Puppets Jazz Bar, in Park Slope (that’s 481 5th Avenue in Brooklyn) was new to me, but owner Jaime Affoumado — a jazz drummer himself — told me that it’s been thriving for six years. Puppets is a delightful spot, with vegan / vegetarian dishes, intriguing drinks, a first-rate piano, and a clear view of the band.
Pianist Michael Bank isn’t new to me, and that’s a pleasure in itself. His playing combines the best elements of timeless mainstream / modern / swing: it’s only logical that he should have studied with Jaki Byard, played alongside Fats Waller’s guitarist Al Casey. Michael always swings and adds his own idiosyncratic touches to even the most well-behaved melody statement.
Michael can offer authentic Wallerisms and Ellingtonian touches, but he isn’t a clone of anyone, and his sly, subtle playing melds the lightness I associate with Wilson and Basie with more exploratory harmonies — a perfect fit.
For this evening, Michael was joined by two veterans of the New York jazz scene: bassist Murray Wall and drummer Giampaolo Biagi — and a new face, the young guitarist Matt Smith. Here’s the first set plus a swinging feature for Murray.
To begin with, Michael called the most “ordinary” opening song anyone could think of — an easy ON THE SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET, in C. But notice his intriguing twists and turns, his delicacy and humor. There’s nothing formulaic here:
Kern’s YESTERDAYS often labors under the morose seriousness the lyrics suggest: this performance (thanks to Giampaolo’s and Murray’s strong pulse) makes me think that the halcyon days were spent uptown at the Savoy Ballroom, even though Matt’s chiming lines come from a few decades later:
I associate YOU STEPPED OUT OF A DREAM with Bobby Hackett — but the energetic rocking of this quartet shows that this dream is a swing fantasy:
GONE WITH THE WIND is one of those twining songs I can’t hear often enough: its melody alone is a pleasure. Matt’s backwards-looking lines are intriguing exercises in balancing the notes in his own good time. And Michael’s solo chorus is worth the wait — both thoughtful and hilariously exuberant:
Murray Wall proposed (in response to Giampaolo’s suggestion that they play some Ellington music) his own I GOT IT BAD, which again took the typically sad song and shook it up happily and plausibly. Ellington had the finest bass players; he would have loved this version:
Michael Bank doesn’t come down to New York City often enough for my taste. As a soloist and leader, he’s worth looking out for!