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Garzone, Erskine, Pasqua, Oleskiewicz Live at Sam First

Jim Worsley By

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The venue in which you see and hear a performance has always mattered. Perhaps much more so than most people realize or even think about. Acoustics, ambiance, and comfort have always been important. In recent years you see more and more listening rooms popping up. Why? Well, neither acoustics nor talented musicians making great music matter much if the sound of people chatting turns a quartet into an unwanted sextet. Fortunately, venues such as Sam First in Los Angeles have created an environment strictly for listening. For those who must chat there is a Denny's conveniently located just up the street.

On this night, George Garzone, Peter Erskine, Alan Pasqua, and Darek Oleszkiewicz took the stage and delivered what could be described as a clinic on jazz improvisation. An intimate audience was appreciative and hanging on every note. I must say that was a lot of "hanging" as the quartet took their time exploring between the notes and were in no rush to get to the finish line on any of the many timeless standards included in a well over two hour session of sensational live jazz. Being so close to the stage, I could hear Garzone's breaths, allowed for a bird's eye view of the interaction and camaraderie between these longtime collaborators. There was no setlist. Instead the spontaneous decisions to play "I'll Remember April" or to jump into a John Coltrane tune aligned well with the freedom of expression displayed within their interactions throughout the evening. Garzone took the melodies in a host of different and delectable directions. In doing so he continuously fed his bandmates soundbites to be both devoured and expanded upon. The term is sometimes overused, but still it has to be said. George Garzone is a monster. It wasn't scary being that close to a monster, but it sure was invigorating.

As much as it is Garzone fed, Erskine surely led the ensemble with his impeccable sensibilities and innate directional compass. As each song took shape you could see and hear how Erskine effortlessly, or so he makes it seem, drives and changes the tempo. He is relaxed, in control, very in tune with what his bandmates are doing, yet masterfully and effectively maneuvers between brushes, sticks, and toms with the deftness that has made him one of the best and most renown jazz drummers in history. It was a pleasure to watch the Erskine artform. He plays softly, he kicks it up when it is appropriate, and he does so much in between that it is somewhat mind blowing. A treat for sure to be seated so close to the band as to witness and encapture the brilliance that is Peter Erskine.

This unit has a lot of chemistry and a lot of fun performing together. They transfer that feel over to the audience tenfold. Garzone was pushing the limits throughout the night and having great fun in his interplay with Pasqua. He threw everything but the kitchen sink at Pasqua. Pasqua always responded in kind and often then some. In a moment that drew a laugh and a smile from the audience, Garzone finally stopped momentarily and wiped his brow, as if to say. "what else can I throw at this guy?" A sign of appreciation for Pasqua, who indeed was on top of it all night long. Pasqua's well placed notes and imaginative takes were a big part of this band's appeal. Pasqua has a great feel for jazz and like the rest of the ensemble knew when it was time to step up and when it was time to patiently ride the groove.

Last, but by no way least, is bassist Darek Oleszkiewicz. As a rhythm section partner, he fits like a glove with Erskine. There was a lot of trust there, so consequently a lot of groove, and special moments of interplay. A backbone of strength for sure, Oleszkiewicz offered a couple of runs that were downright filthy. His bandmates looking on and smiling in appreciation of the way he was feeling it this evening. On one occasion they were already to come back in, a couple of times, but Oleszkiewicz wasn't through. This led to such incredible joy and big smiles from his bandmates. Again, a treat to be so close, in the intimate Sam First environment, to not only hear but see the interactions of these jazz loving souls.

As an accomplished quartet we were spared the tedium of around the table soloing and instead heard a true four-part conversation that embraced each other and understood the value of connectivity and the relevance of interplay. This dynamic was in play on a few originals that were interspersed with the standards as well. Garzone's "Tutti Italiani" rendered a rich display of such. A moving piece that roused and energized an attentive audience. Erskine's "Twelve" is a paradox of listening pleasure. Complex in its interworking but remarkably easy on the ears. Perhaps somewhere in the area of the perfect jazz song. Possibly the most earnest of the aforementioned digs from Oleszkiewicz was embarked on during his own composition "The Honeymoon." This most engaging piece very much embodied the quartet vibe and created a lot of space for all to play and improvise. Pasqua unobtrusively managed to add a subtle, romantic, or heartfelt interjection time and time again. Pasqua was quietly brilliant in transitional elements that steadied the changes in seamless fashion.

This was the third and final night of a three-night residence at Sam First. In a residence earlier this year, January of 2019, this band recorded the live CD 3 Nights in L.A. (Fuzzy Music 2019) It beautifully captured the feel and delightful sounds of all three shows. I could only hope that being there live would live up to the expectations after being enthralled with the cd. In truth, it well exceeded it when you factor in the already discussed visual aspects of the interplay and pure joy expressed by four incredible jazz musicians. In this case four equals one. Four superbly talented musicians merging and connecting as one extraordinary quartet.

Photo credit: Peter Erskine website
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