Wednesday, October 19, 2005
Jazz for that...nether region of the rear end area
Yes, very smooth. I was recently treated to a jazz show at Jack London Square in Oakland by my Pops, at Yoshi's Japanese restaurant and jazz house this past weekend. The show starred some well-known names in the jazz circle: Christian McBride (String Bass), John Clayton (string bass), Russell Malone (guitar), Greg Hutchinson (drums), and last but definitely not least, Benny Green from Berkeley (piano).
Now, as a few of you may know by the names involved, this is not modern jazz, something which is nice, but to me a bit lacking in personality. No, this was classic jazz, all in tribute to string bassist Ray Brown, who passed away about three years ago and whose birthday was on the 14th of October.
The show was incredible. All of the musicians knew each other, and have played together in some capacity before, a couple of whom have played together extensively. The common thread was Mr. Ray Brown, and the fact that all the musicians were either pupils of Brown, or had played with him many times before (they called it "graduating from the Ray Brown school").
Imagine a reknowned guitarist like Russell Malone cocking his head curiously as the Amtrack train rolled by, causing a bit of feedback. Turning to pianist Benny Green (on this particular song it was only the two of them), he shot him a look of inquiry (and all of this while both men are still hitting every note). Green shrugs his shoulders, smiling in amusement. Malone stops playing briefly to reach over and pound his amplifier with a fist, shoots the audience a little smile (his smiles were rare, but golden), and continues right where he left off, right back into the rhythm like nothing ever happened.
Imagine Christian McBride and John Clayton doing a little SuperBass competition at the start of the show, both men's hands flying over the string effortlessly, playing the entire instrument from top to bottom. Playing a game of "Can you top this?", McBride finally cuts loose a simply nasty and unmatchable string of chords, both hands weaving a blurry pattern of music. After he finally stops, Clayton, watching all of this with a huge grin, simply reaches down to his bass and plucks about three amusing chords, shrugs, and says, "That's about all I can do after that."
Imagine Greg Hutchinson, simply keeping pace for most of the show...that is, until the drum solos where he went ballistic, dredlocks twirling in unison, and his wrists putting out percussion like a man possessed. All the other musicians would simply watch, or in the case of Benny Green and Russell Malone, turn fully around so that they could watch the man do what he was born to do.
The ad-libs the musicians put on were two parts inspired and two parts hilarious. I saw the show twice, and while they didn't replay any songs from the first to the second show, if you paid attention you could tell where a player would throw in a little wrinkle into the music. An extra little smile here, a wink there, a short laugh, a quiet exclamation of "Alright now", or "Mmm hm!" was all that was needed to confirm that these guys had no need or no desire to do it all by the numbers -- they are masters of their instruments and the music, and they could play the same song a hundred different ways if they wanted. Malone put on the funniest one, throwing in three quick funky strums at the end of one of his solos, turning and looking back at the McBride and Clayton on the bass. McBride returned the look with a head shake and a grin, and Malone shrugs, turned back to the audience, and favored us with a wink and a smile.
Inbetween songs, they told stories of Ray Brown and how he influenced them in their careers. During songs, they smiled and told stories with their hands and fingers. At both times, we in the audience listened with rapt attention, and ready applause. I've never listened to a jazz show before, yet I instinctively knew when a solo was over, and knew when it was worthy of audible appreciation (as it so happened, that was every, single time a solo was over).
All in all, I would have to say I was most impressed with Benny Green, the local product. The only White guy in the band, he showed that he has more than enough soul to play this music. Short, slim, with hair hanging just below his ears, he spoke just like he looked -- the ultimate cool cat. He'd often turn 3/4th of the way away from the piano, while playing, to look at one of the string bassists, Malone on the guitar, or Hutchinson on the drums, never missing a key. When he wasn't playing, he was at ease. When he was playing, he was just stupid good.
To summarize, if you aren't into classic jazz at all, then Yoshi's is a good place to check it out, as they constantly have shows there. If you are into classic jazz, but haven't heard much of the music of the musicians I've been mentioning, then you need to acquire some. I myself don't have any, but I got the hook-up, with Pops on the job burning me copious amounts of the stuff to peruse at my leisure.
If you don't have hook-up, well, then get yourself hooked-up.