Bobby Zankel and Friends at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

Victor L. Schermer BY

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Bobby Zankel and Friends
Philadelphia Museum of Art
Art After 5
Philadelphia, PA
June 24, 2016

Art After 5 is a long standing concert series held in the Great Hall of the Philadelphia Art Museum featuring local and international jazz and other musicians, often with the intention of breaking new ground. A diverse audience strolled the art exhibits and then settled into the music along with fine dining and beverages. It was like a Main Line indoor picnic. On this balmy early summer evening, a large and relaxed audience filled the stairs of the Great Hall to hear Bobby Zankel, some of his musicians from the Warriors of the Wonderful Sound, and distinguished guest pianist Hans Ludemann play one of the latter's compositions and several Zankel standards. There was plenty for the audience to enjoy and some startling virtuosity as well.

Ludemann is a revered German pianist who has seen and done it all in his career and is currently a visiting professor of music at Swarthmore College. He and Zankel formed a musical friendship and have been jamming duets together, and Zankel brought him in to charge up this gig with Ludemann's individualistic percussive style, hypermodern blues approach, persistent rhythmic pulse, and moments of prestidigitation. The concert started out with Ludemann's "Bad Times Roll," a funky hard bop blues vaguely reminiscent of Lee Morgan's "The Sidewinder" with a Thelonious Monk stride feeling as well. Throughout the evening, Ludemann's comping seemed to maintain this funk blues emphasis, giving Zankel's own compositions a distinctly new flavor. The audience was obviously very happy with this style.

Zankel allowed considerable time for each piece, allowing them to evolve fully and provide ample opportunities for solos. Artisans Lee Smith on bass, Craig McIver on drums, and Francois Zayas on percussion, gave violinist Diane Monroe, saxophonist Zankel, and John Swana on valve trombone and EVI (Electronic Valve Instrument) strong and inventive propulsion beneath their solos. While getting adjusted to Lindemann's piano approach, very different from their usual sidekick Tom Lawton's style, the group did some fantastic work, perhaps stimulated by the difference.

Zankel delivered exciting post-Coltrane preacher-like lines. Monroe worked her way into Paganini-like trills and turns. Swana's exquisite sound and trademark improvisations on valve trombone were highly reminiscent of his trumpet days. (And his lyrical EVI playing ascended to the stars.) Smith alternated walking bass with rapid-fire gunshot clips. McIver worked his way up to great intensity. Zayas, as usual, gave additional impetus to the rhythm section and created expressive and definitive bongo solos. And Ludemann at one point wowed the audience with powerhouse index finger solos using both hands in the upper register in a mind-blowing way.

Although the band seemed awkward at times with the new pianist, they also were stimulated by his inspiration, and the new sound that resulted was quite satisfying. The over-resonant acoustics of the Great Hall leave something to be desired but were more than compensated for by the panache of the museum staff and the relaxed, even joyful atmosphere, a pleasant relief from the heavy undertones of other Philadelphia jazz events, as the city struggles to jump start a new era after the economic recession cut into its exciting tradition.

Set Lists: (All compositions by Zankel unless otherwise noted) I: Bad Times Roll (Ludemann); Song Why Not; Continuance; II: The Next Time I See You; Winter Always Turns into Spring; Trickster.

Personnel: Bobby Zankel, leader and alto saxophone; Dieane Monroe, violin; John Swana: valve trombone and EVI; Hans Ludemann, piano; Lee Smith, bass; Craig McIver, drums; Francois Zayas, percussion.

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