June 2012: Gunshow

RJ Johnson By

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Chris' Jazz Café

Philadelphia, PA

June 20, 2012

Gunshow, a band which has been performing somewhat regularly in the Philadelphia area for a few years, with a repertoire comprised largely of original compositions, performed two sets at Chris' Jazz Café in Center City, Philadelphia.

The band's draw in the Philadelphia area can be attributed to the fact that each of its members is a busy sideman within the city's jazz community. The quartet consists of guitarist Tim Wendel, alto saxophonist Mike Cemprola, bassist Leon Boykins, and drummer Matt Scarano. Boykins and Scarano have also played together as members of tenor saxophonist Ben Schachter's Trio, releasing the album Omnibus (Ben-Jam) in 2008. Cemprola currently holds the alto saxophone chair in Norman David's Eleventet, and also performs with the Philadelphia-based Exuberance. Wendel is mainly a busy freelancer, but performs as a member of Hypercube while leading some gigs with his own trio. Pianist Matt Mitchell began his career in Philadelphia but has developed a growing presence on the New York jazz scene, and joined the group here as a special guest for the entire performance.

A large portion of the material throughout the evening was original, much of which could be attributed to Wendel and Cemprola. The band has a unique way of presenting its music, layering Cemprola's intricate melodic lines over Wendel's shifting harmonies. The interplay between Cemprola and Wendel seemed inspired from the beginning of the set. Within each improvisation, the cohesion between Scarano and Boykins became more and more clear, providing an effortless yet precise framework within which the musicians could work.

Mitchell stood out especially on "Bye-Ya," a Thelonious Monk composition which the group played in 7/4 time. Mitchell took an extended solo in which he developed knotty, angular lines before resolving unexpectedly, ending with a dissonant chord voicing. He seemed to favor a somewhat Lennie Tristano-inspired approach of utilizing the lower octaves of the piano, usually reserved for comping or ignored altogether by traditional jazz pianists. It seems as though Monk's music has become especially popular amongst modern jazz musicians (especially pianists) in the last few years, but Mitchell approached the music with a fresh sound that did not lean too heavily on the composer's influence. He favored originality over imitation without sacrificing substance in the process.

The conclusion to the band's summer bookings for Philadelphia, though it was the third night in a row that the band had performed together, this is not typical for the city. The members of this band are simply too busy to play together regularly, one of the difficulties of being in-demand sidemen.

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