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Live Review

Jim Ridl Quartet Featuring Zach Brock at Collingswood Community Center

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Jim Ridl Quartet Featuring Zach Brock
Collingswood Community Center
Jazz Bridge Neighborhood Concert
Collingswood, PA
March 2, 2017

The Jazz Bridge is a meritorious organization that not only sponsors outstanding concerts in and around Philadelphia, but also offers support to musicians in distress. Their recently published Philadelphia Real Book contains sheet music for tunes composed by Philadelphia jazz legends as well as lesser known greats such as the memorable Father John D'Amico. Jazz Bridge is a singular force in keeping the music and the Philly jazz community alive and kicking.

This concert was a perfect match of setting, artist, and music. Jim Ridl hails from a small town in North Dakota, and the group performed original compositions from two of his musical reminiscences, A Door In a Field (Dreambox Media, 2003) and A Door in A Field V.2: Songs of the Green River (Self-Produced, 2016). The Collingswood Community Center is a red brick building nested in a suburban town in Southern New Jersey, and the audience was right out of middle America: families, young people, and local jazz fans evincing a hometown feeling as if at a local a grange hall or church: North Dakota all over again.

The musicians and audience warmed up quickly to one another. The first tune was a country-type ballad, "For Thee, A Western Sky," and violinist Zach Brock kicked the hell out of it with his masterful technique and seemingly infinite resources of phrasing from jazz and country idioms. "Red '47 Pickup" rocked with energy, with virtuosic solos by Ridl and Brock, who then vigorously traded fours, revealing them to be a duo made in musical heaven. For the albums' title tune, "A Door in a Field," Brock's exquisite introduction, which bore a resemblance to Ralph Vaughn Williams' "A Lark Ascending," more than compensated for the absence of vocalist/lyricist J.D. Walter who did a magnificent job on the album. "You Know How It Is" featured a funky electric bass solo by New York based Canadian musician Chris Tarry.

The tune, "Sun on My Hands" is a sensitive testament to Ridl's late father, who was, among other things, a farmer whose hands took on a burnished look from time spent in the fields. The rhythm section of Tarry on bass and the very popular and ubiquitous Joel Rosenblatt of Spyro Gyra fame on drums, framed the paternal "portrait" and Ridl's keyboard variations with finesse. Following a lively and informative Q&A exchange between the audience and musicians, the concert ended with "Only Half a Cup," building up to a multi-decibel increase in energy, commencing with Ridl's extended cadenza that evolved into a vamp rhythm, with Brock then pulling out all the stops as he traded fours with Ridl. Tarry and Rosenblatt got in some sharp solo work here, but their main function was to tend the shop and let Ridl and Brock do their things.

I spoke with Brock after the concert, and asked him about his jazz violin influences. In addition to Stephane Grappelli and Jean-Luc Ponty, he cited the lesser known great Stuff Smith, whose early recordings in the late 1930s impressed him very much. I concurred that Smith was an unheralded genius who anticipated many future developments.

This was one of those shows where the musicians, audience, and setting were all made for one another. The collaboration between Ridl and Brock, each of whom has their own working groups, was nothing short of spectacular. Ridl once did exceptional duo work with guitarist Pat Martino, and the match with Brock is just as highly charged and effective. One can only hope for further duo performances and record albums from them.

Set List: (All compositions by Jim Ridl) For Thee, A Western Sky; Red '47 Pickup; A Door in a Field; You Know How it Is; Sun on My Hands; Only Half a Cup.

Personnel: Rim Ridl: piano; Zach Brock: violin; Chris Tarry, electric bass; Joel Rosenblatt Drums

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