DAO (or more commonly TAO) is a Chinese word and concept meaning loosely “the way,” “the underlying principle.” SWING should be a more familiar word to readers of this blog. The title of Michael Bank’s new CD might be read on the surface as “The Way To Swing,” but it suggests something more profound: that happy unity when the musicians connect with the deeper rhythms of the universe. An ambitious aspiration, but Michael Bank’s Septet makes it come alive.
I first met Michael at a Sunday brunch gig in Brooklyn, with, among other friends, Jesse Gelber, Craig Ventresco and Kevin Dorn. In the most unmusical setting (well-fed young couples speaking loudly about their investments, their architect, and their renovations) Michael’s playing always caught my attention. He had an unerring sense of what to add to the musical conversation. (Working alongside and learning from Jaki Byard, Dick Katz, Al Casey, and other veterans had affected him, audible through his playing, arranging, and compositions.)
Last year, I heard his Septet for the first time. Most of the group’s repertoire was given over to Michael’s compositions. Unlike some “originals,” in this century, they had memorable melodies and voicings. See the end of this post for three examples from that session:.I was delighted to learn that Michael and the Septet had issued a compact disc of his music. Swing, yes; imitation, no — creative evocation, yes. When heard casually from another room, the sound might suggest the rocking little band of Johnny Hodges in the early Fifties, but close listening reveals quirky, surprising touches. The Septet is rhythmically rooted in the great oceanic motion of Mainstream, but Michael’s melodic and harmonic language moves easily between Fifty-Second Street and the present, grounded in the blues and mood pieces. (His compositions are more than disguised reheatings of overplayed chord changes.) Michael’s skills as an arranger are on display through the disc — perhaps most so in his witty reinvention of WHEN IRISH EYES ARE SMILING — the Celts go uptown.
Michael Bank, piano, arrangements and compositions; Simon Wettenhall, trumpet / fluegelhorn; Kris Jensen, Mike Mullens, Geof Bradfield, Ray Franks, saxophones; Kelly Friesen, string bass; Steve Little, drums. The songs are ALTAIR / AZTEC 2-STEP / FOR JAKI / MINOR CHANGES / LL3 / ONE NOTE (by Michael’s mentor, Jaki Byard) / BLUEVIEW / WHEN IRISH EYES ARE SMILING. The players are more than equal to the material: I’d known Simon Wettenhall, Kelly Friesen, and Steve Little before this, but the collective saxophonists are just splendid: everyone understands the tradition but easily moves in and out of it.
Here are three videos from the May 2012 gig:
To hear the music on the CD, the usual suspects: CD BABY, itunes, and The-Dao-of-Swing . Better yet, come to one of the Septet’s gigs. And one is taking place this Tuesday, September 17 — from 4 to 4:45 PM at the East River Bandshell in lower Manhattan. Michael will be joined by Simon Wettenhall, trumpet; Noah Bless, trombone; Jay Rattman, alto; Andrew Hadro, baritone; Michael Bank, piano; Matt Smith, guitar; Trifon Dimitrov, bass; Kevin Dorn, drums.
May your happiness increase!