After a 60-year career in jazz, playing with everyone from Stan Kenton and Charlie Mingus to being one of the first into the ”ethnic jazz” genre, Charlie Mariano does not feel the need to impress anybody. His relaxed set with German bassist Dieter Ilg at Jyväsklyä’s Summer Jazz festival showed two top musicians with graceful, prodigious, and yet still unpretentious technique. They eased their way through a nine-song set, never making a misstep, but also never pushing themselves, or the audience, into more adventurous territory.
Mariano displayed his signature bright-toned alto playing as he built concise, well-thought out phrases into unassuming solos. He gave a straightforward, honest reading of “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat”. Some might have wanted to hear more harmonic invention, but Mariano instead chose to respect Mingus’ heart-rending melody, letting his warm tone wrap around the song’s inherent sadness.
Ilg laid down the foundation for Mariano with his groovy, accessible lines. He never strayed far from the pulse, keeping all of the tunes strongly anchored. He mixed in sharp harmonics with with clean, precise chording and strumming, emanating a warm, full sound that kept bringing the word “friendly” to mind.
And maybe friendly is the best way to describe this performance. The compositions never journeyed beyond mid-tempo, blues-based progressions. And the playing, except for a few stratospheric reaches by Mariano, remained firmly inside. Ilg put down bold, almost sculptured lines on the light funk-blues of “Lagos” and the ballad “Greenland”. His light, rolling strum on Mariano’s “Dew Drops” buoyed up the angular, minimalist melody, and together they offered the most powerful mood of the set.
Their interaction also had this friendly air, for instead of challenging each other they gave each other space to express themselves. Ilg’s sharp, pulsing bass on ”Savannah Samurai” would give way long enough for Mariano to drop in a few boisterous blues-tinged licks. They followed the same idea on every tune, obviously comfortable with each other and the material.
Mariano’s “Lazy Day” represented, in both title and performance, the entire set. Ilg again chorded out with clear accents a mid-tempo swinging blues while Mariano tossed off bubbling , bluesy comments, adding some be-bop flair with an easy confidence. The overall effect, just as the title suggests, was of being relaxed, of having no place to go, as if to say “What’s your hurry? You’ve already done so much. Just slow down.” And in a society obsessed with progress and looking to the future, that’s not such a bad idea.