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Geoffrey Keezer at South Jazz Parlor

Victor L. Schermer By

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Geoffrey Keezer Trio
South Kitchen and Jazz Parlor
Philadelphia, PA
July 8, 2018

Pianist Geoffrey Keezer is a jazz master who has worked with many of the greats since 1989 when he briefly joined the end game of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers. He has recorded and played with numerous jazz luminaries including Ray Brown, Art Farmer, Diana Krall, Joshua Redman, and Christian McBride. Recently, he's had signficiant encounters with the likes of Joe Locke, Chris Botti, Gillian Margot, and David Sanborn. He has rarely performed in Philadelphia, so this reviewer grabbed an opportunity to hear him with bassist Richie Goods and Mark Whitfield Jr. on drums.

The first thing that has to be said about Keezer is that his piano technique is almost unrivaled. Art Tatum and the great classical pianist Vladimir Horowitz come to mind as competitors. It was thrilling to hear him live on the club's Steinway grand piano in a room with excellent amplification and acoustics. His playing was precise, lively, and magical in the twists and turns of improvising he negotiated with near-perfect articulation. In this, he was helped along considerably by his sidemen. Whitfield Jr., in particular, is a young and enormously talented drummer. Goods was exposed to the Motown sound, which appeared to generate a lot of musical ideas for himself and Keezer as well. Not incidentally, one of the tunes in the set was Stevie Wonder's "These Three Words," and the group captured much of his legendary sound and emotions.

Keezer's recordings show that he can play almost any jazz idiom. In this particular incarnation, he emphasized what could best be described as a High Romantic approach, with non-stop rich chord progressions and shifting dynamics, often building to high intensity. It reflected the sounds on his new Kickstarter funded album, On My Way to You. The romantic sensibility and references to themes from diverse genres expressed themselves in Jimi Hendrix's "May This Be Love." It was followed by a medley of Jerome Kern's "All the Things You Are" and Earth, Wind & Fire's "Serpentine Fire," done in a kind of whispering funk style that built up to sweeping romantic fevers, as if Rachmaninoff was an inspiration. Goods' bass guitar hammered home the message.

Thelonious Monk's "Brilliant Corners," with its unique syncopations, allowed Keezer the freedom to play more freely with phrasing and idiomatic touches. Whitfield Jr.'s drumming was exceptionally consistent with Monk's music, reminiscent of the great Ben Riley's precise and imaginative work with Monk in the 1960s.

Keezer then went over to an original ballad, "Hey, It's Snowing!" that sounded like something out of a western movie by composer Ennio Morricone. Following a solo piano intro, a slow walk sequence by the trio allowed for some subtle musical conversations between bass and piano. It was followed by the Stevie Wonder tune mentioned above, and a ballad that sounded almost like a hymn from the prairie. Traditional songs of the Midwest and the frontier are increasingly finding their way into the jazz repertoire, as musicians look for authentic folk-based themes from many sources beyond the standard jazz repertoire.

After that, Keezer showed off everything he could do, including some simultaneous playing on the keys and directly on the piano strings like a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat. As if not to be outdone, Whitfield Jr. delivered a drum solo of dense rhythmic changes that were both beautiful and technically masterful.

The set concluded with a Keezer original, "Fractured," an exciting upbeat "tune"—if you can call it that, because it sounded like deconstructed, furious bebop. Goods and Whitfield Jr. went wholeheartedly with its insanity, as the audience, most of whom must have known about the daring rescue mission in the cave of Thailand, was thrilled with its risk-taking.

The South Kitchen and Jazz Parlor, located on North Broad Street in the re-gentrified Fairmount section of Philadelphia, is a restaurant-bar complex that has a spacious and comfortable jazz room. It's been around for a while, but it was this reviewer's first visit there. Under the influence of the former owners of Warmdaddy's, an iconic blues venue that once served the best Southern comfort food in the region, the service and food were outstanding. The place was full of well-heeled jazz enthusiasts. My only regret is that there weren't more people of the younger generation there to appreciate the music.

Set list: May This Be Love (Hendrix); Medley: All the Things You Are (Kern) / Serpentine Fire (Earth, Wind & Fire); Brilliant Corners (Monk); Hey, It's Snowing! (Keezer); These Three Words (Stevie Wonder); Unknown Ballad; Unknown; Fractured (Keezer).

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