The Jazz Culture Feature
Peter Bernstein, Solo Guitar at Small's
The Jazz Culture, VII:3
PETER BERNSTEIN at SMALLS “You think playing solo is the easiest; it ain’t –ha-ha-ha--it’s the hardest.” Chris Anderson, piano player by L. Hamanaka
Caught Peter Bernstein, solo, at Smalls Monday July 15, 2013 at the start of another heat wave, to which he remarked, “Guitarists don’t like it either.” Nevertheless the house was full of guitarists and guitar lovers, from around the globe apparently, for the man sitting nearby was from New Zealand. Alone, Mr. Bernstein unabashedly flaunts his love of guitar playing, with the confidence of a veteran musician, paired with the sense that guitarists often project that their guitar is part of their body, or, at least, is their significant other. First came “Monk’s Mood,” with his own big signature sound (if it were a voice, it could be described as baritone) using complex voicings with ease and with unique runs to fill the space between melody notes. Mr. Bernstein has the distinction of being an artist whose life is not just dedicated to his instrument and career, from whom we await much more as his career progresses, but gives the audience a fulfilling concert alone, similar to piano recitals in classical concert halls. Following with “Don’t Blame Me,” (Jimmy McHugh, Dorothy Fields) a classic courtship song, Mr. Bernstein has a fully conceived and executed solo style and displays the melody distinctly, implies knowledge of the lyrics, maintained intimacy surrounding key notes with an orchestral sound usually heard only with pianists. His technical mastery was always subservient to the song and he played with feeling. In his delivery of melody he has a singing line reminiscent ofWes Montgomery's. Mr. Bernstein then played a blues at about 120=quarter note, with a romantically tinged floral introduction that segued into a 2
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swing with some choruses of block chords, sometimes a single line improvisation, swing strewn with bop inflection; he expresses twin qualities of drama and sensitivity, ending with some big chords seguing into a cadenza and ending in a strummed, modern-voiced chord. “Someday I’ll Find You,” by Noel Coward was next, one of those, ‘gee I wish I knew that one’ songs. “Yesterdays” followed, the first chorus a ballad, with engaging obbligato, taking it up to about 132=quarter note, chording with great fluency and legato feel up and down the instrument, with the emotional conviction that life can give you, building intensity till the stirring ending. His reactive sensitivity makes the listener feel that he is telling his story as it happened through the song. Peter Bernstein then played two Monk ballads, the first “Crespescule with Nellie.” He was able to play lots of seconds, minor and major, dissonances and tone clusters the way Monk did. “Pannonica” was a lilting, romantic solo reflecting Monk’s love of the whole tone scale as well as inserting triplets deftly to round the line into arcs instead of jagged angularity, while expressing the intimacy of the song. “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You,” (George Bassman) was done mostly in the middle and upper register with deft and sensitive lines using 7th and whole tone motifs with ascending chords flowing for this standard which Monk also liked. For an ending he went to 3-6-2-5 and chorded downward to a modern strum. The next song’s title was missed, however he employed an interesting device, after a long chordal introduction ascending upward, while swinging back and forth between the top and the bass line, then building a blocked chord segue in intensity, Mr. Bernstein played the upper melodic line and contrasted with very The Jazz Culture, V.II:3
low chords, playing with the orchestral sound of a pianist while retaining the mellow fullness of the guitar. He then reversed, using single bass notes at the bottom and full chords on the top for a contrasting effect. The last tune of the set was a Blues at about 96=quarter note, kind of homey, and plenty of blue notes in the melody and arpeggiated figures leading downwards. Using the bottom of his register for the bass figures, with two note motifs leading to blues scale runs, with very secure time, like an old time blues guitarist, ending with a classic chordal descending series and then a strum. The crowd applauded with gusto.
EVANS THOMPSON'S "True Story"
Evans Thompson, Pianist, Composer, Congas, Bandleader
Mr. Thompson has earned a reputation as a composer of original jazz tunes and bandleader on the lower east side and the East Village (which has sort of supplanted Greenwich Village, not in real estate value, but as an “artsy” neighborhood with a large group of artists who can afford to live there). This cd, his “True Story,” which has mostly jazz but some Latin tunes, is a compilation of live performances and a few studio engineered tunes, all Original. In Mr. Evans’ music takes the side
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of the common man in the struggle through life, and has a well polished, consistent rhythmic gift in this cd. New original songs
that could make it as standards might be the saving grace of the music, so finding composers who can create them is very important for the survival of jazz.
“Ahora Ti,” a charming Latin song, has a very good female lead singer on it and Mr. Thompson does a good piano solo, which implies a lot and is spare and has a great deal of charm. “Free Froo Frow,” the third song, is a bright swing at about 175=quarter note, kind of a lilting melody done with some flair, a two part motif, in call and response. “Sad but True,” is a lovely ballad with a counter melody that is just as charming as the first section. It should become a standard if other musicians get to hear it. The emotional flavor is bittersweet. Mr. Thompson plays with taste and he has studied classical piano so he knows the context of the literature. “Oiga mi rumba bonita,” literally, Listen to my pretty Rumba.” A chanting song. “See Ya”- a bright swing with an improvised bridge. Short and charming at about 175=quarter note. Some progressive work by the horns. “From My Heart,”played freely by piano. a sincere and direct message, a ballad that sounded prettier as a slow swing at 126=quarter note. “Ballad for the Working Man”- a philosophical tune with Mr. Thompson singing some words of advice to the working man about how to chill out the negative vibes most people have to deal with at work, bit like the tone of advice received in Horace Silver’s “Friends” only not rhyming. A swing song at about 150=quarter The Jazz Culture, V.II:3
note. Good idea with a nice solo from Mr. Thompson. "Mimi’s Waltz"-a lovely ballad where the pianist-composer states only the theme with some interesting contrapuntal work. “Do It Yourself Brother”-at about 106=quarter note, a rhythmic tune with repeating catchy phrase, beginning with a bass line, then piano chording then flute obligato, then drums and bass. Sort of layering. Then vocal by Mr. Thompson, with two voices, in call and response basically, the “Brother” and the (for the sake of this article) “Philosopher.” Most of these tunes were done live in performance. Mr. Thompson has found his own voice. We look forward to his future work and development both as a composer and soloist. He has as one of his admirers, one of the great classical pianists extant, John Kamitsuka, for his soulful renditions and his ability to transmute real life into his interpretations. His style is street infused jazz with a communal feeling. JOE MAGNARELLI'S “Live at Small’s”
If the mark of a mature artist is to put their stamp on standards, then the first track of Mr. Magnarelli’s new cd, “Live at Small’s” succeeds; it’s “My Ideal,” (Rubin, Chase, Whiting) a song Doc Cheatham Joe Magnarelli, Trumpeter, Composer, Bandleader 6
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used to play every Sunday at the now defunct Sweet Basil…on the cd are Jason Brown, drums, Mulgrew Miller, piano and Dwayne Burno, bass, and the result is an intriguing, modern sounding self confident cut that takes the chestnut to places it hasn’t been often, or even ever, before. At the end of “My Ideal” is a fluid and witty cadenza with excellent articulation, freely done. They end on a vamp and one of Magnarelli’s long tones. Then they go right into the next song, “Ruby My Dear,” by Monk. Mr. Miller’s playing has a limpid quality, and he is a very expressive player on a great ballad, that has dramatic and historic meaning. The recording does not quite capture the roundness of Mr. Magnarelli’s sound, nevertheless the feeling is genuine and there is a lack of pretension. Mr. Miller plays sweeps but knows how to make one note sound important, as if he were a good drummer. “Invitation” was next, at a brighter tempo about 200= quarter note, trumpet solo seeming to portray a jazzy encounter of two strangers, the trumpet tone was much better heard on this track. The piano was a bright warm tone, kind of modal sound, more abstract and musically based interpretation of the song, but intense, using the inner dynamic and simple syncopated phrases that were sometimes 3 measures long, using call and response, and simple motifs that stood out among the foliage of piano runs. The bass solo was well phrased using some nice turns, sometimes two eighth notes with the accent on the upbeat, and then extending the second note. Nice use of space. Trading 8’s followed, with nice solos by Jason Brown. Bass low in the mix when the whole group was playing. An original followed, “Third Set” with trumpet entry and drums accompaniment a minor blues with a pretty and catchy rhythmic theme, on the trumpet solo, use of whole tone scale and a more angular approach with wider intervals, after a few choruses inserting scalar runs. Kind of alienated and lonely sounding solo, The Jazz Culture, V. II:3
perhaps implication of “Third Set” being, the one you play alone. Actually people used to play six hour gigs. Chordal entry by Miller, using some blue note phrases, simple two note licks, leading to scalar ideas, with nice architecture, building intensity with repeated phrases that got louder, broke into descending runs, then turned to some traveling sounds, with sweeping runs on piano mostly middle upper register, and some gospel ideas. Nice simple ideas on drum solo with good sense of structure, leading to taking out the tune with a repeated two bar phrase at the end. “Skee” is a country, so the spirit found in the song a second original is bright colored and declarative, with a short repeated motif. Mr. Miller found some new ideas on an old form, the blues, using some three note motifs and turns, knows how to assert himself in this form having felt them many times, and played them in all keys. Some big handed voicings in right hand, tempo about 175=quarter note. Bass and drums were locked in, giving Mulgrew Miller lots of space to fly. Mr. Miller used blues and gospel ideas. Trumpet found some ideas turning intervals around, like the way a foreign language sounds. Then expanded on some scalar ideas through modes and then cut back and simplified starting with two note ideas and then elaborated with comments up and down the scales. A nice drum solo, using more of a full battery of drums and cymbals, very assertively. “I’ll Find You,” a lyrical bossa nova, about 132=quarter note shows the composer’s sweeter side, and has a melody that is easy to remember. Ending several of his phrases with a trill, the trumpet solo is more like a romantic adventure or pursuit anticipating happiness. The feeling to the 8th notes is more of a three feel, and the tone is middle register, and warm. Then finding some arcs that start with a high note and circle down. The pianist responds with a romantic solo of his own, careening through some mellifluous running scalar lines inserting some blue note crushes, and small chromatic falls, denoting the unknown outcome of love entanglements, but with a very positive outlook, implying a love 8
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fulfilled. Mr. Miller plays like a very happy man who has found true love along the way. Then asserting wider intervals than a second to add some drama to his line, and fading back into a chordal segue. The trumpet player takes the tune out, in a pretty and hopeful tone and ends on a long tone as the rhythm section fades. Mr. Magnarelli is having an open cd party to celebrate â€œLive at Smallsâ€? at Smalls on July 19, Friday, and July 20, Saturday.
Two 20-somethings soak in the vibes at Peter Bernstein's concert at Smalls
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