Some people think that jazz performances are primarily strings of solos, and this is occasionally true. But one of the deep pleasures of listening to this music is in the three-dimensional shapes that performances can take. This kind of immediate, impromptu architectural construction can happen at a jam session, where the players don’t know each other well, or it can be the happy collective invention of a working band.
In either case, while a listener is absorbing the movement from one chorus to the next, it’s easy to visualize a jazz cathedral being built. Everything adds to the larger structure: notes and lines aren’t there solely for their own evanescent purposes, but they also function as parts of something far larger that is getting created before our ears and eyes.
This happened all through the night at last Sunday’s session at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street) by the Ear Regulars, who were (in the first set) Matt Munisteri (guitar) , Jon-Erik Kellso (trumpet), Pete Martinez (clarinet), and Greg Cohen (bass). For the second set, they were joined, off and on, by Dan Block (tenor), Alex Norris (trumpet), and Adrian Cunningham (clarinet). To my ears, everyone played brilliantly — but a good deal of the credit for the lovely architectural shapes goes to Jon-Erik, who has quietly taken on the mantle of his and my hero, Ruby Braff — not only as a peerless player, but as a wondrous sensitive on-the-bandstand subtle orchestrator, making performances shapely and varied. Pete Martinez was in burning form — his tone and attack on his Albert system clarinet is one of the marvels of the age. Greg Cohen created one eloquent solo after another (no one has told him that the string bass is supposed to be less than orchestrally grand!) and providing fine support. Matt Munisteri, once again, came through as one of the hardest-working men in music: never letting up, never coasting, either in rhythm or in fluid, tumbling lines.
I’ve included a number of performances that particularly struck me as having an architectural glory. See if you don’t agree!
Early on in the first set, they took on the pretty pop song (circa 1935) that everyone associates with Fats Waller, although he didn’t compose it. (Later, Ruby Braff took it on, most deliciously.) Its title is properly optimistic: I BELIEVE IN MIRACLES:
Then, a tongue-twisting novelty number identified firmly with Louis — who gave up on the lyrics early on in the performance. I’M A DING DONG DADDY FROM DUMAS (“and you oughta see me do my stuff”):
And the concluding section:
Returning to Louis’s Hot Seven, here’s WILLIE THE WEEPER (whose lyrics describe the dream that Willie — he was a chimney sweeper — had. I think Willie was under the influence of some illegal but highly uplifting substances, but since the Ear Regulars don’t favor us with a vocal chorus, you’ll have to investigate the text on your own). Non-guitarists like myself might find Matt’s playing on this track unusual, but (as Jon-Erik pointed out) he’d broken a string and soldiered on heroically anyway. Nothing stops our heroes!
In the second set, Dan Block brought his tenor sax, and they launched into a rollicking MAHOGANY HALL STOMP, complete with flourishes:
And (with trumpeter Alex Norris — he of the full, round tone — added) I’M CONFESSIN’, full of feeling:
If the Landmarks Commission only knew what beautiful structures were being erected on Sunday nights . . . !