JAZZ IN SPACE: March 2012

Sunday, March 11, 2012


The music at 55 Bar was great; my photo not so much.
You know when you’re having a really good time someplace out, hanging where you don’t often hang, and all the sights, sounds and people around you are making things flow the right way? I was feeling that at 55 Bar the other night (March 6) where I went to see singer Amy Cervini at the release party for her new album, “Digging Me Digging You,” which is a tribute to singer/stylist Blossom Dearie. Cervini’s CD is a good studio recording but you have to know up front that it’s not designed to mimic a Dearie record, mostly because Cervini’s vocal style and phrasing has next to nothing in common with the unique way that Dearie sang a tune. “Digging Me” is more like Cervini’s love letter to a jazz personality and hearing these songs live (as I was lucky enough to experience when I saw Blossom Dearie in New Hope, PA years ago) reminded me that every singer should release “live” albums instead of studio recordings. Cervini, outfitted in her little black dress and a pair of killer red heels, is a natural emcee and guided her audience through her set with brief anecdotes and tossed off asides. Once the music started, the intimacy of Bar 55 made you forget you’re essentially in a basement space where fitting in 75 people could make a fire marshall sweat. Cervini started with her “good luck” tune, “Don’t Fence Me In,” then shifted to the Dearie's tunes including “May I Come In,” “Digging Me Digging You” (a song about her encounter with John Lennon), Dave Frishberg’s “My Attorney, Bernie,” “Frim Fram Sauce,” and a fun tune by singer/actress Betty Hutton that Cervini rescued from obscurity. She closed with Dearie’s signature song, “Tea For Two.” The band was aces: drummer Matt Wilson, bassist Matt Aronoff, guitarist Jesse Lewis and two horn players extraordinaire, the delightful Anat Cohen on clarinet and trumpeter Nadje Noordhuis. Cervini knows a thing or two about jazz (she manages drummer Wilson and saxophonist Noah Preminger), jazz clubs and entertaining -- she shrewdly planted a “boy choir,” three neatly tailored twenty-something gents at the bar, who unexpectedly chimed in the chorus on a couple of tunes, wowing the crowd and giving us a good laugh by being both gimmicky and sincere. A nice touch! The set was the first of four over two nights and, thanks to Cervini’s affability and welcoming demeanor, this gig was casual, comfortable and cool.
Tuesday, March 6 was a particularly good night for jazz in NYC and my decision to see who, where, was confounded by so much talent and limited time. Pianist Cedar Walton at Birdland, drummer Al Foster at the Vanguard, Freddy Cole at Dizzy’s Club and jazz harp player Edmar Castaneda at the Blue Note. Instead, I headed uptown to catch one of my favorite trumpeters, Jeremy Pelt and his band, at the Jazz Standard. I caught the second set on the first of a two-night CD release gig, which was under-attended and the energy in the room was low. Still, this dapper band was in fine form, hitting a number of tunes from their exemplary current album, “Soul” (HighNote) and a track from an earlier one, “November.” The set blew hot and cool with boss solos by pianist Danny Grissett (who's so good I'm hunting down all of his CDs), saxophonist Stacy Dillard, bassist Dwayne Burno and the young, astonishing Jonathan Barber, who made a convincing case that playing the drums is a young man’s game – this kid is all about speed and flash -- watching him shift from the polyrhythms of “The Tempest” (a tune Pelt wrote during Hurricane Irene) to the subtle brushwork of “The Story” made up for the annoying distraction of Pelt leaving the stage in between his solos (he went back to his dressing room!) Still, Pelt is an intoxicating player whose phrasing shoots off sparks of excitement like Lee Morgan did and on the bandstand, eyes closed, he listened reverently, absorbing the sounds of his group as if it was a transformative experience. At times, it felt that way to me, too.  

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