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Rufus Reid at Mezzrow Jazz Club and Dizzy's Club Coca Cola

David Hadley Ray By

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Rufus Reid and Glenn Zaleski
Mezzrow Jazz Club
New York, NY
August, 20, 2017

Mezzrow's is an intimate space situated in the heart of Greenwich Village. A great little after-hours haunt in the city that never sleeps. The club space is narrow, but it's well suited for solo piano or duo gigs. It's best to reserve your seats in advance in order to get one of the 10 or 13 tables that encroach the small, well-lit stage. The close, intimate environs of the room accentuates the informality. It's more than worth a visit for the discerning jazz lover when visiting New York.

The featured artist was the indomitable bass legend, Rufus Reid, a master of the double bass who has toured and recorded with many of the upper echelons of jazz aristocracy such as Stan Getz, Dizzy Gillespie, Kenny Burrell, Nancy Wilson, Thad Jones, and Eddie Harris, to name but a few. The set contained several tunes from the great American songbook such as "Con Alma," "I Remember You," "You Stepped Out of A Dream," "Falling in Love," and "One for Amos." The latter song written by the late, great bassist/composer Sam Jones. As the peformance progressed, it morphed into a lesson in taste, touch, and dynamics. These qualities were on full display by Mr. Reid and his accompanist that evening, Mr. Glenn Zaleski.

The 1920's era Steinway that dominated the stage projected beautifully, but what was particularly captivating was the balance achieved in such an intimate setting between the two instrumentalists. The acoustic nature of the upright bass is what makes the tone so rich and inviting, but also quite unforgiving to poor technique or heavy-handed accompanists. Thankfully, none of the aforementioned concerns were on display that night. Mr. Reid was completely unamplified, but the sound was huge. His intonation was spot on, and his notes had an authoritative envelope that reminded me of another bass master, Ray Brown. Mr. Zaleski's accompaniment was muscular whilst being sympathetic to the subtle, low volume nuances that sadly, many bassists are not allowed to explore. Fortunately, his sensitivity was on par with some flawlessly executed runs up and down the keyboard.

Rufus Reid Big Band
Dizzy's Club Coca Cola
New York, NY
October 8, 2017

After seeing Rufus Reid in a duo setting, watching him in his big band was an excellent opportunity for comparison. A big band is a delicate entity because the composer has to have clarity of purpose regarding their treatment of the instrumentation. The composer should have a clear vision of what they're trying to accomplish in the music. If they don't, the results are often a convoluted, overwrought mess of partially formed motifs and ideas.

Although the duo performance exposed and focused on the ingenuity, individuality, and improvisations of the individuals, the big band performance showcased Mr. Reid's compositional skill and acumen with his particular fusion of jazz and classical genres. Dizzy's added a degree of formality and etiquette to the music and its presentation. The backdrop was an absolutely picturesque nighttime view of Christopher Columbus Parkway through a spacious window. Of particular note was the beautifully abundant wood paneling, which most likely contributed to the organic sound quality. The personnel consisted of winds players Marty Ehrlich, alto saxophonist Mark Gross; saxophonist Scott Robinson; tenor saxophonist Roxy Coss; baritone saxophonist Carl Maraghi; trombonists Marshall Gilkes, Ryan Keberle, Luis Bonilla; bass trombonist Dave Taylor; trumpeters Frank Greene, Tim Hagans, Freddie Hendrix, Ingrid Jensen; pianist Steve Allee; bassist Rufus Reid; drummer Chris Beck; guitarist Vic Juris; and conductor Dennis Mackrel.

The first set contained the following tunes; "Hues Of A Different Blue," "The Meddler," "'Round Midnight," "Of Regal Patience," and "When She Smiles Upon Your Face." "Hues of A Different Blue" had a very angular introduction and didn't have any resemblance to the more traditional I-IV-V blues structure. There was a syncopated rhythm that gave the effect of a scene reminiscent of West Side Story. "The Meddler" with its quirky repetitive bass vamp wouldn't have been out of place in a fondly remembered episode of cartoon express. Just when you think you had a mental grasp of the song, it changed direction and the bass, moving into its upper register gave the listener the feeling of being on edge. The bass solo was further highlighted by having the pianist playing a wonderfully rhythmic motif underneath. A buoyant sense of humor permeated the entire song and dynamics and interplay were on full display. Of particular note was a chromaticism that regularly appeared in the composition. In between songs, Mr. Reid explained, to the delight of the audience that the song, with its obviously loving jibe, was dedicated to his son! That garnished laughs and a full round of applause. After hearing the tune, you felt let in on a loving quip, from father to son.

The night had several treats and surprises, one being the attendance of the venerable impresario George Wein. Mr. Wein, an American jazz promoter and producer, has been called "the most famous jazz impresario" and "the most important non-player in jazz history." A founding father of one of the best-known jazz festivals in the United States, the Newport Jazz Festival. The other beautacious surprise guest iwas the model for a very well known sculpture "Glory" by the artist Elizabeth Catlett. Mr. Reid recently drew inspiration from the work of Ms. Catlett and composed a highly acclaimed album/project entitled Quiet Pride.

In retrospect, and after much inner deliberation and self critiquing, it's quite possible that when analyzing and evaluating a performance in the jazz idiom, a critic isn't always receptive to new music that isn't explained in stern, inflexible narratives. Variables such as the artist's motivation in writing the song, or their frame of mind at the tune's onset should be fodder for consideration of intent. The Monk tune "Round Midnight" was especially poignant in its execution. It was, for a lack of better words; "full of space." As much as the tune has been covered, one could be forgiven for thinking that there wasn't any more ground to uncover with that tune but, I was wrong. The song was retooled and caressed into a singularly unique interpretation. The beginning of "Of Regal Patience" wouldn't have been out of place on Coltrane's A Love Supreme. One could even imagine that it was written while taking a trip on one of New York's metro lines. It felt "urban," or "postmodern." You would not be ill-advised to put this tune on while driving through Manhattan to get the full on effect.

Author's Note: I recently interviewed Rufus Reid and you can "Rufus Reid: Composer, Educator, Bassist, Gait Keeper... And Prophet," here.
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