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Martin Wind Quartet at Kitano

Victor L. Schermer By

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Martin Wind Quartet
Jazz at Kitano
New York, NY
May 31, 2014

It was a clear, warm late spring evening in Manhattan, and Jazz at Kitano, by now a familiar part of the New York nightclub scene, provided a perfect setting for a CD release event, a place with great acoustics, ambience, menu, and a coterie of dedicated fans. Bassist Martin Wind had recently come out with an album dedicated to legendary pianist Bill Evans: Turn Out the Stars (What If? Music, 2014) featuring his quartet and the Orchestra Filarmonica Marchigiana. Of course, a symphony orchestra is cumbersome and costly for a nightclub gig (LOL), so Wind scaled the music down to his quartet, which was closer to the way Evans himself operated (he almost always played solo or with a trio). The pianist for the occasion was Bill Mays. Scott Robinson on saxophones and trumpet and Joe La Barbera on drums rounded out the quartet, and Robinson's wife, Sharon, made a special guest appearance on flute for one number, "Blue in Green."

For those who don't know, Mays is a long-time great pianist originally from the West Coast. Scott Robinson, a frequently recorded and honored multi-instrumentalist, is saxophonist and soloist with the Maria Schneider Orchestra. La Barbera is by now a seasoned veteran who worked with Evans towards the end of his career. Martin Wind is a bassist from Germany who worked his way up in the New York Jazz scene in the late 1990s and has since developed into a leader, recording artist, and creative force in his own right. An air of anticipation marked this performance, given the extraordinary capabilities of these musicians, who delivered a stunning, hauntingly beautiful, and memorable set which, while proceeding in its own sweet way, more than did justice to the Bill Evans legacy.

All the tunes in the set had a connection with Bill Evans. "Turn out the Stars" was written by him. "My Foolish Heart" appeared on the definitive trio album, Waltz for Debbie (Riverside, 1961) with Scott LaFaro, bass, and Paul Motian, drums. "Days of Wine and Roses" was recorded by Evans in 1980, when La Barbera was his drummer. "Memory of Scotty" is a Don Friedman original dedicated to Evans' bassist Scott LaFaro. (Friedman, an Evans-influenced pianist and frequent player at the Kitano, was in the audience during the set.) La Barbera's original, "Kind of Bill" is a reference to the iconic Miles Davis Kind of Blue album in which (no pun intended) Evans played a key role. "Blue in Green" was on that album. "My Romance" was played by Evans countless times. The audience response merited an encore, and Martin Wind chose an original entitled "Little Prayer" dedicated to a couple he knows who are going through troubled times. The sense of grief in the song is also relevant to Bill Evans, since an inconsolable loss in his life was the untimely death of his young bassist LaFaro.

The titular leader of the group is Martin Wind, but jazz sets often have an implicit, "shadow" leader who guides the musicians by means of his or her playing. In this set, the energy and life force was generated by pianist Bill Mays, a rarity who co-improvises brilliantly even when he is comping for others' solos. and in this instance, he may have had elements of the orchestral score in mind as well. His playing, as always, had great vitality even while every phrase was well-measured. His sense of timing was impeccable and his way of holding back on the beat by a nanosecond, so that the rhythm is sharp and clear, lent polish and emphasis. Mays really served as the "muse" for the group, stimulating the creative process. This was especially noticeable at times when Scott Robinson co-improvised or traded solos with Mays, landing squarely on the Mays heliport every time. There was one point in "My Romance" where Bach would have payed them for counterpoint lessons.

Martin Wind, as amiable a leader as one could wish for, made his own mark with beautiful arco (bowed) sonorities, notably in "My Foolish Heart." Joe La Barbera's drumming combined rich tonality a la Elvin Jones with a perfectly held beat and occasional beautifully executed poly-rhythms. Sharon Robinson did a minimalist flute solo in "Blue in Green" that gave a Debussy-like impressionist quality to this timeless classic.

A nod must be given to the Kitano, a beautiful listening space with a warm and efficient wait staff and a décor designed for elegance and comfort. The emcee Gino Moratti has made a name for himself, a sort of latter day Pee Wee Marquette from Birdland. Moratti has served uniquely as both host and artist manager for Kitano Jazz since its inception. He insists that the audience observe a quiet policy, and he delivers his message with an authority that will be obeyed! You could hear a pin drop during the brief pauses in the music. This is the way jazz is meant to be heard.

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