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Loren Schoenberg -- Writings

Jazz U.K. Column - May 2005

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 York’s 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 don’t 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.

 

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