Michael Kanan is not only a superb pianist. He knows how to organize a jazz performance. And he has the finest friends I could imagine.
I first came to hear Michael when he played two nights at the end of June with the brilliant saxophonist Joel Press: musical events one can find on JAZZ LIVES. Michael was and is a melodic player with a fine rhythmic surge, creating lines that move into spaces and places I didn’t expect: not esoteric or counterintuitive, but original.
So when Michael mentioned that he was bringing three pianist friends — Tardo Hammer, Pete Malinverni, and Larry Ham — along with bassist Neal Miner and drummer Eliot Zigmund to the street-level Sofia’s (in the Hotel Edison, 221 West 46th Street) for a Saturday session of piano trios, I was extremely excited. With video camera, new Rode microphone, and tripod, I made myself as small as possible in the only available space, next to a mirror, which accounts for some interesting doubling-phenomena.
Michael also did something simple and imaginative: rather than have lengthy sets for each of the players, each pianist played two songs in turn, then made way for the next person. It was wonderful to watch Tardo, Pete, and Michael intently absorb what Larry was playing — and if you switch the names around, you get a sense of the evening.
I won’t comment at length on the players, except to say that I had heard Larry Ham as a member of Dan Block’s “Almost Modern” band, both live and on CD, as well as on a fascinating recital for the Arbors label. Tardo Hammer didn’t know me (which is understandable) but I had admired his LOOK STOP LISTEN (Sharp Nine) as well as his work with the Warren Vache-John Allred quintet. Pete Malinverni was someone new to me, which I regret, but his playing made a deep impression. Pete, incidentally, summed the evening up for me when we spoke at the end: “It’s melody, man!” Appropriately, many of the songs played that night harked back to the singers Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, and Billie Holiday.
Aside from being a splendid videographer, Neal Miner is a resoundingly rewarding bassist — in many contexts — as well as a composer. And Eliot Zigmund showed himself a master of sounds: not simply sticks on the cymbals, but the many varieties of padding and urging that the wire brushes can afford.
Here are an inspiring dozen from that night, studies in jazz empathy:
Tardo’s A NIGHTINGALE SANG IN BERKELEY SQUARE:
Pete’sYOU DON’T KNOW WHAT LOVE IS:
Michael’s DOGHOUSE BLUES (composed by nimble Neal Miner):
Michael’s WHILE WE’RE YOUNG:
Larry’s FALLING IN LOVE WITH LOVE:
Larry’s THE RING:
Tardo’s SOCIAL CALL:
Tardo’s GUESS I’LL HANG MY TEARS OUT TO DRY:
Pete’s GOOD QUESTION (his exploration and response to WHAT IS THIS THING CALLED LOVE):
Michael’s I’M THROUGH WITH LOVE:
Tardo’s MY OLD FLAME:
Mathematically-minded readers will notice that the division of four players and a dozen selections is not quite even: no disrespect meant, just a matter of room acoustics and the like. There were almost as many stellar performances that night that do not appear here. Those who find the occasional surges of conversation difficult to tolerate are asked to read my prior posting, A LITTLE SOFTER, PLEASE?
I have refrained from commenting on individual performances, but a few words might be in order. Notice that all of these players have mastered the subtle arts of deep harmonic exploration while keeping that rhythm going. No Monk cliches, no tired Basie-isms, no cocktail piano rhapsodies. Yes, pianistically-allied readers can (if they like) Trace Influences and Chronicle Echoes, but I’d rather listen to the musical cathedrals these players build — in midtown, yet.
Most of the songs deal — at least in their lyrics — with love. Found, lost, rejected, endured, celebrated. But the love celebrated here is not just romantic: these players not only love but embody the great spirit of creative improvisation. I can’t wait until Michael’s next piano effusion!