December 10, 2011
"Capitalism Sucks," a mural by Mike Alewitz which graphically depicts the anti- democratic nature of capitalism, hangs on a wall behind the performance space at The Puffin Cultural Forum. An all-powerful puppet master and a host of minions from the clergy, academia and the media, all exploit the wealth created by a proletariat held in abject servitude by police, prisons, and the military. Alewitz's mural, part of an exhibition entitled "The Writing's On The Wall: Labor In The U.S.," made for a startling backdrop to a decidedly egalitarian set by saxophonist/flutist Greg Abate's quartet.
The consummate journeyman jazz musician, Abate plays approximately 150 dates a year without a working group. The parlance of bebop, classic American popular songs, and tunes by hard bop masters like Horace Silver
are the means of connecting to the rhythm sections Abate encounters in his travels around the world. For a one-night stand at The Puffin, he was joined by pianist James Weidman
, bassist Harvie S
and drummer Steve Johns
. A stylistic descendent of Charlie Parker
and Sonny Stitt
, on any given night Abate is capable of blowing audiences away with his tart tone, velocity, harmonic ingenuity, and the ability to knit ideas into a tight, coherent package. On this occasion his status as a bona fide alto saxophone hero took a backseat to the cogent sound of a band that was playing together for the first time.
The six-song set was joyful, substantial, and aesthetically rewarding. The band often exchanged glances and grinned like proud parents. On medium and up-tempo swingers like "Phip IT!!," "You Stepped Out Of A Dream." "Rocco's Place," "Silver's Serenade," and "All The Things You Are," Weidman, S, and Johns worked together to sustain a cohesive foundation. The music swung without any signs of strain, and the steady, uncluttered momentum sounded nearly as natural as breathing. The lack of muddle made it easy to savor details like S's nuanced, feel-good bass line, Weidman's witty, chordal support of Abate, and the various textures Johns coaxed from his drums and cymbals while playing stimulating and supportive time.
During his solos, Weidman deftly rode the pulse established by the bass and drums. Even more impressive was his penchant for making complex combinations of single notes and chords sound simple and orderly. During "Silver's Serenade," for example, his right hand poked out single note lines, an edgy run of triplets was abruptly cut off, and a Morse code-like right hand was answered by solid left hand chords.
The rhythm section made it easy for Abate to stay on firm footing after coming down from brief flights of fancy. Following a manic burst of energy, his "You Stepped Out Of A Dream" improvisation swung in concert with S and Johns. Brief shrieks and honks in the midst of "Phip IT!!" were neatly resolved, and Abate readily assimilated a sketchy riff by the piano and drums. Switching to soprano for "Rocco's Place," he stacked one phrase onto another, and then changed course by quoting "Softly As In A Morning Sunrise."
While Alewitz's images of exploitation and class struggle were not to be denied, art did not imitate life throughout the performance by Abate's group. Their music was a reminder that, despite the world's stress and strife, at its best jazz is literally democracy in action.