All About Jazz: The web's most comprehensive jazz resource

Serving jazz worldwide since 1995
All About Jazz: The web's most comprehensive jazz resource

Live Reviews

Rick Lawn's Power of Ten at Chris' Jazz Cafe

Rick Lawn's Power of Ten at Chris' Jazz Cafe
By Published: February 9, 2014
Power of Ten
Rick Lawn, Musical Director
Chris' Jazz Café
Philadelphia, PA
February 4, 2014

The Power of Ten is a cracker-jack ensemble of some of the best Philadelphia-based musicians. Powered by its founder and leader, Rick Lawn
Rick Lawn
Rick Lawn
b.1949
sax, tenor
, their first and only CD, Earth Tones (Self-produced, 2011) impressed this reviewer sufficiently that he seized the opportunity to hear them live at the club everybody knows simply as "Chris" on a "wintry mix" evening, a great way to warm up and catch some swinging vibrations. The personnel varied somewhat from the regular crew, with vibraphonist Tony Miceli
Tony Miceli
Tony Miceli
b.1960
vibraphone
away on tour, ace trumpeter Joe Mosello sitting in for Matt Gallagher, and Dan Monaghan
Dan Monaghan
Dan Monaghan

drums
subbing for Erik Johnson on drums. Monaghan's light and flowing approach gave the whole group an extra liveliness that balanced out the "heavy lifting" of Lawn's baritone saxophone, Chris Farr
Chris Farr
Chris Farr

sax, tenor
's mindfully moody (reference to James Moody
James Moody
James Moody
1925 - 2010
reeds
intended) soprano and tenor choruses, and bassist Kevin McConnell's absolutism. Lawn provided all the arrangements, which were deeper-throated than the ones on the album, so the whole mix had a more gritty sound yet with a relentless momentum.

Although Lawn compares his arranging style to inspirations such as Gil Evans
Gil Evans
Gil Evans
1912 - 1988
composer/conductor
, the Gerry Mulligan
Gerry Mulligan
Gerry Mulligan
1927 - 1996
sax, baritone
Big Band, and the Maria Schneider
Maria Schneider
Maria Schneider

band/orchestra
Orchestra, an historical comparison evoked by this particular gig were the so-called "territory bands" that made their way around the midwest and southwest in the 1920s-40s, like Walter Page
Walter Page
Walter Page
1900 - 1957
bass, acoustic
's Blue Devils, with many musicians like Lester Young
Lester Young
Lester Young
1909 - 1959
saxophone
ending up in Kansas City and ultimately participating in the birth of swing and bebop. On this particular evening, the group seemed to be groping for ideas that would shift the music around, just as those seminal bands did during a time when they were trying to find their footing. Some of the best jazz comes out of uncertainty, which gives the music extra spice.

The set began with a Rick Lawn original (all the band's arrangements are his, but not all the tunes), "Never Too Late," a musical reflection on the composer's return to his Philadelphia roots after a long stint in the west. Moving through blues and self-doubting confusion, it ends with a feeling of uplift and hope vaguely akin to an African American gospel song. Guitarist Mike Kennedy
Mike Kennedy
Mike Kennedy
b.1968
guitar
took it home with an earthy solo that was very different from his usual lyricism.

Lawn next told the audience that the tune "Homage" was composed by his late beloved friend and cohort, saxophonist Gerry Niewood
Gerry Niewood
Gerry Niewood
1943 - 2009
saxophone
, who died in the horrific 2009 plane crash near Buffalo, NY, where he was going to play a concert with Chuck Mangione
Chuck Mangione
Chuck Mangione
b.1940
flugelhorn
. The tune, dedicated to John Coltrane
John Coltrane
John Coltrane
1926 - 1967
saxophone
, allows Lawn as arranger to play around with intervallic structures the way that Trane did in "Giant Steps." It's a brilliant arrangement that captures something of Trane's abrupt changes and "sheets of sound," with Farr on tenor sax, and Randy Kapralick on trombone almost nailing themselves to the cross with their movements in and out of the chord changes.

"Room 509," a Lawn original oddly named after a rehearsal room, could be called a "musical joke" in the manner of the humor conjured up by Haydn and Mozart (and also trumpeter Clark Terry
Clark Terry
Clark Terry
b.1920
trumpet
!) At least Tom Lawton
Tom Lawton
Tom Lawton

piano
on piano, and Farr again on tenor sax, seemed to take it that way, with relaxed improvisations that contrasted with the grief implied in "Homage."

"Chasing After Dreams" is a scaled-down big band chart, a ballad from Lawn's suite entitled "Mirrors: Four Reflections in Jazz and Dance." Here, the laconic sense of motion was gracefully supported by Monaghan's held-back drumming and Farr's extended and reflective tenor sax solo.

There seems to be a current trend towards jazz revivals of rock and Beatles tunes. Vibraphonist Tony Miceli's absence was palpably felt on Lawn's version of Paul McCartney
Paul McCartney
Paul McCartney
b.1942
composer/conductor
's "With a Little Help from My Friends." Miceli, whose musical roots were layed down in the rock'n'roll and acid rock 1970s, has performed unique jazz interpretations of Beatles and rock tunes first with vocalist Meg Clifton
Meg Clifton
Meg Clifton

vocalist
, and more recently Paul Jost
Paul Jost
Paul Jost

vocalist
. In Miceli's absence, Ron Kerber's magnificent alto saxophone solo gave a little help to the whole band, lifting it into heavenly spheres, a feat that this remarkable reed player has accomplished more than once. Kerber stunningly made us wonder if the Archangel Gabriel played saxophone rather than trumpet! Kerber, who is principal reed player with the Philly Pops, is an under-recognized wonder who belongs in the top echelon of music makers.


comments powered by Disqus