Tag Archives: Mitch Borden

IT’S MINNOW’S GIG

Sometimes the real power isn’t the person you’d expect.  Although royalty always wears a fur coat.  In this case, the ruling genius of Smalls (that wonderful jazz oasis on West Tenth Street in New York City) is Minnow, the resident Maine Coon cat — who surveys everything with a mixture of reserve and disdain.

I’m told that Minnow — after hours — has a Cecil Taylor conception at the piano — but I’ve yet to video one of her sessions.  She did make a cameo appearance with supporting players Ehud Asherie and Jon-Erik Kellso in this 2011 performance:

On September 10, 2013, I went to Smalls to hear and record three eminent humans — saxophonist Michael Hashim, pianist Spike Wilner, and string bassist Murray Wall.  But before the “jazz musicians” took the stage, Minnow decided to let everyone know — silently but powerfully — whose club, whose stage, whose gig it really is.  Local 802, take note.  The paparazzi certainly did:

All the cat joins in, or something like that.

May your happiness increase!

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SMALL CLUB, BIG JAZZ

Flip and I went to see Ehud Asherie last night at Smalls, where his duet partner was the Russian-born altoist Dmitry Baevsky, someone you should know.  I’ve heard Dmitry shining through Joe Cohn’s RESTLESS (Arbors), but was even more impressed by him in person.  The interplay between the two musicians — they’re long-term friends — should surprise no one who’s been reading this blog.  Ehud, modest about his own playing, listens deeply, thoughtfully commenting, answering, anticipating, smoothing the way.

Here’s the duo on Bud Powell’s STRICTLY CONFIDENTIAL.

Dmitry is a special pleasure.  Many alto players born in the last sixty or so years have fallen under the great avian enchantment of Charlie Parker.  Even if they don’t adopt his familiar repertoire, they work towards his brilliant tone and great facility — which translates into rapid flurries of notes aimed at the listener.  More recent altoists, perhaps falling under Coltrane’s and Ornette’s spells, have chosen to break out of bebop’s conventions — often with a harsh tone, a nearly aggressive approach to their material.

Dmitry is well aware of what has taken place in jazz, and he’s no reactionary, tied to ancient points of view.  But he loves the sound of his instrument, and he enjoys its singing possibilities without falling into sticky-sweetness.  In his playing, I hear the bounce of Pete Brown in some turns of phrase, the pensive quality of a Paul Desmond — but mostly I hear Dmitry, which is a wonderful thing indeed.  That tone!

And both of these players know how to convey deep feeling through their instruments.  Here they approach POOR BUTTERFLY with tenderness, even reverence.

Smalls is reminiscent of someone’s suburban basement or “rec room” in the Seventies — but the casual intimacy of the place inspires the musicians who play there, as you can hear.  I couldn’t stay on for long after Ehud’s duet set, but he was followed by Tardo Hammer, then by Sacha Perry and Ari Roland — a cornucopia of world-class jazz for a $20 cover.

JAZZ FINDS ME IN NEW YORK

I made it to Smalls, that casual jazz mecca, on Thursday night to sit close to the bandstand and absorb the sounds.  Smalls seems a blessed place as soon as you descend the stairs and see the huge portrait of Louis, sharp as a tack, dressed in high British style, circa 1933.  And the two players who improvised under that portrait were clearly in tune with his spirit.  The immensely talented Dan Block, bringing his alto and clarinet, filled the hour with melodic shapes inhabited by notes that were full of meaning but never weighty.  And pianist Ehud Asherie gets wittier and wittier, more rhythmically subtle and melodically free, every time I see him.  And more modest, too!

I brought my little friend — Flip the Video Camera — and have two delightful bits of cinema verite to offer here.  The first, “Thanks A Million,” was a pop hit — from a Dick Powell film — in 1935.  Most of us know this pretty tune (expressing gratitudes in swing) from the eloquent Decca recording Louis did — and later versions by Bobby Hackett and Jon-Erik Kellso (the only one of the three who includes the pretty verse when he plays the song).

Following this, the duo offered a leisurely, ranging “The Love Nest,” a 1920 song that was later taken up by George Burns and Gracie Allen as their theme song.  I always think of a wonderfully hot medium-tempo version by Max Kaminsky on Commodore — with Frank Orchard, Rod Cless, James P. Johnson, Eddie Condon, Bob Casey (I think), and George Wettling.  (Sometimes I think I started a blog only for the pure pleasure of writing “Rod Cless” in public, in a quietly worshipful way.)

Incidentally, there are more clips of Ehud on YouTube — with Harry Allen and the aforementioned Jon-Erik.

Then, a beautifully dressed Rossano Sportiello took the stage with his Amici — the brothers Luigi and  Pasquale Grasso on alto and guitar, Luca Santangelo on drums, and Joel Forbes (an honorary Italian-American for the occasion) to saunter through a slow “Lady Be Good” in honor of Basie and “I’m Through With Love” in honor of Bing, perhaps.  Wonderful music — and I was sorry I had to leave, but Friday morning was calling.  (It sounds like an alarm clock.)

That would have been enough to make a splendid evening for anyone — including chats with Ehud and Rossano, with Mitch Borden and pianist Spike Wilner, two of the people who have kept Smalls alive and vibrant.  But two other incidents brought delight.  I had told Mitch about posting here, announcing the pleasures to come.  He looked slightly skeptical (although it might be his typical expression) and began asking people seated near us how they had heard about these Thursday sessions.  And an attractive black-haired young woman said pertly to Mitch, “Online,” with the (“. . . of course . . . “) unspoken but hanging visible in the air.  Blessings on your head, my dear woman, whoever you are.

After the gig, I made my way — valiant warrior that I am — to Penn Station for the trek back to my nest.  Dinner with the Beloved (at Bar Pitti) had been delicious but early, so I was peckish, not an unusual condition.  I headed to one of the better pizza palaces in Penn and bought a slice.  On line ahead of me there was a man and woman, of my generation, arousing no particular notice aside from being the people who had to be served before I could get fed.  This pizza oasis has a seating area, usually filled with sports fans because a television set is tuned to some game or the other.  (Like the audience at old-style movie theatres, the patrons here — sipping beer in plastic cups and eating — talk loudly to each other and to the set.)

All this is elaborate prelude to my finding a seat near this couple: he gray-haired, she auburn-tressed.  They were having an animated conversation, with him in the lead.  He was telling her what had happened at the concert — what the bass player did, where the drummer went, etc.  He sounded hip; he used the word “gig”; he was clearly a professional musician.  My eavesdropping talents, always highly honed, went into higher gear.  I finished my pizza and took one of my business cards out of my wallet, and gingerly approached the couple.  “Eavesdropping is very rude, so I apologize . . . but it sounded as if you were a New York musician.  I have a jazz blog and perhaps you might like to see it sometime.”  Unabashed self-promotion, I admit, but the man smiled and said, “Sure.  My name is Warren Chiasson, and I play the vibes.”

After a brief pause, I closed my mouth and told Warren he needed no introduction, and we had a brief, happy chat.  I had to make my train, so the three of us grinned at the coincidence and went our separate ways.  But I was elated all the way home.  Warren gave me his business card — so I know this was no hallucination — and I’ve added his website to my blogroll.  Hope he sees this posting someday!

EHUD’S GOT RHYTHM

 

The earnest, cheerful young pianist in this photograph is Ehud Asherie.  At Smalls, the happily atmospheric jazz club at 183 West 10th Street, he has been at the helm of small groups with Harry Allen, Jon-Erik Kellso, Mchael Hashim, and others.  Smalls, incidentally, is a compact jazz shrine — one of the owners, Mitch Borden, launched a conversation about trumpeter Bill Coleman — a name you don’t hear very often, more’s the pity.  And behind Jon-Erik on the small stage you will see a famous picture of a young, nattily dressed Louis in London, around 1932 (catch the plus fours), giving his blessing to everything that happens in the room. 

I went to hear Ehud and Jon-Erik play duets on Thursday night, and their one-hour set was varied, heartfelt, and swinging.  If you visit Ehud’s beautifully designed website (www.ehudasherie.com), you might think you were listening to a most capable Mainstream – Bop pianist, nimbly improvising in the treble, supporting his treble flights with percussive chords in the bass.  But I had heard from musicians, among them drummer Kevin Dorn, that Ehud knew what it was to swing, to play stride piano, most convincingly.  Kevin was right.       

Solo piano is extremely difficult, because there’s no Walter Page /Jo Jones cushion to rest on.  Ehud is more than up to the task: his melodic embellishments never abandon the beauties of the songs, and his style is a rewarding melding of thoughtful, graceful Teddy Wilson treble lines, deep harmonies that took in the whole history of jazz piano, and flexible rhythmic support with modern touches.  He has the quiet drive of late-period Ralph Sutton, with the harmonic surprise of Jimmy Rowles.  At times, I thought of Fats Waller having a drink with Thelonious Monk, but the music isn’t an academic exercise, a player showing off how many styles he’s learned.  Ehud’s playing is an organic whole, with one phrase leading to the next, one chorus logically building on its predecessor.  If solo playing is a difficult task, duet playing requires special intuition and empathy so that it isn’t Dueling Ego.  Jon-Erik is not only a priceless soloist but a generous ensemble player, so what happened at Smalls was an aesthetic conversation that occasionally became spiritual communion.  If I tell you that both players were ginning at each other throughout the set, that should convey their (and our) pleasure. 

They began with an ambling “I Would Do Anything For You,” written by the now almost-forgotten Claude Hopkins, a Thirties song usually taken at a breakneck pace, with Jon-Erik using one of his many mutes.  They picked up the tempo to explore a traditional melody Ehud thought had Irish roots, “When You And I Were Young, Maggie,” at a tempo that suggested that the past must have been more than usually athletic.  Jon-Erik thought that such reminiscences deserved the naughty growls and moans that only plunger-muted trumpet can convey.  A lyrical “Body and Soul” followed (a classic that deserves to be played on its own terms at least once a night at every jazz gig), then a Bixish “I’m Comin’ Virginia,” complete with its verse.  Perhaps as a nod to Fats Waller, or to Ruby Braff, Ehud called for “I’m Crazy ‘Bout My Baby,” which was ferocious.  Here he showed his inspiring stride playing — technically assured, with delicious variations of the bass patterns — subtly propulsive rather than mechanistic.  Jon-Erik then announced that Ehud, “the band within a band,” would play a solo, and the “Echo of Spring” that followed did honor to its creator, Willie “the Lion” Smith.  A “funky – groovy” “Lonesome Road” was the occasion for an extended Kellso solo, impassioned yet controlled.  A playful “i’m Putting All My Eggs In One Basket” featured some truly joyful interplay, and the set closed with “Tea for Two,” taken straight, Ehud beginning with an elaborate Waller-tinged reading of the verse, and wittily slipping in reference to “Some Other Time” into his improvisations. 

As I left, I saw the fine pianist Rossano Sportiello at the back of the room: he, too, had come to admire.  And there was so much to admire!  Future Thursdays will feature other distinguished New Yorkers joining Ehud: something not to be missed!