full advantage of the duet with his former teacher and famed Cleveland percussionist/drummer Jamey Haddad, roughing out with his mentor an appropriate tin and drum clatter that led into Radiohead's "Sardines."
There's some question surrounding the life expectancy of CJP, their gigs already sporadic due to the college studies that separate the group's members. Still, all but one of the musicians that hit the bandstand on this night are students of The New School in New York City (Davis being the exception), so there's reason to believe these guys will be playing and forming new ideas togetherin some combinationfor some time yet to come. (In fact, a separate NYC-based band made up of just the New Schoolers is in the works.) However you find them, these are seasoned, exciting musicians worth catching at any time.