Mariel Bildsten. Photograph by Jeff Drolette.
Mariel Bildsten’s grandfather was an architect, as is her mother. Mariel, a brilliant young trombonist, doesn’t construct buildings. She makes them rock.
I first met Mariel underground — less ominous than it sounds — about two weeks ago, when she and the wonderful guitarist Greg Ruggiero were setting up to play duets in TURNSTYLE, beneath the Time Warner Center, more or less. They made delicious music while, on either side, shoppers and eaters and commuters rushed by. I already knew Greg as a player both lyrical and swinging, from his work with Michael Kanan and Neal Miner, but Mariel — born in 1994 — was a pleasing revelation.
She has a big beautiful tone, facility without glibness, a mature sense of phrasing (you can feel her thinking about what the next note might be — no hesitation, but a thoughtfulness), and an unerring swing.
So when Mariel said she’d have a septet playing Ellington and Basie at the free Tuesday late-afternoon sessions at the Time Warner Center (sponsored by the Eileen Fisher clothing company) I wanted to be there, and was able to video-record the session, which was a delight. With Mariel were Patrick Alexander Bartley Jr., alto Saxophone; Ruben Fox, tenor saxophone; Giveton Gelin, trumpet; Evan Sherman, drums; Mathis Jaona Jolan Picard, keyboard, and Barry Stephenson, string bass.
I knew everything was going to be all right when the band played ninety seconds of DICKIE’S DREAM for a soundcheck. You won’t hear that, but here’s the full performance that followed after Mariel had introduced the band:
and then the Ellington small-band classic, first known as SUBTLE SLOUGH, then as JUST SQUEEZE ME when lyrics were added:
Later-period Basie (1962), SENATOR WHITEHEAD, on familiar changes:
From Ellington’s 1967 COMBO SUITE, the justly-famous THE INTIMACY OF THE BLUES (first simply called “Billy Strayhorn’s riff” at the record date):
Also from the COMBO SUITE, TELL ME ‘BOUT MY BABY:
Finally, from the Suite, NEAR NORTH:
Mariel’s tribute to Lawrence Brown, clearly one of her inspirations, was her improvisation on LET’S FALL IN LOVE, which Brown played so splendidly on the Johnny Hodges session called SIDE BY SIDE:
Patrick Bartley’s wonderful evocation of that same Hodges on Billy Strayhorn’s PASSION FLOWER:
TICKLE-TOE, one of the high points of Western Civilization, by Lester Young:
And another nod to later Basie, WHAT’CHA TALKIN’?:
I don’t pretend to be an expert on the jazz scene as it is unfolding in New York City or elsewhere; I know my musicians and I revere them. But it was a great pleasure to meet and hear so many young players, so expert, who were new to me. The next time I read some journalist who wants to convince me that jazz is dead, I will think of this session and these players, providing living rebuttals.
May your happiness increase!