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Paul Klinefelter and Jim Ridl at Rollers

Victor L. Schermer By

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Paul Klinefelter and Jim Ridl
Roller's Flying Fish Restaurant: Jazz Series
Philadelphia, PA
August 16, 2013

Roller's Flying Fish Restaurant, in the Chestnut Hill section of Philadelphia, offers live music in its intimate upstairs setting. The venue has featured top-of-the line jazz players including the legendary Mose Allison and guitarists Chuck Anderson and Jimmy Bruno. Recently, Paul Klinefelter has curated several events featuring the bassist, paired with musicians he has worked with in his long Philly-based career. This particular night consisted of a duo with Jim Ridl, in a reunion after several years during which the pianist relocated from Southern New Jersey to the New York area, where he has established himself as leader and sideman at top clubs like the Jazz Standard, Kitano, and the 55 Bar, as well as the rhythm sections of the Dave Liebman Big Band, the Mingus Big Band, and Anthony Branker's Word Play. Ridl, whether on piano or Fender tRhodes, is a master of many styles, with a rare capacity for inventing novel musical ideas and concepts on the spot and spot on.

Klinefelter had just returned from a three-week stint at the Endless Mountain Music Festival and is featured on blues artist Roger Girke's Piece of Work (RG3 Records, 2013). He is a resilient bassist capable of swinging rhythms, brilliant runs, and flowing melodic lines in the tradition of Scott Lofaro, Eddie Gomez, and Gary Peacock. On this evening, the bassist and Ridl grooved together beautifully on a variety of standards and an original from one of the pianist's stellar albums.

The duet configuration of piano and bass provides an unparalleled opportunity to hear how jazz players deftly pick up on each other's ideas and nurture their respective improvisations. In the first tunes of the evening, Cole Porter's "I Love You" and Sammy Fain's "Alice in Wonderland" from the Disney movie (transmuted into a jazz standard by Bill Evans, John Coltrane and others), Klinefelter provided the rhythmic thrust and led the intros, while Ridl's solos soon modified the mood and structure of the tunes, with Klinefelter adeptly resonating with Ridl's twists and turns. In Ridl's competent hands, "I Love You" became a complex commentary on relationships, and "Alice" caught some of her madcap excursions into the netherworld.

Ridl's "Carry Me Home" was all his own, recorded in his debut CD, Five Minutes to Madness and Joy (Synergy Music, 1999). The depth of emotional expression in this piece was impressive and obviously moved the audience. Ridl gets some of his themes from literature, poetry and history, and here he was inspired by Cormac McCarthy's book The Crossing (Knopf, 1994), as well as a Civil War battlefield love letter (jazz, in fact, owes some of its origin to the Civil War, when soldiers comforted themselves with improvised guitar and woodwind music). Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Wave" was mundane and made few waves. By contrast, Clifford Brown's "Joy Spring" was uplifting, and echoed some of the great trumpet player's own improvisational style. Ellington's "In a Sentimental Mood," on the other hand, was taken at an ultra-slow tempo, emphasizing the feeling of the chord changes. The set closed with "Blue Monk," with Klinefelter highlighting Monk's unique syncopations.

The second set began with two standards, "I Hear a Rhapsody" and "Someday My Prince Will Come." Miles Davis' cool bop version of the latter tune set the stage for nearly all later renditions, and this interpretation was no exception. These were followed by the highlight of the evening, a sensational elaboration of Ellington's "Caravan," stirred up by Ridl's stunning, Shostakovich-like introduction and evolving into wild "Arabian Nights" shout-outs by both players, with the ghost of Art Tatum hovering around the spinet piano that Ridl managed to make sound like a Steinway grand. The evening concluded on a laidback sentimental note with "Body and Soul" and Jobim's "Triste."

Roller's is one of a number of smaller, intimate settings for jazz that have cropped up in the Philadelphia area, compensating for some of the attrition of nightclubs. It occupies the upper floor of the Flying Fish, a fine local dining establishment, so the fare and drinks at the jazz events are a cut above what you'd find elsewhere.

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