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Matt Haviland, Andy Farber, Steve Berger, Mark Hagan, Andrew Swift at The Old 76 House

David A. Orthmann By

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Matt Haviland, Andy Farber, Steve Berger, Mark Hagan, Andrew Swift
The Old 76 House
Mark Hagan's Jazz Salon
Tappan, NY
January 14, 2015

The personalities of trombonist Matt Haviland and tenor/alto saxophonist Andy Farber emerged, prominently and in glorious detail, during the opening set of Mark Hagan's Jazz Salon. While most jazz musicians relentlessly pursue the holy grail of an individualistic sound and conception, both Haviland and Farber were uncommonly successful in realizing this hallowed goal, without setting themselves apart from a group consisting of Hagan's bass, guitarist Steve Berger, and drummer Andrew Swift. Throughout the heads and the solos of five selections from the Great American Songbook, they deftly manipulated melodies, chord structures, tempos, as well as stylistic conventions—all in the service of extemporaneous expression and inspired play. For one splendid hour, Haviland, Farber (and their cohort) exuded a joyful, spirited form of communication, and in doing so made music that erased the divide between performer and audience.

Haviland's and Farber's interpretations vanquished the fallacy that material from the early-to-mid-twentieth century no longer belongs in a contemporary jazz musician's repertoire. The vigor with which they played "Too Close For Comfort," particularly the tune's last eight bars, set the tone for the rest of the performance. A slow-to-medium tempo take on "Willow Weep For Me" was anything but maudlin. Farber, playing alto, found a unique emotional quality—the urgency of desire colored by wariness—in handling the bulk of the melody, while Haviland, aided by a plunger mute, made brief comments. The trombonist continued to use the plunger while filling the tune's bridge with cranky protestations. During the out head Haviland played an open horn and Farber sounded as if he positively owned the tune, before their witty, overlapping exchanges became more pronounced. Then the rest of the band dropped out and Hagan alone finished the selection on a pensive note.

Haviland's solos emphasized intelligent design, speech-like declarations, a wide dynamic range, and surprising turns of phrase. In the middle of "Too Close For Comfort," a brief slur was planted in the middle of a long collocation of notes, and one hard, accented note jump started the next chorus. His "Just In Time" improvisation proffered a roller coaster ride of tightly connected lines in a shuffle rhythm, as well as a terse remark that was echoed by Swift's snare drum. While the crowd's noise partially obscured Haviland's efforts, plunger mute growls during "Willow Weep For Me" turned soft and restrained, before he sprung back to life and landed firmly on all four beats.

As Haviland lobbed a few brief thoughts in his direction, Farber's tenor solo on "Too Close For Comfort" offered hints of passion and grit amidst a somewhat cool surface. In contrast to the deliberate, studied feel and twang of Berger's guitar that preceded him, Farber's alto marched and strutted all over "Willow Weep For Me." He found a blues phrase, wrung it dry, and then barreled his way through the tune's bridge with brazen, bebop locutions.

Once again, series curator Hagan assembled a group of musicians who speak a similar jazz dialect, and executed a cogent set on the fly. The band's high energy, rapport, and strong individual performances are the rule rather than exception, so it's no wonder why a core of jazz fans return, week after week, to The Old 76 House for Mark Hagen's Jazz Salon.

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