Sittin' In with Korey Riker at the Kimmel Center

Geno Thackara By

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Korey Riker
SEI Innovation Studio @ The Kimmel Center
Sittin' In
Philadelphia, PA
March 9, 2016

It's what jazz is all about: sharing the experience, connecting face-to-face and not knowing exactly what's coming. Philadelphia's Kimmel Center supports the tradition with an almost-monthly free showcase called Sittin' In—an unpredictable combination of concert and informal open jam. For the March installment, the center's 2016 jazz-composer-in-residence Korey Riker and an exuberant group of local figures offered a short but blistering set to live up to the name.

Like the city itself, the Kimmel has no shortage of hidden places that are easy to miss, however much you may know your way around. In addition to the upstairs halls that host the biggest world-class acts and art shows, there's a tidy black-box space tucked away in the basement that could be ideal for a concert or a rave (and where the air system apparently pipes in the aroma of fresh cake batter, a surprise I'm not complaining about at all). The doors first opened to an energetic set of danceable vinyl-spinning from local DJ Sonny James, and with the friendly format of the event, the room's vibe for the rest of the evening definitely stayed closer to social party than theater performance.

Riker packed a wide range into his unaccompanied opening saxophone solo alone, going from flighty melodic lines to sharply staggered rhythms before settling into an easy blues groove. It was meant to echo the solo introduction of his second album Recognizance, which the band played in its entirety to make the bulk of the set. Once they kicked into the smooth minor Latin groove of "If I Was," it was clear the variety was just beginning.

Ranging from eclectic percussion to Metheny-toned guitar, his six-piece band ably handled 70s funk, modern R&B, smooth pop, soul and more—a fun mix that shows just why he's been tapped to tour with the likes of John Legend and Melody Gardot. The lineup was expanded on half the pieces with more friends sitting in, including local trumpeter Chris Stevens and Ernest Stuart (creator of the city's much-loved Center City Jazz Festival) on trombone. Besides juggling styles, the group was tight and precise enough to handle Riker's deft intricate rhythmic patterns without skipping a beat anywhere.

"Did we blow out the system or something?" he joshed when his mic wouldn't turn on after "Why," the juiced-up rock song of the set. It wouldn't have been out of the question with the energy everyone displayed throughout. Those small laughs were a feature of the night as his friendly chatter made the crowd feel right at home, and there were constant smiles all around onstage as much as in the audience.

Riker wrapped up with the premiere of "Syntax," a tricky new groove piece based around his love of EDM and urban drum-and-bass music, before leaving an open call for newcomers to join the group for one more song. It may not have been the classic kind of loose blowing session that goes on till 2 A.M.—maybe not the most feasible plan for a Wednesday night anyway—but it was a fitting way to round things off, simply passing out a few charts and waiting to see what would happen. As a jam session should be, it was nothing if not inviting.

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