I first encountered the splendid drummer Ai Murakami when a copy of her debut CD came into my hands. Her playing impressed me deeply — not only the sounds she created at the drum set, but the ways in which her melodic impulses shaped the quartet’s performance. And I wrote about the CD here.
When Ai and friends they take the stage at Smalls on Sundays, they are characterized as “bebop” players. But for me, bebop is a music of sharp turns and occasional hard edges. Ai’s imagination makes bebop a little softer, more cushiony. I don’t mean limp, but she created an encouraging space for lyrical, arching melodic lines from any or all of the players. And she adores melodic material, whether it’s by Jerome Kern or it’s a racing late-Forties line.
Here are some delightful performances from the Sunday afternoon at Smalls, August 26, 2018 — where Ai is joined by Paul Gill, string bass; Grant Stewart, tenor saxophone; Michael Kanan, piano. Four melodic, exploring heroes.
Richard Rodgers’ FALLING IN LOVE WITH LOVE (who can hear this without hearing Larry Hart’s vingary lyrics?):
Irving Berlin’s wonderful THE BEST THING FOR YOU:
I’LL NEVER BE THE SAME (once known as LITTLE BUTTERCUP) so tenderly introduced by Michael:
Tadd Dameron’s THE SCENE IS CLEAN:
Jerome Kern’s I’M OLD-FASHIONED, beginning with a lovely piano solo:
Finally, Bud Powell’s WAIL:
I think that the people who watch, savor, and learn from these videos understand the principles on which I operate, but I would like to make one explicit. My gratitude to these and other musicians for allowing me to video their performances and share the results — for free — with a larger audience. A great gracious kindness on their part.
May your happiness increase!