Coming on the Hudson(Part 1:Sidemanning)

So after my whirlwind tour of the big apple, I’ve decided to do a string of posts, one for each show I saw, in order.

I took the red-eye bus both ways, so as to maximize time in the city.  Luckily, I have  good friend who is going to the New School, so I got to sleep on his floor and jam with his colleagues, which is a pretty sweet deal for me.  No money spent and a chance to scope the scene, not to mention, practice rooms in the basement.

My first show was at Dizzy’s, a club which I’ve never experienced a show at, although I always make a point of going there and seeing the Nesuhi Ertegun hall of fame.

The show was to be Mulgrew Miller with wingspan, but unfortunately Mulgrew was dealing with some high blood pressure problems(Rodney Green came from his house, says that he’s fine and will continue playing within the week), so he got Cyrus Chestnut to sub for him.  As soon as I saw that on the marquis, I was really excited, as I’ve never seen Cyrus in person, and am a big fan of what little music I’ve heard of him(In Carterian Fashion by James Carter springs to mind).  However, when I got into the club proper, I was informed that Cyrus in fact had to sub out, and that it would be George Cables.

Now, I couldn’t be more thrilled at this.  I say I’m a fan of Cyrus, but I’m a FAN of George.  He’s done many things that I like, specifically some stuff with Woody Shaw in the early 70s, some stuff with Dexter in the Late 70s, and a duo of albums with Billy Hart and Frank Morgan, where he tears some things to shreds and makes other things beautiful.  I’ve been a devotee of Mulgrew for some time and have seen him about once a year for the last eight years.  Couple that with the fact that I’ve never seen George live, and I can’t see how this concert could have turned out better for me.  As far as early retirement age pianists go, those two are right at the top.

To make it even more interesting, they still played the Wingspan book, which is originals, hard bop standbys(along with rarer specimens like Hank Mobley’s “The Break Through”[sic]), and a few standards.  George was at home at every turn, coming up in the language that this band preaches.  Just like on the live sets with Frank Morgan, he burned Mulgrew’s tunes to a crisp, but then made a quartet version of Horace Silver’s “Peace” sing like no other.  Seeing Cables was a grim reminder of how little I know about the straight ahead scene in the 70s(as well as an effective prod to get on it!).

Now had the group been pianoless, I would have been completely happy.  Wingspan is in the core of a small vein of modern Jazz which is staying mostly in the Hard Bop idiom while experimenting(by hard bop standards) with different harmonies and orchestrations.  Although they are in the same realm as Christian McBride or Rodney Whittaker’s straight ahead groups, they have a slight interesting difference in that they are all primarily sidemen.  Even Mulgrew is known primarily as an accompanist, although his recent trio work is not to be scoffed at.

As someone who deeply enjoys sidemen, underdogs, and the forgotten, I dig this aspect of the group.  Everyone is accomplished, has found their voice, plays other types of music, and plays towards the center of the group.  Since the ultimate role of a sideman is to make the leader sound good, six experienced sidemen playing together suggest a greater support structure for the soloist or tune in question, making the end result more enjoyable.  No drama means no negative results to the music as a result of ego.  I find that this is one avenue to successful jazz, especially in this mainstream kind of mode.  Case in point, even though the “leader” of the group wasn’t there, since he hired yet another sideman, the group cohesion was there in spades, and the music didn’t suffer in the slightest.

Now with this group, another interesting thing is the other types of music that the musicians play, Steve Nelson in particular.  It really makes me happy that Steve Nelson, who plays with one of the most cutting edge ensembles around(Dave Holland, where he has made strides for his instrument, and for the music on the whole) still makes it his business to play straight ahead with Mulgew and the youngsters.  Cross reference that with the mostly straight ahead material on his latest record, and you have a strong case for continuing to play in older styles, even though you’re at the forefront of the music.

Haven’t heard this band?  The two necessary recordings are Wingspan and The Sequel. Of course there are others, and since all members involved are sidemen, most things they are on work well.  These two recordings will give you a pretty good idea of where the band is coming from.  There aren’t many bands as humble as this one.

“I have never heard a good listener who isn’t a good musician” – Mulgrew Miller

-Martin

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~ by Martin Porter on December 10, 2010.

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