The Turning Point Cafe
July 14, 2008
A few months ago I started reviewing sets performed at The Turning Point Cafe, a small, intimate club which features jazz on Monday nights. The common denominator of the shows is tenor and soprano saxophonist John Richmond, who also serves as the series curator. Although I kept coming back to the club ostensibly to hear veteran saxophonists like Bobby Porcelli and David Schnitter interact with first rate rhythm sections, it was Richmond's solos that always stayed in my mind.
Accompanied by a trio of longtime associates and minus another front line instrument, Richmond's July 14th gig proved to be an ideal means of gaining a fuller appreciation of his talents. During a seventy-five minute, seven selection set, a number of themes emerged. Instead of reaching for facile, emotionally charged climaxes, Richmond primarily invested in the solos as a whole. There was power in the movement and juxtaposition of small, telling gestures. Digressions were brief and meaningful. Only on reflection I realized what a large amount of information Richmond included in every improvisation. It was rewarding to concentrate on the detailsthings like his moving from a hard, thickset tone to a thinner more fragile sound in just a couple of bars; or, briefly rushing ahead of the beat and then inserting a pregnant pause.
Richmond's full-bodied sound became even more plush during the course of an "In Your Own Sweet Way" solo. He slowly and patiently grained momentum, hitting the tenor's upper register before sounding some foghorn tones. A soprano feature on Frank Foster's "Simone" gleefully danced and included hard swinging tangents and brief jumbled interludes. Never straying too far from the melody and a ballad feel, he displayed a veritable treasure trove of embellishments of Tadd Damenon's "Soultrane." Richmond's wickedly propulsive phrases animated the standard "I'll Remember April." At one point he spit out several seemingly unconnected notes and then rapidly shaped them into a coherent form.
Steve Ash was an unassuming yet deeply satisfying keyboard stylist. All substance and no flash, everything he played was stripped down to bare essentials. Ash swung in a subtle, judicious manner that contained just enough backbone. During "You And The Night And The Music" and "I'll Remember April," Ash often moved from single note runs to chordal interludes and back in a flowing, non-programmatic manner.
Bassist Mike McGuirk moved the band forward with his dependable accompaniment. In particular, McGuirk walked firmly and easily throughout Ash's turn on Sam Rivers's "Beatrice." The bassist's solos on every selection were fast, sure, rhythmically astute, and chock full of melodic substance. A few rapid flurries during Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Wave" provoked a similar response from Eliot Zigmund's brushes.
Without getting in anyone's way, Zigmund was a constant presence. Virtually every stroke had a telling effect. He displayed a knack for briefly foregrounding a single component of the drum kit. On "You And The Night And The Music" several hard hits to the snare leapt out during a brief lull in Richmond's solo. During Ash's "In Your Own Sweet Way" turn, successive strokes to a top cymbal sounded like a chisel splitting a piece of granite. Zigmund made the hi-hat cymbals sing by using just the foot pedal behind Ash on "Beatrice." He was all ride cymbal when Richmond began to build up a head of steam in the course of "Simone." The drummer sounded akin to a clamorous machine throughout most of his "I'll Remember April" solo. Utilizing every part of the drum kit, themes were wrapped in long bursts of energy.