Jazz U.K. Column - May
As usual there was a lot of fine piano playing going on last
month in Manhattan. On one Wednesday I heard two trios representing
two distinct generations. The World Financial Center's Winter
Garden hosted a lunch hour concert that featured Eric Lewis,
a young firebrand who earned his stripes with Wynton Marsalis,
and who has gone out on his own as a leader, and if this presentation
was any indication of his talents, he should have no problem
establishing himself as a major presence. He handled the microphone
with the same warmth and sense of inclusiveness as he did
the trio. Lewis's original compositions were for the most
part extended into several minutes each, but they seemed to
drag. The narrative focus was always sharp, and the trio modulated
from section to section with ease. Veteran pianist Steve Kuhn
was in the middle of a week's run at Birdland the same evening,
and while his repertoire was in a sense more conventional
he brought to it a lifetime's worth of wisdom and pacing.
The music the trio made was truly contrapuntal in the sense
that bassist Ron Carter and drummer Al Foster did not restrict
themselves to just timekeeping, but created an ongoing dialogue
that amplified whatever Kuhn was doing at the piano, which
was unerringly tasteful. Foster was in particularly fine fettle,
playing at a low dynamic level most of the time which made
it all the more effective when he chose to underline a given
passage in a fashion worthy of an entire orchestral percussion
section. One tune found him hitting the cymbals with his fists,
and it worked!
It's sad but true - there have been precious few novels,
plays or films that capture the essence of jazz from the musician's
perspective. One that comes very close is Monk, a one-man
play currently appearing (through May 8th) off-Broadway at
New Yorks Abington Theatre. Written by Laurence Holder
and performed by Rome Neal, the play started off as an eight-week
production at the Nuyorican Poets Café in 2000. Eventually,
Monk went on to be performed in venues like the Clef Club
in Philadelphia, Pa., Crossroads Regional Theatre in New Brunswick,
N.J. and the Artist Collective in n Hartford, Conn. Neal is
an arresting actor who has parlayed his physical resemblance
to his character into something quite deep and wonderful.
He kept the audience's attention rapt for the entire performance
(performed without a matinee on the evening I saw it) and
really brings home the human element behind all that music.
While the score by Bill Lee is more than serviceable, it would
help if the rights to Monk's actual music could be secured.
But dont let that get in the way of your seeking the
play out, and better yet, finding someone to bring it over
- it's worth it.