I first met pianist / composer Michael Bank about eight years ago and was impressed by his swing playing and his uncliched way of getting from A to B on the most familiar song. He always swings and he always surprises — but in a sweetly nonabrasive way. Often I heard him with Kevin Dorn’s bands, and he was not only a fine soloist but a perceptive, supportive ensemble player. Most recently, I caught him, guitarist Matt Smith, bassist Murray Wall, and drummer Giampaolo Biagi at the Brooklyn jazz club Puppets, where he offered some standards but a number of intriguing originals.
I was delighted to learn that Michael would be bringing his “Big 7″ (an octet, if you’re keeping track) to the very pleasant East Side jazz club SOMETHIN’ JAZZ — 212 East 52nd Street, between Second and Third — last Saturday, May 5, 2012. I knew some of the members already: Simon Wettenhall, trumpet; Murray Wall, string bass; Matt Smith, guitar; Steve Little, drums — and others were very pleasant surprises or affirmations of what I already knew: Sam Burtis, trombone; Mike Mullens, alto saxophone; Paul Nedzela, baritone saxophone.
Michael’s compositions often have elusive names but their melodies don’t run away from the listener. And to my ears they inhabit a spacious universe that looks back to Willie “the Lion” Smith and off to the left to the Birth of the Cool, visiting the Keynote and the Vanguard studios, saying Hi to the 1938 Basie band and the 1940 Ellington orchestra — but without a hint of archaeology or “repertory.” Modern swing is what I call it — and I am entirely aware of how those two words are weighted in jazz talk. All I know is that I was smiling behind my video camera, with a multitude of delightful surprises entering my consciousness, and wanting to tap my foot. You will hear why!
And — just to state what should be obvious — SOMETHIN’ JAZZ is a wonderful place to hear music. I encourage listeners in the New York area to find this out for themselves.
The first of Michael’s wittily titled originals is MINOR CHANGES. What a lovely sound he gets from his players!
Here’s SYNAESTHESIA, with a nice bounce. If memory serves, that title refers to the magical cross-currents of sensory perception. Marian McPartland said that to her the key of D was a color — daffodil yellow. Lucky people who can taste their words as well as simply reading them (something jazz musicians do all the time):
LL 3 — featuring tombonist Sam Burtis, who peeks out from behind his music stand to make rich sounds:
How about something in honor of rabbits, Rabbits, and Rhythm changes? COTTON TAIL:
One of Michael’s mentors — most rewardingly — was the pianist / composer / thinker Jaki Byard, and this is FOR JAKI:
And the next logical leap was to Byard’s swinging ONE NOTE:
After a break, the band reassembled for Michael’s own take on that March 17 anthem — here called simply IRISH EYES:
TAKING A CHANCE ON LOVE is always a good thing! Savor the lovely dark introduction:
Ellington’s GOIN’ UP — connected solidly to the previous song by a musical thread:
Michael’s next original is called DIASCHESIS (which — when I looked it up — means “loss of function and electrical activity in an area of the brain due to a lesion in a remote area that is neuronally connected with it). I have to believe that the title is completely satiric: everything is functioning splendidly in this band! And I told Michael that I knew big words too — like “delicatessen”:
And here’s a feature for the rhythm section, I HEAR A RHAPSODY:
I had to leave before the final selection was concluded — but it was a rocking blues, both reassuringly familiar and full of surprising curves and angles.
I love and admire this band. In my ideal world — which isn’t that far from realization — they have a steady weekly gig and I can bring my friends to hear them . . . soon, I hope!
May your happiness increase.