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Mark Hagan's Jazz Salon At The Old 76 House

David A. Orthmann By

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Performing for their own pleasure as well as connecting to a small, appreciative audience, they played an hour's worth of smart, swinging, joyful mainstream jazz, without so much as a hint of toil or strain.
Mark Hagan
The Old 76 House
Jazz Salon
Tappan, NY
April 19, 2017

There's nothing quite like the experience of being captivated by a live performance in a matter of seconds after the band hits. Without having to stop to think about it, you realize that the intellect and pleasure centers are being stimulated in equal measure. Somehow, everything is exactly the way it should be, and regardless of what the musicians play or how long the set lasts, it's unlikely that the spell will be broken.

The April 19th edition of Mark Hagan's Jazz Salon fit this scenario to a tee. An ad hoc group comprised of the leader's bass, tenor saxophonist Tim Armacost, guitarist Bob DeVos, and drummer Eliot Zigmund immediately entered a zone seldom encountered in live settings. Hagan and his comrades didn't entertain or put-on any "high art" airs. There was an absence of lectures about the music or any mention of jazz as America's original art form. Performing for their own pleasure as well as connecting to a small, appreciative audience, they played an hour's worth of smart, swinging, joyful mainstream jazz, without so much as a hint of toil or strain.

The five-selection set unfolded into a deeply satisfying accumulation of significant details and impressions. On "Beatrice," the opening number, Hagan and Zigmund hit a feel-good, medium tempo swing groove, while Armacost's rich tenor sound—spreading out nicely in the room without amplification—enhanced Sam Rivers' composition. Armacost found a distinctive way of interpreting the familiar melody. (Later on, Horace Silver's "Peace," plus the standards "Star Eyes" and "My Shining Hour" sounded surprisingly fresh in his hands.) He eased his way into a solo and made it clear that being part of the band was more important than executing saxophone pyrotechnics. Even more impressive on this selection and throughout the set were the ways in which Armacost manipulated his phraseology. He consistently shifted phrase lengths, degrees of emphasis, and dynamics, offered a sense of continuity and avoided sounding contrived or clever.

Whether accompanying Armacost's and Hagan's solos or tending to his own improvisations, DeVos sounded relaxed, soulful, and authoritative in an unassuming fashion. During an up-tempo "My Shining Hour," while Zigmund's driving ride cymbal and Hagan's throbbing lines greased the wheels, the guitarist pulled together a number of ostensibly disparate stands. He rapidly bounced single notes off of chords, walked a focused line up most of the range of the instrument, found a sweet melody at the onset of one chorus, executed a batch of prickly single notes, and suddenly made his tone sound decidedly warmer.

Apart from their ability to work together in moving the band forward, Hagan and Zigmund displayed a genuine rapport throughout the bassist's solos. While Hagan sounded out lush melodies with the bow on "Star Eyes," Zigmund played off of him by executing clipped stick on snare figures at a subdued volume and straight-ahead time on the ride cymbal. The drummer enhanced Hagan's plucked single note lines during "Beatrice" with an array of smart brush strokes.

Though this particular configuration of musicians may never play together again, the night's performance was a good example of what happens on a weekly basis at the Jazz Salon. Every Wednesday night Hagan gathers a number of jazz musicians from the seemingly bottomless pool of New York City area talent, and the lucky listeners get a taste of what's possible when accomplished individuals work in concert for the common good.

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