Tim Price with The Department of Good and Evil and Rachel Z
First Energy Berks Jazz Festival concert
L'Villa D'Arte in the Abraham Lincoln Hotel Ballroom
March 16-17, 2007
Why was I going to drive five hours to Reading PA, in blinding sleet and snow for a concert? My wife should have known better, after her twenty-two years of my going to jazz shows, than to ask that question. For the rare opportunity to see the internationally acclaimed woodwind virtuoso Tim Price on his home turf of Berks County with one of the freshest new jazz trios on the Eastern seaboard---The Department of Good and Evil. I decided there was no way I'd miss it. I also knew that the entire reason that D.O.G.E was coming way out to Reading was to play with Tim Price, not just to do a gig.
I was infinitely rewarded, soon forgetting all about the drive as the music started. Besides, the rest of the band endured the same weather and for almost 10 hours just to be there to play to me.
The room was well over half filled, even with the snowstorm. From the start of the first song, I was hooked, big time.
Tim's tone and projection on tenor sax filled the beautiful old-world ballroom throughout the first set with some standards, and at least three of Tim's original compositions. The band of keyboardist Rachel Z (whom I had known from her playing with such luminaries as Wayne Shorter and Peter Gabriel), Bobbie Rae on drums and percussion, who also produced their new record, and Maeve Royce on upright bass was extremely tight, and communicated to the audience using the language of jazz in an old time melodic way. I have not felt music quite like this on any of the recent recordings I've heard on any label: this was new ground for mebecause of the addition of Tim Price. Not free jazz, not smooth jazz, not be-bop or blues. It's actually all of those things, plus rock, reggae, funk, international rhythms, all applied to some old and new jazz standards while still respecting the melody.
Rachel Z is a highly gifted pianist, there is no doubt. She captivated me with her flowing runs, and especially her presence within the music. Obviously gleaned from her work with Mike Manieri, and Wayne Shorter. She has the inventiveness of Herbie Hancock, the lyricism of Chick Corea, the fluidness of Horace Silver, the scat of Art Tatum, the list is endless. As a soloist, as an accompanist, Rachel Z impressed this writer as in a class by herself.
Maeve Royce is only 22 but plays with intensity unmatched by professionals two or even three times her age. Her ability to hold onto an audience was palpable, while she and the rest of the band tested listeners with their complex chord patterns and each other with their musical inventions. Jazz is all about tension and release, communication and stretching boundaries, as exemplified by the playing of these four artists.
We could feel they were really having fun pushing each other. Yet they maintained the groove even as they stretched it. This is the real test of a drummer, and a testament to Bobbie Rae. Price said that "calling Bobbie Rae just a drummer is like calling Ben Franklin just a scientist." I can't say it any better: Price is right on. And Rae is as soulful, as hip and as beautiful a person as you would want to meet.
At one point, while listening to another of Price's originals, "Combat Zone," I noticed the scene outside the floor-to-ceiling uncloaked windows, the still heavy snow blowing sideways, and the band swinging in time with it. It was a magically lyrical sonic portrait. Price announced that the tune was inspired by his years playing in the seedier clubs of Boston in the 1970s; it certainly had that "good bit nasty feel to it. The ensemble then launched into a seldom played Wayne Shorter tune, "Tom Thumb." As arranged and performed by the group, I'd say the piece should be played quite a bit more often. Price's solo was a fitting tribute to Shorter, using all the multiphonics, chord progressions, and altissimo available to him in his vast range on the tenor sax.
The next tune started with Maeve on bass alone, effortlessly moving through the changes with her trademark humming/singing, then with Price, Rachel Z and Bobbie Rae joining in for what turned out to be Rodgers and Hart's "It Never Entered My Mind." Price's treatment of this ballad reminded me of a Stan Getz recording of the tune, although Price's humility would probably reject such a comparison. Another excellent Price composition ended the set, written as an homage to John Coltrane, "Twins of Spirit," which has recently been recorded by Bob Mintzer of Yellow Jackets fame. Bobbie Rae and and the leader started a memorable musical dialogue, moving from Trane-esque to funk to swing, and back to bebop, building and building with each repetition of the cyclea captivating if not mesmerizing experience for this listener.
The second set was even more inventive, leading me to extend my stay over at the Lincoln in order to catch their show on Saturday night as well, which enabled me to attend their free improv workshop at the Goggle Works in the afternoon.
Late into the well attended improv class, Rachel Z was asked why she liked playing with Tim Price. She answered that she finds Price "interesting, one of my favorites, because he challenges me in ways few others do today." She elaborated: a musician, when they find "their" sound, brings with them all the players who influenced them throughout their lives, and she was especially attracted to musicians like Price who heard and learned from the greats Johnny Griffin, Brother Jack McDuff, and many more who played on the so- called "chitlin circuit." Moreover, other musicians just didn't experience the "dirty harmonies that Price did growing up where he did. What I think she was getting at was that Tim Price, who calls Berks County home, brings to a global stage that small town feeling, blending it with his international study of all idioms of music to create a fascinatingly diverse musical palette. There is no one from the jazz idiom today, with whom this writer is familiar, who could play a different instrument on every tune of a twelve-track CD and, moreover, do so with the high level of proficiency that Price can.
The Saturday night show was SRO, packed with students of Price as well as music followers eager to hear the band that everyone from the night before must have been talking about. At the end of the last set, the crowd took a full minute to absorb the intensity of the feelings created by the music before erupting in applause and a standing ovation.
Thank you, Tim Price, and thanks to Rachel Z, Bobbie Rae and Maeve Royce for two of the most enjoyable shows I have seen in my 37 years of listening to live music.