Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Paul, George, Yoko and...Clifford + Zakir Hussain + Palindromes at Space Exchange

Playing right now: Josh Berman's new CD A Dance and a Hop on Delmark. Just him on cornet, with Jason Roebke (bass) and Frank Rosaly (drums).

I saw three shows at three different venues last night.

I needed to talk to bassist Paul Thompson for a column I'm writing and it just so happens that he was leading a quartet at the Backstage Bar downtown for the Jazz Happy Hour thingy. Inspiring the title of this entry, the group also included George Heid III (drums), Yoko Suzuki (alto saxophone) and Clifford Barnes (keyboard).

Paul is a man for all seasons, able to fit in with everyone from Ben Opie to Maynard Ferguson (yeah, he's played with both). The group was straight forward, nothing too wild for this crowd, mixing some well-known classics like "Autumn Leaves" and "Cherokee" in with a Sade cover and a couple pieces by bassist Paul Chambers. Suzuki has a really strong tone which made her pretty distinctive. There were a couple tunes where her long tones were astounding. On an old warhorse like "Cherokee" she was pushing herself too. Barnes stretched out impressively as well, evoking Errol Garner at one point with his attack, which sounded cool. Heid, whose dad is a Pittsburgh jazz veteran, swung with authority. And of course Paul was solid as a rock, especially when he was plucking out those rapid Chambers themes.

From there, it was down to the Byham Theater. A friend said he had an extra ticket to the Zakir Hussain show. Dave Holland was playing bass with him, and I wanted to try and check it out, so I couldn't say no. I only really know Hussain's name in passing so I wasn't sure what I was in for.

Hussain came out onstage first, talking about how jazz musicians took a lot of influence from Indian music, but prior to that, Indians were inspired by jazz music that was around in the '20s and '30s. At some point during the show, he added that the music they were playing couldn't simply be called jazz or Indian classical music. It had a little of each.

But before that happened, Holland had to mark the birthday of Pittsburgh native and jazz bass pioneer Ray Brown. Dave claimed that it was the sound of Brown's bass on an Oscar Peterson record that made him decide to switch from bass guitar to upright and start playing jazz. So he treated us to a solo version of "Things Ain't What They Used to Be," complete with some rich double-stops.

Had the concert lasted about 90 minutes, I would've been happy. Instead it lasted about 2 hours and 10 minutes. Don't get me wrong, Hussain was totally amazing on the tablas, getting slides out of town, playing melodies and just being percussive. There was also one drum that resonated like a kick drum and filled out the band's sound. Vocalist Shankar Mahadevan was also a great performer too, singing what amounted to a blend of Western blue tones and traditional Indian scales. The first song he performed was slow and dreamy and extended. Pianist Louiz Banks and guitarist Sanjay Divecha really added to highlights like this. It was really interesting to hear the audience, largely Indian, roar with approval when Mahadevan starting singing a song they knew. My friend Daryl and I both wondered what it was, and found it interesting to be out of the loop.

But some of the evening seemed to digress into grandstanding, with Hussain doing on his instruments what metal guitarists do on their axes. Okay, maybe that's a little harsh, but it was showy. And while the cohesion in that band was astounding when they made all those tricky time changes together, I got really restless with all the tacka-tacka-deeka-DEEka-tacka vocalizations. Forgive me if it sounds ethnocentric. I respect it. I'm just not feeling it.

Plus I hadn't had a proper dinner yet....

Off I went to the Thunderbird for Space Exchange. This week, bassist Matt Booth was calling the set with Palindrones, which consisted of Space Exchange curators Ben Opie (saxophones) and Dave Throckmorton (drums), Space-Exchange-ex-pat-but-still-here-when-he-can guitarist Chris Parker and tenor saxophonist John Petrucelli. (Matt now lives in New Orleans but makes it back every so often too.) The first set was over when I got there and they were getting ready for the second.

It might have been the gin hitting my overly caffeinated body (I had a lot of joe at the Backstage Bar, knowing it'd be a long night), but these guys were astounding. They started out with a Paul Motian tune (can't recall the title) that was loud as hell and just as visceral. Throckmorton does an amazing job on Motian tunes anyway but Opie set himself on fire, and Petrucelli knew just how to enter after him - soft and fluttering, and building up gradually. Parker got louder as the set went on but I was loving the grooves he was banging out.

A few people commented on the small crowd for the evening but as the band played (and I dug into a couple pulled pork sliders), a few more interested people started crowding around and checking out the band. Maybe not the full crowd they would have liked, but it did expand a little.

Hopefully they'll all turn out next week when Lina Allemano, who you might have read about here, comes back to town, this time with her regular quartet. It's a free show, people! Give her the Pittsburgh welcome, because there's a chance she won't be back again - or at least not for a looooooooooong time.

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