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Mark Hagan's Jazz Salon At The Old 76 House

David A. Orthmann By

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Mark Hagan's Jazz Salon
The Old 76 House
Tappan, NY
January 7, 2015

While the outside temperature plummeted to single digits and everyone groused about the bitter cold, tenor saxophonist Ralph Lalama—undeterred by the circumstances—calmly suggested "Winter Wonderland." The seasonal favorite was the second selection by an ad hoc group assembled by bassist Mark Hagan, as part of his Wednesday night Jazz Salon series at The Old 76 House in Tappan, NY. A rewarding opening set could be ascribed, in part, to Hagan's resourcefulness in choosing experienced, compatible musicians from the seemingly bottomless talent pool in the New York City area, and—aside from "Winter Wonderland"—the wisdom of utilizing a program of jazz standards as vehicles for getting the group off the ground.

A rhythm section composed of pianist Roberta Piket, Hagan's bass, and drummer Steve Johns provided a steadfast foundation and just the right amount of stimulation for the soloists. Middling tempo versions of Benny Golson's "Stablemates," Lee Morgan's "Speedball," and "Winter Wonderland" were textbook examples of feel good swing and facilitated interaction between the musicians that sounded like witty conversations between old friends. The same combination of stability and lively rapport enlivened an up-tempo rendition of Bernie Miller's "Bernie's Tune."

Hagan and Johns locked in tightly behind trumpeter Duane Eubanks' "Stablemates" solo. While Eubanks delivered easy going, song-like phrases, Johns goosed him with one and two stroke fills to the tom-toms—a gambit he would successfully employ throughout the set—and created another level of tension with brief, articulate responses to Piket's comping. When Eubanks left a little space after some jittery, crackling lines in "Winter Wonderland," Johns quickly jumped in with a twisting, multi-stroke snare drum fill, and then he and Hagan dug in even deeper behind the trumpeter.

Piket's improvisations often incorporated contrasting elements that managed to hang together as a whole. "Stablemates" included ideas delivered in a solid, somewhat deliberate swing feel, long strings of single notes in the upper end of the keyboard, as well as bits and pieces of Golson's melody. "Winter Wonderland" found Piket in and out of a close relationship with Hagan's and Johns' pulse. A bullet train of notes came to an abrupt end, and a brittle chordal passage brought things to a satisfying conclusion.

Lalama bolted from the gate a split second after Eubanks' turn ended on "Winter Wonderland." Bullish, determined and moving forward in a terse, muscular fashion, the tenor saxophonist offered long spiraling phrases and then powered through a number of earthy declarations. Lalama's tightly packed lines during "Bernie's Tune" evinced a run on quality, yet he always managed to make sense and to swing on conventional terms. At one point he bounced a number of four and five note phrases off of one another to great effect.

Mark Hagan's Jazz Salon is an ideal listening experience for music lovers of all persuasions. An easily accessible location, free parking, minimal cover charge, and casual atmosphere make Hagan's scene a viable alternative to New York City jazz venues. The opportunity to catch groups of excellent jazzmen and women on a weekly basis is simply too good to pass up, and—in this instance —provided a welcome distraction from a cold winter's night.

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