As someone used to listening to jazz — first a narrow slice, then broadening and deepening — like most listeners, I am familiar with what I am familiar with. I appreciate known melodies, improvised on in a variety of ways, as well as beautiful sounds, and I am not too embarrassed by my occasional inability or unwillingness to appreciate what others call jazz. Sometimes, though, I hear something different, created by musicians I respect, and I am emotionally drawn to it. I take it seriously and try to figure out “what it is,” and sometimes fail. But in this case, my ears and my emotions tell me that the music is beautiful and worthy, even though I don’t quite know what to call it. (Categorization can get ugly, as if I was trying to wear the jeans I wore ten years ago.)
I met the saxophonist / clarinetist Jon De Lucia in 2016, and have followed him to several gigs — in an intimate restaurant in Park Slope, Brooklyn; a few sessions at Michael Kanan and Stephanie Greig’s beautiful Drawing Room; most recently to Sir D’s Lounge, also in Brooklyn. Jon asked me if I’d like to hear the music on his new CD release, AS THE RIVER SINGS, recorded in 2014. I listened to some of it online and said yes. On this disc of twelve compositions by Jon, he plays alto saxophone, clarinet, Sruti Box, alto clarinet, flute; he’s joined by Greg Ruggiero, electric guitar; Chris Tordini, string bass; Tommy Crane, drums.
Before you read on, you can listen to a few selections here. Wisely, I think, Jon has not provided a programmatic narrative of what the music is “about,” so we are free to hear. Each track seems part of a larger suite of dance melodies, or dancing ones. I hear Irish keening and island rhythms; the dancing underpinnings also reminded me of Anglo-American pop/dance music of the second half of the last century. Without being a self-conscious rhythmic travelogue, the suite moves gracefully from rhythmic idiom to rhythmic idiom, encouraging the listener to feel, to muse, to sway. Floating melodies, chiming sounds, music that one can listen to in many ways and be moved by it.
The quartet is delightfully egalitarian, so melodies and patterns are passed around and the variety is always entertaining. Jon is a virtuoso who knows the wonders of restraint. His tone is rewarding in itself — I think of the coinage that Darl Bundren, in a William Faulkner novel, uses to describe the ideal temperature for the water he is about to drink, “warmish-cool,” to describe Jon’s playing and his approach to his instruments and our ears. His melodies and improvisations gently have something to tell us, but they are subtle, never banging loudly on our door. And they sink in to our consciousness in quietly memorable ways.
I write this not only to point JAZZ LIVES’ readers towards some rewarding music on disc, but to announce the CD release show at Cornelia St. Cafe on Wednesday, March 8, 2017. Jon and Greg Ruggiero, Sean Smith, and Billy Mintz — all heroes! will play two sets, at 8 and 9:30. The Facebook event page is here. And the salient details are that there is a $10 cover; reservations are recommended; Cornelia St. Underground, 29 Cornelia St., near West 4th St in Manhattan.
May your happiness increase!