Tag Archives: Dave Gross

THREE MOODS, NO WAITING: JON-ERIK KELLSO, ANDY FARBER, CHRIS FLORY, MICHAEL KARN, DAVE GROSS, GARY FOSTER (The EarRegulars at The Ear Inn, September 8, 2013)

This trio of selections from another memorable Sunday-night party at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City) reminds us again of a great band’s ability to move freely around in a variety of tempos, and of the beauties of melodic improvisation.

Tempo: in the last thirty years, the speed at which familiar jazz material is approached has steadily accelerated, until (to my ears) some groups have only two speeds, Fast and Faster (with an occasional ballad or slithering mood piece / blues).  The EarRegulars are intimately familiar with the glories of Medium Tempo and Rhythm Ballads.

Melody: although the musicians may chat delightedly about the harmonic feats of daring accomplished during a solo, most of us warm to the sweet melodies we know.  This doesn’t mean that they have to be replicated precisely according to the sheet music, but it does mean that BODY AND SOUL, for example, is more than a shift from one key center to another.

That’s enough aesthetic sermonizing for anyone.  To the music — which proves once again that classic standards still have enough resilience to be fascinating material for improvisers in this century — three songs written before Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first term.

The players are Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Andy Farber, tenor saxophone; Chris Flory, electric guitar; Michael Karn, string bass:

A romp on TEA FOR TWO:

A very sweetly evocative slither through LOVER, COME BACK TO ME:

With Dave Gross, acoustic guitar, and Gary Foster, wirebrushes on paper “tablecloth,” the band took it easy on ROSE ROOM (a sweetly pastoral song in its first incarnation):

You’ve never been to The Ear Inn for a Sunday-night Frolic?  They begin about 8 PM and end sometime shortly after 11.  And they’re memorable — larger than my videos, even in HD, can contain.  (These sessions have been going on for six years now, which makes them a New York institution — but plan to show up before the EarRegulars celebrate their tenth, or their twenty-fifth anniversary.  In New York, even monuments have a habit of disappearing.  Ask any New Yorker.)

May your happiness increase!

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LOCAL HEROES: THE EAR REGULARS (March 21, 2010)

Why do some combinations of musicians coalesce memorably, and others not?  I suspect that it is a matter of forces the players themselves can’t explain.  They can tell you in detail why things don’t work: someone’s tired or annoyed; X dislikes that tempo; Y can’t stand the song; Z doesn’t feel well. 

But when all the stars are in alignment, the music is uplifting.  And the players look contented when they hear their colleagues; the smiles you see at the end of a song add up to a contented glow around the band.

This unpredictable magic happened on Sunday, March 21, 2010, at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, New York City). 

Two of the Ear Regulars were the valiant co-leaders: guitarist Matt Munisteri and trumpeter Jon-Erik Kellso, brave and true, who have led their little band on Sunday nights for thirty months now, a delightfully consistent series of small-band jam sessions.  One of the horn players, clarinetist Pete Martinez, had played there a week ago in concert with trombonist Harvey Tibbs.  And Scott Robinson has been a Regular, off and on, since the start — but this time he was featured on bass sax (with a surprise appearance on piccolo late in the evening). 

Were they especially happy to be playing together, although they knew each other from other appearances?  Was pleasurable anticipation, soon realized, in the air?  I don’t know.  But on this Sunday, the Ear Regulars reminded me of the great New York sessions of my youth — small groups featuring Ruby Braff, Vic Dickenson, Bobby Hackett, Milt Hinton, and others — lyrical, singing hot jazz.

Here are nine performances from this wondrous constellation of players, with guests coming by.  I know that the videos aren’t the same as being there, but perhaps if you raise the volume and get in the groove, you’ll catch the fervent spirit.  And I know it wasn’t just my happy hallucination: you can ask Jackie Kellso, Kevin Dorn, Doug Pomeroy, Molly Ryan, Dan Levinson, Barbara Rosene, and the elated Friends of The Ear whose names I didn’t catch. 

After a spirited warmup on THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE, Jon-Erik did something unusual by suggesting an even faster CHINA BOY.  It summoned up the drive of the Bechet-Spanier HRS session, with a good deal of Adrian Rollini added, as well as some Quintet of the Hot Club of France flavoring from guitarist Julian Lage:

Then, the Ear Regulars decided to try that very pretty Arthur Schwartz song, I GUESS I’LL HAVE TO CHANGE MY PLAN (associated in my mind with Bobby Hackett and Jack Teagarden), happily asking Scott to take the melody statement, a splendid idea:

Do you associate LOUISIANA with Bix, Bing, or Lester and Basie?  Whichever version you prefer, this one rocks:

I don’t know who thought of CREOLE LOVE CALL, but any time Jon-Erik takes out his plunger mute, I listen attentively to the secret messages he’s sending:

And the set closed with a minor romp, BLUES MY NAUGHTY SWEETIE GIVES TO ME, which gave Pete another chance to sear us with his lovely exuberant upper register:

After a break for dinner, it was time (however late) for a sensitive reading of Walter Donaldson’s AT SUNDOWN, at a lovely ballad tempo:

Cornetist John Bucher had come in when the second set started, and Jon-Erik invited him aboard for I NEVER KNEW, with closing riffs reminiscent of the 1933 Chocolate Dandies record:

Guitarist Dave Gross joined in for the final two numbers: a beautifully articulated IT’S THE TALK OF THE TOWN:

Finally, after some discussion, the Regulars chose WHISPERING to end the evening:

This music speaks for itself.  If you’ve never been to The Ear Inn on a Sunday, you’re denying yourself rare pleasure.

FEELING THE SPIRIT

People danced in the aisles at The Ear Inn last night.

In the movies, when a scene takes place in a jazz club, inevitably, the music is transcendent, the audience transported. Experienced listeners know that this doesn’t happen often. And sometimes it happens for the wrong reasons, showmanship or Scotch-induced euphoria. When the musicians play wondrously and the audience understands what they are hearing, that’s rare and thrilling.

Last night at The Ear Inn was one of those splendid times when everything coalesced, lifting the already fine players to a higher plane, uplifting all of us, too. The music was quietly spectacular, the audience attentive and enthusiastic.

The Ear Regulars who came together on April 20 were old friends: Jon-Erik Kellso on trumpet, Scott Robinson on reeds, James Chirillo on guitar, and Greg Cohen on bass. Each of these players is special, someone able to lift up a group of musicians by himself. Scott deserves a special note about his instruments. I imagine his studio as wall-to-wall instruments, each more rare and strange than the next. To list all his usual reed and brass instruments would be exhausting. Last night, he brought his tenor, but also two reeds, surpassing strange — a tenor Rothaphone, resembling a tenor sax seen through the wrong end of the binoculars, thicker than a fountain pen but not much. Its adenoidal sound suggests that there was a naughty interlude with a bassoon in its past. But Scott played it with his characteristic easy splendor. Aside from his tenor sax, his other horn was a taragato, apparently a Hungarian version of a straight soprano, with a sweeter sound and a wooden barrel. Give Scott a pencil sharpener and stand back — lovely music will come out.

I’ve praised Kellso elsewhere in this blog as the Prince of Growl, someone whose ascents and descents get to the deep heart of jazz. He said to me that this band brought together Don Cherry (Ornette Coleman’s early colleague) and Dixieland, and he was right. Chirillo and Cohen had a solid rhythmic wave going — no mere matter of metronomic precision. Flexibility was the key, as this quartet listened to each other and reacted in nanoseconds. Many times, listening, I was reminded of why we say jazz musicians play — jubilant experimentation was in the air. The music started out simply — melody plus variations over a swinging pulse, but it went to the Edge, gave the Edge a friendly hug, and then explored uncharted territories, scaring no one in the process.

The band kicked off with “Sunday,” an early Jule Styne song — the Regulars had been playing for almost a year of Sundays, but hadn’t called this song, which seemed perfectly on target. Taken at a slightly slower tempo than its usual bounce, it felt like a ballad with a Basie heart: Jon began his solo with cries that suggested someone calling out to see if there were any other hikers in the woods. With whimsical logic, he called “From Monday On” next. Chirillo had fun laying The Third Man theme over whatever chords were moving along. Scott’s momentum took him seamlessly from one chorus to the next, and Greg, in high spirits, stayed on one good note for some time, enjoying it, prompting Scott to launch into a witty rendition of “One Note Samba,” a great jazz witticism.

After some not-too-serious discussion about what songs could follow — Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday were vetoed — Scott launched into a solo rubato introduction to “The More I See You.” Aside from brief solos by Jon and James, the latter tinkering with the line to make it more of a blues, it was all Scott, reaching into the upper register with the utmost delicacy. A little comedy took over when the lovely ballad had ended, perhaps as a release from the tension of creating great beauty — Scott paraphrased the melody as a slap-tongue interlude. For a moment, I thought Chuck Jones had come to 326 Spring Street.

A fast “Whispering” came next, reminiscent of the glory days of the Braff-Barnes quartet. Scott stretched the expected chords in his solo, Greg, happily floating on the rhythm wave, bobbed his head. The Ear Regulars have returned often to “Some of These Days,” an old-time classic with a built-in swing, but this time, it was “Samba These Days,” with twangy abstract dissonances from James, upward slides from Jon, a joyous momentum.

Strayhorn’s “The Intimacy of the Blues” followed — a walking slow blues introduced by Greg and James, with the horns taking their time, earnest and sad against a slow-motion boogie woogie background. Chirillo did his own version of an Earl Hines tremolo in a solo that sounded as if he was sitting on a Mississippi porch at dusk. With each chorus, the song became a grieving lullaby, as slow as possible but with a fierce pulse underneath. I couldn’t imagine what could follow that, but Jon pulled something else out of his substantial memory, a stomping “Farewell Blues,” lifted up by Greg’s slapped bass and propulsive one-note riffs that backed Louis on his early Thirties records. Scott took out his Rothaphone and wailed away on it.

That’s when it happened.

At a table in front of me, a slender woman had been gyrating, holding on to the shoulders of the man seated in front of her. Without a word, the two of them, lithe and graceful, started to jitterbug ferociously in the smallest possible space, moving in tiny but energetic arcs, dancing on a dime — with hip-wiggling, dips, and spins that would have wowed them at the Savoy Ballroom. It was brilliant, funny, heartwarming. Whoever you are, O dancing couple, blessings on your nimble selves!

I was grateful for the break — I didn’t think my nervous system could absorb much more delightful stimulation — and it gave me a chance to talk to Doug Pomeroy, veteran recording engineer and wise listener. And, during the first set, a half-dozen extraordinary musicians had come in — trombonists Harvey Tibbs and Jim Fryer; the young trumpet sensation Bria Skonberg; reedmen Dan Block and Mark Phaneuf, singers Tamar Korn and Gina Sicilia, guitarist Dave Gross, banjoist Cynthia Sayer.

The quartet reassembled for a breezy, affectionate “The Lady’s in Love With You,” and then Jon invited Bria Skonberg to sit in. Bria, from Vancouver, is a Louis-and-Roy-inspired hot trumpeter. She has a big sound, impressive technique, a thoughtful way of constructing phrases, a fervent vibrato (used judiciously) and a throaty growl. All of this was on display in a jogging “There’ll Be Some Changes Made,” with the two trumpeters graciously trading places — one playing embellished melody, the other improvising around the lead or offering echoing harmony parts.

Then it happened again, as if one piece of jubilant choreography wasn’t enough. A solidly-built woman in a navy-blue dress, her hair cropped short, decided that the narrow aisle of the Ear’s main room, was a New Orleans street parade, and began, with a paper napkin waving flirtatiously from her mobile right hand, to sashay up and down the room. The grins that were already there — on the bandstand and in the audience — grew wider, and I heard more than one voice say approvingly, “Second line!” which is the name given to the dancing bystanders in the Crescent City. Thank you, ma’am, for sharing your good times with us.

A new quintet of Bria, Harvey, Scott, James, and Greg turned to a heart-on-sleeve “Out of Nowhere,” before the singer Tamar Korn (of the new band, The Cangelosi Cards) was invited to sing, Scott turning to his taragato for an Ellington-shaded version of “Dinah,” at a fervently slow tempo. Korn, tiny and emotive, showed off a nearly operatic voice with deep jazz roots. I heard Adelaide Hall and Lee Morse in her scat exchanges with Jon. She is her own woman, someone to search out. She was invited to stay on for a brisk “After You’ve Gone” which gave all the sitters-in space in the best Thirties manner of two compact choruses apiece. Gina Sicilia took over from Tamar for a dark, smoky “Fine and Mellow,” and Cynthia Sayer joined the congregation — making for a string section of electric and acoustic guitars and banjo, each individualistic yet meshing. It was well past eleven, but no one wanted to go home, so Jon called for a closing “You’re Driving Me Crazy” which gave the trombones room to trade solos.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a happier group — not artificial enthusiasm whipped up by drum solos and high notes, by volume and showmanship, but by the energy and joy the musicians (and dancers) so generously shared with us. Everything possible in jazz had happened here, and more. Inspired solos, of course, but jammed counterpoint, stop-time backgrounds, riffs and organ-note backgrounds, sotto voce hums, four and eight-bar trades, key changes, spontaneous head arrangements.

I walked to the subway, so dreamily happy that I walked right past the entrance, thinking what a privilege it had been to be there. I’ve had a great deal of aesthetic levitation at The Ear Inn, and I expect to have a good deal more, but I won’t ever forget last night.