Three by three . . . Or perhaps the Jazz Magi, bearing gifts . . . .
On Friday night at the 2009 Jazz at Chautauqua, after the initial fireworks and ballad medley, the stage cleared for something out of the ordinary: a long duet set pairing the irreplaceable tenor saxophonist Harry Allen and the youthful-but-remarkable Ehud Asherie, making his debut appearance at this party. (In the spirit of full disclosure, I had recommended him to director Joe Boughton . . . who was delighted.) The sets at Chautauqua are usually compact affairs, but Joe gave this duo ample room to stretch out. Then Ehud added a proven musical catalyst to the mix by inviting trombonist Dan Barrett up to the stage. I’ve been a Barrett enthusiast since 1987: he’s a natural-born wonder, as readers will know.
“Tonation and phrasing” in splendid ways. Two horns and a piano might seem lopsided, but Harry and Dan were clearly having a ball, conversing in swing time, and Ehud’s orchestral playing kept everything on track. In fact, one of the pleasures of this mini-session is in watching Dan’s face, beaming at Ehud’s playing and Harry’s — we get to beam at Dan’s work in front of our own screens.
They began with a slow-medium SOMETIMES I’M HAPPY, ruminative but never stodgy, that reminded me of the private recordings Timme Rosenkrantz did in his apartment in 1944-5, with musicians stretching out, letting their solos build in the most relaxed way, everyone taking his time . . . to great effect. I also think of it as Lester Young Keynote tempo! Or is it Ben Webster with Jimmy Rowles? And the riff that they drift into with such ease, leaving space for Ehud to comment and ornament . . . before moving into his own slow, striding world. Catch Dan’s explosion in the penultimate chorus (it caught me by surprise) and the slow-motion rocking of this trio — an art much more difficult than playing fast and loud:
I didn’t recognize the verse of the next selection, although it seemed subliminally familiar: when the trio hit the chorus at the sprinting pace Ehud had chosen, I knew it was James P. Johnson’s CHARLESTON, which is such a wonderful (and rarely played) piece of jazz Americana. Like two friends who know each other’s minds so well, Dan and Harry fill in the spaces in each other’s phrases in the most delightful way, with Ehud rollicking along with them (is that a bit of bossa nova I hear before he launches into full Harlem-rent-party stride?). Then, memorable interplay, and an ending that is abruptly hilarious or is it hilariously abrupt?:
Finally (what could follow that?) Ehud went back to Irving Berlin (and Fred Astaire) — always reliable — and called I’M PUTTING ALL MY EGGS IN ONE BASKET, a song that brings out a surprising emotions in the horns, especially Mr. Allen. And in Ehud’s ringing declarative solo, I hear the Giants — Fats, James P., Willie the Lion, Don Lambert, and others. You’ll find your own delights — the hot telepathy Dan and Harry create before Dan decides to suggest that we carry our basket on to the A train:
(This clip is at points obscured by a dark figure who turned out to be Joe Boughton with an eye on the clock, which was a pity: this trio could have jammed all night, and we would have begged for more. But perhaps it’s not right to be greedy: three marvelous group improvisations at this level should be enough for anyone!)