Dmitry Baevsky Quartet Smalls Jazz Club New York, NY April 22, 2012
Going out to hear live jazz is seldom as easy as finding a suitable place, plunking down some hard-earned cash, and then simply taking in the sounds. Befitting a music that once thrived in dance halls, sporting houses and other places where art for art's sake wasn't a priority, there are extra-musical distractions to be toleratedsuch as food and drink being ordered, served and consumed; the tittering of mundane conversations; and long-winded, superfluous introductory remarks by MCs.
For a portion of a set by alto saxophonist Dmitry Baevsky, the atmosphere at Smalls Jazz Club was free of annoying distractions. A mere ten minutes after the advertised starting time, co-owner Spike Wilner made the briefest of introductions, Baevsky counted off a brisk tempo, and the band was off and running. Joe Strasser didn't simply play time on the head of "Gingerbread Boy," he executed rhythms across the drum kit that matched Baevsky's take on Jimmy Heath's melody. In contrast to an occasionally excessive reliance on certain motifs and some tentative moments during The Composers (), his recent release on the Sharp Nine imprint, Baevsky's first solo of the night was poised from start to finish.
Although his style references bebop's technical fluency and verbose character, Baevsky didn't overplay the horn, make inappropriate extrapolations of the tune's changes, or battle the rhythm section. He left open space and shrewdly interacted with Strasser, pianist Jeb Patton, and bassist David Wong. While generating considerable power and momentum, his band never became clunky or overstepped the music's boundaries; and even during his most assertive moments, Baevsky wisely chose to ride the wave.
During "Gingerbread Boy" he tossed around a piece of the melody, offered variations of a taut, cyclical, five-note phrase, and squeezed out some jarring high notes. Urgently beginning a solo before the head of "The End Of A Love Affair" was complete, Baevsky's impressive command of changes at a very fast tempo didn't sound practiced or the least bit strained. It was truly music made in the spur of the moment.
Elsewhere, Strasser earned two ovations during a long, loud and jittery "By Myself" solo. He found a couple of ways to suspend a steady pulse, yet his snare and tom-tom combinations were smartly organized and easy to follow. At one point the rhythms seemed to climb on one another, competing for attention. Patton's "The End Of A Love Affair" improvisation simultaneously disregarded and stayed connected to Wong and Strasser's nimble pulse. A slashing two-handed, unison interlude led to Morse Code-chords and long, sparking single note lines. The band's high level of energy didn't dissipate during Wong's "Gingerbread Boy" turn, as his plush, rounded tone served as an impetus for brisk, well paced ideas that seldom strayed from the pocket.
A wildly inappropriate sideshow took place at certain points during these absorbing sounds. Beginning with the third selection, an unidentified, middle-aged man turned the area in front of the stage into his own performance space. Near the end of Patton's trenchant solo, he removed an area rug and began to tap dance. Although Baevsky gamely tried to encourage his departure by playing a few notes from the wings, the interloper ignored the hints and continued, sounding tired long before completing two choruses. During an unnamed ballad he returned to slow dance with an elderly woman, found a younger, more limber partner and made a show of lifting her leg into the air. The antics continued throughout "The End Of A Love Affair," the set's closer.
To their credit, Baevsky and his cohorts kept their cool, distanced themselves from the man's lame, narcissistic display, and continued to perform at a very high level. In the end, noisy business transactions as well as instances of inconsiderate, foolhardy behavior will always be a part of spending time in clubs and concert venues. Fortunately, the thrill of hearing jazz played live always trumps the frustrating moments.