Consider an unadorned slice of toasted bread.
Spread with blood orange marmalade, it becomes sweet. Take another slice and add butter mixed with anchovy paste, the result is savory.
Jazz musicians — who love to see how far the rules can be bent — have been merging the two categories for a century or more now, mixing heat with romanticism, swinging ballads about love lost and love found.
The EarRegulars do this splendidly every Sunday night (8-11 PM) at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City).
Last Sunday (Nov. 21, 2010) was simultaneously remarkable and typical. Jon-Erik Kellso, Matt Munisteri, Scott Robinson, and Greg Cohen are singularly in tune with one another, able to play with abandon and art, anticipating each other’s inventions, moods, turns of phrase. Their unspoken connections are thrilling — rather like watching great imaginers who bounce off one another’s inspirations, having their say while building something larger than the four instrumental voices.
Here are three performances. The first is an exuberant version of MY GAL SAL — a sentimental song kept alive through the affection of a very few jazz groups who enjoy its possibilities:
Then, something I had requested: a ballad-tempo version of I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME, where Jon-Erik remembered a Cootie WIlliams small-group recording. The EarRegulars extracted every ounce of feeling from this sweet song (often done as a bouncy exaltation):
Finally, one of the once-familiar jam tunes (recorded memorably by both Bing Crosby and Eddie Condon, featuring Pee Wee Russell):
Inspired play — both jubilant and experimental, satsifying the senses then and now.