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Art Lillard's On Time Trio at Sugarcane, Brooklyn

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Art Lillard's On Time Trio
Sugarcane
Brooklyn, NY
June 24, 2015

Attend jazz performances in a big city like New York long enough, and you're liable to realize how often the genre serves as a background to social activities. By the same token, music which isn't always fully acknowledged can peek its head above the surface with a voice all the more genuine for reaching out from a place of self-reflection. Such was the dynamic at Sugarcane, a happening Brooklyn restaurant serving up Caribbean home cooking and, on this sweltering June evening, the soothing sounds of Art Lillard's On Time Trio. Jostling for a seat amid the Calypso-inspired dance music blaring around its packed diners, it was all one could do to settle in for an evening of finely presented standards and other delights. Drummer and bandleader Lillard has found solid partnership in the abilities of Ron Jackson (on 7-string guitar) and Ratzo Harris (on 6-string electro-bass), and the setting enhanced that partnership all the more. As Jackson laid down the chords of Duke Pearson's "Jeannine," to which Lillard and Harris added their own angles to triangulate the groove, the music might have felt as muggy as the weather, if not for Lillard's sparkling traction.

His bandmates sported a classic touch that made even the timeworn "Summertime" feel relevant. Less so because of any seasonal congruity, and more because of the arc with which the trio navigated its unfolding. Lillard brought loads of swing to the venue with this one, punctuating with a crisp solo. Also appropriate for time and place was Bob Marley's "One Love," of which Ratzo's almost drunken solo caught the breeze with good vibes. This tried and true song danced between Duke Ellington's "Purple Gazelle" and Horace Silver's "Strollin.'" Jackson's surf guitar in the former lent a tropical feeling over prime work from the rhythm section, who in the latter tune's mid-tempo swing gave Jackson even more reason to smile.

The key word of the night was "elasticity," with which Cole Porter's "From This Moment On" was rife. This closing tune proceeded at a fast clip, smooth and sure, with virtuosic turns from all. With structure and clear communication, the band never took its eyes off the prize or its hands out of the pocket. Although conversations went on throughout the performance, none was so seamless at their center. But like the diner who pulled out a cell phone midway through, those who paid attention were paid in return with real soul food.

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