The music that Jonathan Doyle writes, plays, and inspires is too expansive to fit into any box, but listening to these four glorious performances from the Redwood Coast Music Festival, I thought, “What would happen if some magical science could graft the soundtrack of JAMMIN’ THE BLUES onto the Ellington small groups and the secret John Hammond-Basie sessions of 1936-9?” That imagined concoction, a rich brew, amused me, but again it was too confining for what Jonathan does with and through his Swingtet.
I would have you note the obvious: he is a wonderfully inspired soloist and ensemble player, improvising as he goes with great feeling, but his lines are quirky and surprising, and his arrangements are so rewarding that one should revisit any performance more than twice or three times to savor the mix of soloists, ensemble passages, dynamics, timbres (delicate to raucous) which all add up to a compositional sense that keeps the fervor of a jam session / head arrangement — the results not only please but amaze.
Some of the amazement, to be accurate, comes from the singular talents Jonathan attracts — I think people on this level are eager to play alongside him and read his charts, because they thrive on the stimulation they can find here. It is as far from formulaic readings of PERDIDO or ROYAL GARDEN BLUES as one could imagine or hope for. For this set, Jonathan’s colleagues are Hal Smith, drums; Steve Pikal, string bass; Kris Tokarski, piano; Jamey Cummins, guitar (SOME rhythm section, as E.B. White’s Charlotte would have written); Charlie Halloran, trombone; Jacob Zimmerman, alto saxophone and clarinet. All brought to you — not only by the musicians — by the generous wise pair who create the Redwood Coast Music Festival, Mark and Valerie Jansen.
Here’s more. Only the first half of Laura Glaess’ title applies here:
Jonathan’s JUST A LITTLE RIGHT:
Named for the thrilling Mister Smith:
and the gorgeously textured STEPPIN’ LIGHT:
And a brief didactic moment, which those who listen deeply can skip. I suspect, sadly, that some jazz consumers are brand-fixated, rather like children who will only eat McNuggets and drink Coke. “That’s not My Favorite Band, so I’ll skip it.” Dear consumers, take a chance and listen: beauty sprouts and blooms all through Jonathan Doyle’s Swingtet.
May your happiness increase!