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Scott Henderson Trio: Bangkok, Thailand, March 18, 2011

Ian Patterson By
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Scott Henderson Trio
Mello Yello
Bangkok, Thailand
March 18, 2011

The Scott Henderson Trio crowned an impressive inaugural fortnight at Mello Yello, with an electrifying performance in front of a small but appreciative audience. With jazz clubs few and far between in Bangkok, the opening of Mello Yello at RCA, in the clubbing heartland of the city, is welcome news indeed. The intimate, informal venue offers two local bands per night from Monday to Saturday and in its first two weeks it has also hosted the Italian quartet of Luca Ciarla, and Pe'z, a Japanese quintet which impressed at the Bangkok Jazz Festival 2010 with its pulsating ska and punk- infused jazz. Guitarist Henderson's own brand of thunder on Friday night was colored by hues of jazz sophistication, steamy blues, and a fusion all of his own making, which draws from the jazz rock of Jeff Beck and the musical vision of pioneering keyboardist/composer Joe Zawinul.

This was Henderson's second visit to Thailand in a little over a year-and-a-half, following his performances here in 2009, with drummer Dennis Chambers and bassist Jeff Berlin. Both tours were made possible by promoter Mark Bolam of Enlightened Planet, who continues in his personal mission to bring the best of jazz, blues and world music to Thailand.

The set contained a healthy dose of new compositions, some destined for the eagerly awaited Tribal Tech comeback album, and others for this working trio of drummer Adam Hertz and bassist Travis Carlton. After nearly three years touring together this is a tight, intuitive unit which plays with a lot of freedom. Hertz's thunderous drumming contained much shading and, throughout the evening, he manipulated the Gretsch kit robustly but completely in tune with what was going on around him, which was plenty. Henderson's tremendously inventive playing relied a lot on pedal effects and searing tremolo action which made his guitar scream and cry in a manner seldom heard since Jimi Hendrix over forty years ago. Carlton—who anchored the trio impeccably—is a bassist well attuned to Henderson's modern take on the blues, having played for three years in guitarist Robben Ford's band. Apart from a solo number, where he layered bass lines, one over the other—providing a pleasing change in tempo, timbre and intensity in the process—his role was primarily that of the glue in the mix.

After opening the set with a blistering yet rootsy, blues-edged solo over a driving rhythm, Henderson delved into some heavy riffing, underpinned by Carlton's slow, steady groove. The guitarist unleashed another solo of gnawing intensity, which built to a crashing climax. When the applause died down, Henderson quipped: "That's the ballad of the album."

The spark-spewing, metal-like intensity of the trio in full flight was tempered by Henderson's refined harmonic sensibility and dazzling chord progressions. No matter how far out the soloing, a sense of melody was always inherent in Henderson's approach. The beauty, which lies just under the skin of Henderson's playing, came to the surface on the slow, bluesy interpretation of "Peace," by pianist Horace Silver.

Henderson displayed his jazz chops on Zawinul's "D Flat Waltz" a terrifically, grooving, funky interpretation. Zawinul's concept of individual freedom within a group has been a significant influence on Henderson, and has characterized the music in all the guitarist's groups, this trio being no exception. There was a lovely tight-but-loose trio feel to the country rock 'n' roll frolic, "Hillbilly in the Band," with Henderson spitting out plenty of ugly, twisted notes in a wild solo which sounded like guitarist Richard Thompson high on moonshine, playing the theme tune to the Wacky Races.

A short but equally exhilarating rocker of an encore closed the set. The Scott Henderson Trio has probably raised the bar considerably, expectations-wise, at Mello Yello. If this small jazz club can succeed in staging concerts of this caliber on a regular basis then it will surely make a name for itself as one of the premier live venues in Bangkok. In the meantime, plenty of music fans will be thrilled at the prospect of the return of Tribal Tech, but let's hope that Henderson strives to make this most electrifying trio an ongoing concern.

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