Popular culture tells us that we fall in love with other people based on how they look when getting in or out of the shower. That may be built into our genes: how well will this future partner carry on the race? But I think that lasting love relationships are built on admiration and respect more than hip-to-waist ratio, and a new CD by pianist Roberta Piket, devoted to composer Billy Mintz, is heart-warming proof:
I first encountered Billy on a recording, in his more familiar role: a jazz percussionist who is devoted to exploring not only rhythms but sounds and timbres. When I first got to see and hear him, on a session, perhaps eight years ago, led by saxophonist-composer Lena Bloch, I was deeply moved by Billy’s drumming. He has infinite curiosity and patience: I remember a solo he took on a session that was not the usual “fountain of noise” (an apt Whitney Balliett phrase) but a quiet extended exploration on a minimalist drum kit: as if he were sending thoughts to us by tapping and pausing.
Perhaps at that same gig, someone sitting at the end of the table, listening and watching closely, was invited to sit in and turned out to be a pianist of great subtlety and depth: that was Roberta. I was — there’s no other word but “fulfilled” — by their music, and they were very gracious to me, singly and together. And I learned, to my delight, that they were a happily married couple: how fortunate, how apt. I’ve encountered them in the years that followed, and have always been rewarded by their music and their gentle selves.
Art by Tom Fedro.
When I heard the music from the YouTube video above, I was delighted, and DOMESTIC HARMONY is a consistent pleasure. The virtues Billy brings to his drum set are also evident in his compositions, and the pleasures of Roberta’s playing both enhance and are enhanced by them. I keep coming back to this CD, because it exemplifies what music is and can be: pensive, lively, mournful, full of surprises. And utterly cliche-free: sweetly melodic, a series of explorations where both composer and performer invite us in, welcome us to their worlds. The compositions are GHOST SANCTUARY / BEAUTIFUL YOU / LOOKING DOWN AT THE STARS / SHMEAR / FLIGHT / DESTINY / YOUR TOUCH / BLINDS EYE / UGLY BEAUTIFUL / CANNONBALL. Roberta plays on all of them, but on DESTINY (to which Billy wrote words as well as music) she sings — ardently and genuinely.
Click on the box above to hear sound samples, purchase, download DOMESTIC HARMONY: I urge you to take the time to contemplate its beauties.
I like paradoxes, so I can only say that this disc is seriously tender, tenderly serious. And to know that it is a birthday gift from Roberta to Billy and thus to us is quite wonderful. And (it makes a difference) the disc is beautifully recorded, and Roberta’s liner notes tell us a great deal without telling us what is their shared medicine cabinet.
It’s a truly rewarding effort: what love sounds like — the durable kind that lasts long after the shower is over.
Here is delightful evidence of a heartfelt creative evening of music by the Jon De Lucia Octet, with arrangements and compositions by Jon, Jimmy Giuffre, Lee Konitz, and Dick Hyman, Recorded on November 8, 2018, at the Slope Lounge (formerly the Tea Lounge) in Broooklyn, New York. The saxophones in addition to Jon are John Ludlow, Dan Block, Adam Schneit, Andrew Hadro; Roberta Piket, keyboard; Kevin Thomas, string bass; Steve Little, drums (not his own, as always).
If you’d asked me two decades ago whether I liked “cool jazz” or “West Coast jazz,” from a position of relative ignorance I would have said no immediately, dismissing it as pale and cerebral where the music I loved was passionate. But time after time, Jon De Lucia has (gently and sweetly) shown me the error of my ways. The music he brings forth and composes is rooted deeply, and that word is central, in the sweet ardor of Lester Young: melodically, harmonically, and rhythmically rich and multi-layered even when it might initially seem spare. Jon and his varied ensembles are now wonderfully rewarding . . . . music to my ears. I hope they are to yours also.
Jon’s own PRELUDE TO PART FIRST:
DREAMILEE, Jon’s arrangement of a Lee Konitz solo on I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS:
VALSE VIVIENNE, scored for four clarinets by Jon, in honor of his goddaughter:
Jimmy Giuffre’s arrangement of Jerome Kern’s THE SONG IS YOU:
Jon’s transcription of Giuffre’s arrangement of LOVE LETTERS — an extraordinarily beautiful piece of music and performance:
Dick Hyman’s arrangement of the Gershwin TREAT ME ROUGH from a Trigger Alpert recording:
Cole Porter’s LOOKING AT YOU:
Jon’s own I RESEMBLE YOU:
Jon and friends make wonderful music, multi-layered and translucent. For his new CD, visit here. And to keep track of where he is playing next, here. Take it from me: he’s someone worth following around for glorious surprising music.
When I taught freshman composition, some of my best students had grown up speaking a language not English. They were often far more perceptive than the local talent whose radius of exploration was fifty miles. But the “ESL” crew occasionally had trouble with English idioms that native speakers take for granted. One, memorably, was “not only but also,” and perhaps its apparent negation becoming affirmation was too much to digest at first.
While I was listening to pianist-composer Roberta Piket’s new CD, WEST COAST TRIO, the expression came back as a perfect way to describe her work, a great compliment.
If you don’t know Roberta’s work, you will want to scamper ahead to the video to hear it; she is also, not surprisingly, quietly eloquent about how she perceives what she does, and where she’s come from: here is a recent interview.
But to the music: in a landscape of artists who equate modernism with abstraction, Roberta always remembers that the heart of music is song, so her work, even when she is exploring, is always melodic and soulful, free from cliche, welcoming us in. And whatever meter or tempo she chooses, her music has the pulse of a heartbeat. To some, swinging improvisation is no longer relevant. From the first measures of MENTOR, the first song on the disc, I was bobbing my head: for me, very good evidence of enjoyment. The result can be innovative or technically sophisticated, but it’s mobile and warm, never chilly.
Here is the behind-the-scenes look at the session, extremely valuable because not only does it provide a tasting menu of the music, but also we see and hear Roberta speaking about it:
and here you can listen to longer samples of the music, download it, or purchase the actual disc — the last of which I recommend because Thirteenth Note Records’ products are superb, and Bob Bernotas’ liner notes equally so.
One of the other things to love about this CD is it shows off Roberta’s wide range of musical affections: standards by Legrand, Rodgers, and Donaldson (MY BUDDY is aimed right at our hearts), compositions by Shearing, Corea, Hicks, and two originals by Roberta. Beautiful recorded sound and beautiful playing by Joe La Barbera, drums; Darek Olszkiewicz, string bass, with telling cameo appearances by Larry Koonse, guitar; Billy Mintz, drums. There’s great variety: some performances seem dreamy, musing; others are superb dance music.
When I’d played the disc the first time, I wanted to hear it again. You will, too.
Here are two of my favorite explorers, captured in a marvelous series of duets. My title may seem a touch fanciful: the only climb a session at The Drawing Room, Michael Kanan and Stephanie Greig’s serene studio, necessitates, is a few flights of stairs. But the music created the night of May 20, 2017, by Lena Bloch, tenor saxophone, and Roberta Piket, piano, makes me think of limitless vistas full of stars. Listen and I think you will agree.
LENNIE’S PENNIES (Tristano’s minor-key improvisation on PENNIES FROM HEAVEN, first recorded with Konitz and Warne in 1952):
Lena’s ruminative composition, SHORTER NIGHTS:
Tristano’s line on the classic song — theoretically requested by drunks, but the drunks no longer know it. You do, even when you are sober:
Improvsations on a lovely Fifties ballad, NEVER LET ME GO:
and, to close the recital, an explosively energized HOT HOUSE:
In a world where we are asked to pretend that the hologram is human, pianist / composer Roberta Piket’s music is so refreshing for its integrity and honesty. I feel that she approaches her music with that most winning openness: “Let me see what can come of it,” and the results are elating. She has power but she isn’t angry at the keyboard or at us. Rather, hers is a singular balance between toughness and gentleness: her music peers into the darkness without getting downtrodden and brings back light from surprising angles.
Her playing is original without being self-consciously “innovative,” and it isn’t a catalogue of familiar gestures, audience-pleasing bobs and weaves . . . there is nothing formulaic in her art. Honoring her and our Ancestors, she pays them the best tribute, which is to sound like herself.
Her art — deep and subtle — is wonderfully on display on her new solo CD, which is (happily for us) her second solo exploration, EMANATION.
Roberta’s chosen repertoire is for the most part recognizable — not an ego-display of one “original” after another) but she isn’t trapped by the Past. Her evocations of Monk, Romberg, Gillespie, Arthur Schwartz, Kern, McPartland, and Hancock are both reassuring and playfully lit from within. One could play this CD for someone who “doesn’t like jazz” without causing trauma, but it is galaxies away from Easy Listening Piano For People Who Aren’t Listening.
Her two originals, the wistful SAYING GOODBYE and the sweetly curious EMANATION, are full of feeling — novellas of sound. The CD closes with her variations on a Chopin theme . . . both a loving bow to the source and a gentle statement of her own identities. The CD — beautifully recorded, with wonderful notes by the eminent Richie Beirach — is a fifty-minute journey into other worlds, both nearby and tantalizingly far-off.
Visit herefor sound samples and ordering information and here to learn more about Roberta, her music, and upcoming gigs.
Because I know my audience is honest and trustworthy, I offer a boon for those who check out the CD and Roberta’s site (I’ll know!): music from a divine duo concert by Roberta and Lena Bloch, from February of this year, at The Drawing Room — here. Gorgeous searching music from two modern masters. (Learn more about Lena here. Music and musicians like Roberta and Lena give me hope.
If you’re reading this in the tri-state area on February 4, the view from your window might be cheerless, the prime ornament being snow heaped up in unappealing mounds. As I write this, the thermometer is struggling to rise up out of the twenties. You can’t hear it, but I am sighing.
But there are two events coming soon to a Brooklyn oasis that will make me and a small group of the faithful forget about winter. The oasis is THE DRAWING ROOM, a beautiful secular shrine to music created by pianist Michael Kanan and string bassist Stephanie Greig, and you can find it at 56 Willoughby Street, Brooklyn, New York. It’s accessible from nearly every major subway line, and the price of admission is a mere ten dollars. This Sunday night, from 7 to 10 PM, the wonderful singer Gabrielle Stravelli and Michael will be making beautiful music. I know. I speak from experience:
I watched my video of this 2012 performance again, to make sure I wasn’t simply remembering the experience through a sweet nostalgic haze, and once again I had to brush tears away. This performance of BILL is the musical equivalent of watching a flower open in slow motion, for Gabrielle and Michael so wisely and sweetly capture the doubleness of the song — a mildly comic undercurrent, the teasing way one can gently list the faults of the person one loves, because both that person and you know the deep accepting love underneath, and the embracing tenderness. Michael and Gabrielle fully inhabit those emotions and make them come to rich life in front of us, in sounds and words.
I expect some of this magic will happen again this coming Sunday, so I will don appropriate winter garb to make it to Brooklyn.
Hereis the Facebook event page for this concert. Sign on. Join in. The music will reward you.
And, one week later, February 15, pianist Roberta Piket and tenor saxophonist Lena Bloch will be making brave beautiful music at the Drawing Room. I hope to be there, too.
When it comes to jazz drumming, I’ve always loved the flow of the rhythms, but I’ve even more deeply gravitated towards sounds, to melodists — Baby Dodds, Kaiser Marshall, Walter Johnson, Kaiser Marshall, George Stafford, Gene Krupa, Dave Tough, Zutty Singleton, George Wettling, Jo Jones, Sidney Catlett, Jake Hanna, Mike Burgevin, Kevin Dorn, Hal Smith, Jeff Hamilton, Clint Baker. And, more recently, musicians I’ve come to think of as sound-painters: Hyland Harris, Ali Jackson, Eliot Zigmund, Matt Wilson, and Billy Mintz.
BIlly Mintz is a fascinating creative force because he is not only a splendidly rewarding player — inventing and arranging sounds in new, impressionistic patterns that stand on their own next to the best improvisations of any contemporary jazz improviser — but his compositions have flavor, depth, and scope. His music is curious — peering behind the curtains — rather than formulaic or aggressive.
I’ve heard some of Billy’s compositions explored on live sessions with a a variety of musicians, including saxophonist Lena Bloch. Here is one of my favorites, HAUNTED, recorded by the composer and pianist Roberta Piket in Austria, earlier in 2013:
I am pleased to tell you that there is now an entire CD of Billy’s compositions issued by Thirteenth Note Records . . . played not only by the composer, but by pianist / singer Roberta Piket; John Gross, tenor saxophone; Putter Smith, string bass.
Don’t let the somber cover picture fool you: beneath that hat and shades, Billy’s eyes gleam and his heart is lively.
The songs (a few have gained wide recognition) are BEAUTIFUL YOU / FLIGHT / DIT / DESTINY (Roberta, vocal) / HAUNTED / SHMEAR / CANNONBALL / BEAUTIFUL / UGLY BEAUTIFUL / RELENT / RETRIBUTION / AFTER RETRIBUTION.
Their titles speak to Billy’s poetic, inquiring sensibility. His music doesn’t provide pat answers; rather it asks questions: “What is play? What is sadness? Where might we be going? Must it always be the same thing? Who says what is beautiful? Would you care to join me?” and others of equal weight.
The music on this quartet CD isn’t abrasive or abusive: Billy, John, Roberta, and Putter love melody, but they also love to experiment with the traditional shapes of the improvising quartet — so instruments have amiable conversations, echoing or sweetly correcting one another; duos and solos spring up within compositions; balances shift within the piece. Each song seems both new and composed, inventive and inevitable, and the procession from one piece to another on the disc is cumulative. This CD is not the traditional melody-statement / solos / drum fours / melody-statement, and that’s all to the good. No explorations, no surprises!
Here you can read more about Billy and hear samples from the CD: inquiring readers and hearers will be rewarded. You can find out more at Thirteenth Note Records as well.
Anyone who’s ever been in the same room with pianist / singer / composer Roberta Piket and drummer / percussionist / composer Billy Mintz would sense the deep emotional connection between them — a good thing, since they are married, quite happily. But the connection is also musical. I’ve seen it in performances in the last two years, and their 2011 CD, SIDES, COLORS, is deep proof of how well-suited they are for each other, and for us.
Wisely, this CD is structured as a traditional vinyl record was — two sides with six songs apiece. And although the listener doesn’t have to get up and flip the disc, the sense of two complementary musical worlds is strong.
The disc begins sweetly and serenely with Roberta gently presenting the melody of Bill Evans’ LAURIE for us. Soon, bass (eloquently played by Johannes Weidenmueller) and quiet drums join in — but a surprise awaits as with the gentle stirrings of a string quartet and several purring horns. (Real musicians, I might add — not conjured up on a synthesizer keyboard.) Is it jazz, or modern classical, Third Stream, or evocative dance music? I gave up wondering about categories early on in the CD and simply allowed myself to be swept along by the shadings and timbres.
Billy’s brushes — quietly symphonic — bring on the Broadway standard MAKE SOMEONE HAPPY, then Roberta adds her single-note piano lines. (I was already happy, mind you.) Clear, contemporary music, harmonically sophisticated, but firmly rooted in Basie, Pettiford, Jo Jones. And it subtly builds — not just in volume, but in densities, as the three lines intertwine, before settling back down to earth in a taciturn yet swinging final chorus, with a few witty small dissonances in — like spices — to remind us that we are in the land of surprises.
Roberta begins BILLY’S BALLAD in the most pensive way — letting the music speak its piece in its own time — a most leisurely yet searching exploration. Then, a pause, and she begins the theme again, but with the most tender support and counterpoint from the string and horn ensemble. I didn’t think, “Oh, this is jazz-piano-with-strings”; rather, I thought of Dvorak — deep yet translucent beauty. Roberta is responsible for all the string and horn arrangements — but this one, wine-rich, is Billy’s.
MY FRIENDS AND NEIGHBORS (dedicated to Sam Rivers) opens with dark woody sounds from Johannes . . . and then the gorgeous strings come on. Neither sentimental nor abrasive, carefully delineating the traditional melody but with edges and depths. Roberta’s solo improvisation follows; Billy adds his own voices as the piano’s exploration goes onwards . . . with strings and horns making what had been simple lines multi-dimensional, powerful, assertive, no longer serene. But the performance has a compositional arc — coming back to a hymnlike reading of the melody for piano and strings after a dramatic climax in sound.
The venerable IF I LOVED YOU — from CAROUSEL — is revealed to us from new angles; the tempo is elastic rather than held down by the waltz (as Billy’s brushes make their own quiet patterns behind Roberta’s reverent melody and revamped harmonies). What was reverent becomes more free, even abstract, as the horns add their own commentary and Roberta brings her pure, focused voice to the lyrics — honoring the intent of the lyrics while elongating and recomposing phrases. She is at once girlish and adventurous: a model improvising singer . . . then taking fragments of melody and holding them to the light.
Tapping cymbals and stern piano chords begin EMPTY HOUSE. A pause, then the horns outline a melody line, as if delineating a space through serious strokes of a brush, before Roberta joins them. I sense that this is a meditation on two minor chords, but the spare material never seems thin. And the four-and-a-half minutes is over too soon.
The imagined SIDE TWO begins with Billy’s SHMEAR — the emotional opposite of the pensive, spacious EMPTY HOUSE. Not simply the musical evocation of an area of cream cheese, it vacillates between a nearly violent piano trio and a meditative piano solo passage . . . with the roles switching around among the three players. Quiet gives way to conversation and back to quiet again.
IDY’S SONG AND DANCE (in two parts) begins with a solo meditation by Roberta on electric piano — simple but with its own searching groove . . . then moves to the longer DANCE in 5/4. (You can see the video for the second track — a boisterous dance piece — with its own little domestic comedy — below.)
Billy’s RELENT changes the timbre of the trio — with Roberta exploring on organ over rapid-fire lines from Billy and Johannes. UGLY BEAUTIFUL (again by Billy) returns to piano – string bass – drums, with improvisations that work off the song’s stark contours. And the CD closes with Roberta’s DEGREE ABSOLUTE — her evocation of the famed television series THE PRISONER, where escape is impossible and rebellion thwarted — but, happily, the music isn’t as bleak as the inspiration for it. In fact, the serene solo that begins the final track leads us back to LAURIE, which is another testimony to SIDES, COLORS being a work larger than the individual tracks.
Here let me credit the musicians by name — besides Roberta and Billy and bassist Johannes Weidenmueller; string players Fung Chern Hwei, Mikyung Kim, Charisa Rouse, Jeremy Harman; horn / reed players David Smith, Charles Pillow, Anders Bostrom, Sam Sadigursky. The cover art is by Billy; graphic design by Roberta — and the whole effort is beautifully recorded by Michael Marciano.
Rather than being formulaic — solos / head / solos or some variation, or “free-form,” this CD is exemplary in its compositional intelligence. The music never seems “written down,” yet each performance has its own larger shape — one that relates to the other compositions. And the music is given many chances to breathe. Hear, for example, the pauses on EMPTY HOUSE — music for a film not yet completed, I think. The listener becomes part of the exploration, wondering, anticipating, delighting.
Here you can hear samples and purchase the CD (it’s also available for download on iTunes). And hereyou can watch Roberta and Billy in action — recording this CD. Here, they improvise in time and space. And don’t despair: love conquers all! (As it should.)
Although others have justly celebrated her, I was unaware of pianist Roberta Piket until she sat in on a Lena Bloch gig at Somethin’ Jazz at the end of April 2012. Then I heard the lovely, inquiring sounds that she made: she appears on the final two performances here.
I am even more impressed by her latest CD, called simply SOLO.
My early introductions to solo piano were, not surprisingly, based in swing: Waller, Wilson, James P., Hines, Williams, Tatum, and their modern descendants — players who appropriately viewed the instrument as orchestral, who balanced right-hand lines against continuous, sometimes forceful harmonic / rhythmic playing in the bass. I still admire the Mainstream piano that encompasses both Nat Cole and Bud Powell, but I no longer feel deprived if I listen to a solo pianist who approaches the instrument in a more expressive way, freeing both hands from their traditional roles. To me, James P. Johnson’s IF DREAMS COME TRUE, Wilson’s DON’T BLAME ME, Tatum’s POOR BUTTERFLY, and almost anything by Jimmie Rowles scale the heights. But I know there are fresh fields and pastures new beyond those splendid achievements. And players who are willing to explore can often take us on quite rewarding journeys.
Roberta Piket is on her own quest — although she notes that SOLO was, in some ways, a return to her own comfort zone. But within that zone she both explores and provides comfort for us. For one thing, her choices of repertoire are ingenious and varied: Arthur Schwartz, Monk, Strayhorn – Ellington, Bruno Martino, Wayne Shorter, Sam Rivers, Chick Corea, Marian McPartland, and Frederick Piket.
Her work surprises — but not for novelty’s sake alone — and whose variety of approaches is intuitively matched to the material she has chosen. Some solo artists have one basic approach, which they vary slightly when moving from a ballad to a more assertive piece, but the narrowness of the single approach quickly becomes familiar and even tiresome. SOLO feels more like a comprehensive but free exploration of very different materials — without strain or pretension, the result feels like the most original of suites, a series of improvised meditations, statements, and dances based on strikingly chosen compositions.
The first evidence of Piket’s deep understanding of line and space, of shade and light, comes almost immediately on the CD, as she approaches the repeated notes of I SEE YOUR FACE BEFORE ME with a serious tenderness reminiscent of a Satie piece, an emotion that echoes in its own way in the final piece. (I hope Jonathan Schwartz has been able to hear this: it is more than touching.)
Then, as soon as the listener has been sweetly and perhaps ruefully lulled, two strong, almost vigorous improvisations on Monk themes follow. Many pianists have reduced Monk to a handful of by-the-numbers dissonances; not Piket, who uses his melodic material as a starting point rather than attempting to show that, she, too, can “sound Monkish.”
Lovely songs by Strayhorn (SOMETHING TO LIVE FOR) and McPartland (IN THE DAYS OF OUR LOVE) are treated with sincerity and reverence, but Piket does far more than simply play the familiar melody and chords: her voicings, her touch, illuminate from within. ESTATE shows off Piket’s easy versatility, as she places the melody in the bass and ornaments in the treble during the performance. Roberta’s precise power and energetic technique are shown in the uptempo original CLAUDE’S CLAWED, Shorter’s NEFERTITI, and Corea’s LITHA — at times powerful investigations that bridge post-bop jazz and modern classical, at times a series of unanswered questions.
The disc ends as it began, with tenderness — Sam Rivers’ BEATRICE, an easy swinger that seems light-hearted without losing its essential serious affection. And there’s a prize. I didn’t know about Roberta’s father, Viennese-born composer Frederick Piket (whose life and work is examined here). Although he wrote much “serious” music — secular and religious — IMPROVISATION BLUE is a lovely “popular” song I kept returning to: its melody is haunting without being morose, and I imagined it scored for the Claude Thornhill band in a Gil Evans chart. It should have been.
SOLO begins sweetly and tenderly and ends the same way — with vigorous questioning and exploring of various kinds in the middle. Roberta is an eloquent creator who takes chances but is true to her internal compass, whichever way it might point for a particular performance.
And this January 31, you will be able to hear Roberta, the inspiring percussionist Billy Mintz (he and Roberta are husband and wife, a neat match), celebrating tenor saxophonist Lena Bloch’s birthday — with bassist Putter Smith and legendary saxophonist John Gross. Fine Israeli food and wine are part of the party at the East End Temple. Tickets are $18 in advance, $22 at the door; $15 for students: click here to join the fun.
I won’t be able to attend this gig — for which I am sorry — so I expect a goodly number of eager JAZZ LIVES readers will make up for my absence. I can assure you that the music will be rewarding.
Sunday, June 10th Underground Works at Sycamore is proud to present Lena Bloch, Billy Mintz, Dave Miller, in TRIO IMPROVISATIONS.
Born in Moscow, Russia, Lena Bloch has traveled the world since 1990, performing as a bandleader in Germany, Holland, Italy, Slovenia, and the United States. She has been active on the New York jazz scene since 2008, performing with musicians like George Schuller, Cameron Brown, Scott Wendholt, Sumi Tonooka, Roberta Piket, Bertha Hope, Vishnu Wood, Michael Kanan, Putter Smith… With her international cultural background and early classical training, Lena is working towards a truly unique style. Her trio with two outstanding musicians, Dave Miller and Billy Mintz, presents freely-improvised, original and jazz standard-based material, Warne Marsh, Lee Konitz, and Ted Brown’s compositions. Sets are at 8:30 and 10, with a $10 suggested donation (all proceeds go to the performers). Sycamore is located at 1118 Cortelyou Rd., Ditmas Park, Brooklyn.
This is what I had to say about the most recent performance by Lena, Dave, Putter Smith, Roberta Piket, and Billy I witnessed: “I felt as if I had witnessed art both translucent and powerful, with echoes of Lester Young and Brahms, of Eastern meditation and collective invention: strong but never harsh, sweetly fulfilling in its desire to ask questions without worrying about conclusions.”
Here’s proof — Lena’s reharmonization of STAR EYES, pensive, beautiful, mobile:
I first met the tenor saxophonist Lena Bloch in fast company — alongside Joel Press, Brad Linde, Ted Brown, Michael Kanan. And I was impressed immediately by her expertise andwillingness to explore the unknown, what Sam Parkins called “precision and abandon.”
I haven’t managed to make it to as many of Lena’s gigs as I would like, but I made a special effort to get to this one: at a new club, Somethin’ Jazz (very nice!) on East 52nd Street between Second and Third Avenues, a ten-dollar cover and a ten-dollar minimum, with a new group for Lena — guitarist Dave Miller, drummer Billy Mintz, and bassist Putter Smith. (With this group, she will be recording her debut CD, UNFOREHEARD.) On the final two performances of this evening, pianist Roberta Piket sat in, most eloquently.
The music created wasn’t a reheating of the familiar. In fact, the first two selections were floating inquiries rather than boxed-in statements of formulas, and I felt that the musicians had embarked on improvisational journeys even when the chord structures beneath the performances were familiar. Lena guided the group but was also a gentle participant who didn’t demand the prerogatives of A Leader. Each song embodied a gentle communal awareness, with a crucial openness-to-experience that we could feel.
Much of my pleasure was also in encountering musicians I had not known well if at all before this evening. I had heard Putter Smith on several recordings, and musicians whose opinions I respect had spoken most fervently of him, but I was not prepared for the variety of sonorities he created, the sweet validity of his sound. Dave Miller, bless him, didn’t feel compelled to fill space with notes and runs. I could feel him thinking, quietly, “What might I add here? Perhaps it could be a lovely silence.”
Billy Mintz is a revelation. My drumming heroes of the past and present keep time, create colors, and drive the band forward — all noble aspirations. Although Billy is intuitively connected to the rhythms that the band might float on, he is never mechanical, never content to create predictable patterns. He struck me most strongly as thinking of what color, what texture, would best fit the situation — making it happen and then moving on to something new, never entrapping himself or the band. He is soft-spoken and intent in person, equally so at the drums. Like Dave and Putter, he is poetic without being showy, generous yet spare.
All I will say about Roberta Piket is that I want to hear her play more and again: she has a great deal of technique and accuracy, but it never dominates her music. Her soloing and accompaniment were elegant but not fussy; she added so much without calling attention to herself.
Lena was free and brave, questing towards something whose name she might not have known, but getting somewhere satisfying — whether humming almost in a whisper, echoing the songs of a mythological bird, or showing that she, too, could follow the Tristano – Konitz – Marsh – Brown path without being hemmed in by its rules and obligations.
At the end of the evening, I felt as if I had witnessed art both translucent and powerful, with echoes of Lester Young and Brahms, of Eastern meditation and collective invention: strong but never harsh, sweetly fulfilling in its desire to ask questions without worrying about conclusions.
Some of my more “traditionally-minded” readers might think this music more open-ended than they would like . . . and they are free, as always, to recall Chaucer’s gentle encouragement to choose another page. But if they embrace the bravery that animates the jazz they so love, I invite them to choose a performance based on “familiar chord changes” and start there. I predict that open-hearted listening will make their hearts more light and more full.
Here is the music that made me write the elated words you have, I hope, read.
Lena’s questing original, 33:
Billy’s BEAUTIFUL YOU:
Ted Brown’s FEATHER BED (based on the chord changes of YOU’D BE SO NICE TO COME HOME TO):
Lena’s mournful reharmonization of STAR EYES — making it both deep and surprising:
MARSHMALLOW (based on CHEROKEE — by Warne Marsh with the bridge written by Lee Konitz:
Dave Miller’s deep searching RUBATO:
Roberta Piket joined in for Lena’s own HI LEE (based on HOW DEEP IS THE OCEAN):
And Lena concluded the evening’s explorations with SUBCONSCIOUS-LEE (written by Mr. Konitz but not titled by him — based on WHAT IS THIS THING CALLED LOVE?):
These musicians take us with them on their voyages. I am exceedingly grateful.