In performance: Ben Williams and Sound Effect, New York City, January 30, 2013
A recent business trip coincided with a remarkable week of
jazz performances in New York City, coincidentally all taking place at the
illustrious Jazz Standard, a room with pitch perfect sound and an award winning
menu (courtesy of Blue Smoke, the exceptional BBQ restaurant located one flight
up.) The club's gracious host, the musician and bassist Rob Duguay, smoothly takes charge to guide you to the best seat available (and there are no bad seats at this club; only delicious food.) BTW, Rob's got a new album out called Sea Dream Blues. Check it out: www.robduguay.com
On Sunday, January 27, I caught the last set from a multi-night run by pianist Vijay Iyer and his
trio, playing tracks from their recent albums, Accelerando and Historicity.
With bassist Stephan Crump and drummer Marcus Gilmore (Roy Hayne’s grandson) on
board, saying they “play” is a disservice to their skill and amazing gift for
improvising. Rightly celebrated, Iyer's set combined tunes by Herbie Nichols,
Julius Hemphill, John Coltrane (a compelling spectral glance at "Giant
Steps") and a take on Michael Jackson's "Human Nature," which
contorted the melody and pleasingly turned its familiar melody inside out.
Another night celebrated the new CD from Patricia Barber (reviewed in the
February issue of ICON) and although she remains a unique artist prone to verbal
non-sequiturs from the stage while playing in her bare feet, her set wobbled
from introspection to audience-challenging sonics.
|photo courtesy of Todd Williams|
The most engaging gig was from bassist
Ben Williams, winner of the 2009 Thelonious Monk Competition, who at 28 is already
a consummate professional and bandleader. His group, Sound Effect, is still
touring in support of Williams' debut release, State of Art (Concord Jazz,
2011) and their interplay and on stage chemistry is both endearing and
electrifying. With Marcus Strickland on saxophone, Alex Wintz on guitar,
drummer John Davis and the up and comer, pianist Christian Sands, Williams
eclectic playlist pulled tunes from the album (Stevie Wonder's "Part Time
Lover" is a highlight) as well as Michael Jackson (the underplayed
"Little Susie") and R&B singer, Goapele. Williams is steeped in
all styles, gently weaving Charlie Haden-like phrases during his intros or
contrasting classical measures with soulful top notes. Strickland is a fine
soloist who runs intricate lines, a leader in his own right, and his role here
sounded designed to pump the audience up. He tore things up on soprano sax,
tipping his hat to Grover Washington, Jr here and there, while the wonder kid,
Christian Sands, got the crowd keyed up with ferocious piano playing and
whomping Rhodes solos -- often evoking McCoy Tyner with his approach to the
keys, a fleet combination of elegance and deep soul. He's only 22.
|photo courtesy of Todd Williams|
The band called
up James Brown on "Mr. Dynamite" and previewed a track from Williams’
upcoming album called "Cover Art" as a member of the ad hoc band Next
Collective, primed with today's shining young jazz stars (review forthcoming.) “Fly
Or Die,” a track by Pharrell Williams (no relation) and N.E.R.D., is arranged
by Williams to give the band plenty of soloing space and features a simple,
very cool refrain. Watching him play so well that night, I think everyone who
was there saw Ben Williams as an ace bassist with an entire, fruitful career
ahead of him. He recently won a Grammy® for his role in Pat Metheny's Unity
Band (a second album is in the works.) His performance and confidence assure us
of great things to come. I'm in.
The Jazz Standard is located at 116 East 27th Street.
Visit www.jazzstandard.net for details and
calendar of upcoming performances.
Here's the performance of Mr. Dynamite at the Jazz Standard. Video by Todd Williams
Labels: Alex Wintz, Ben Williams, Christian Sands, John Davis, Marcus Gilmore, Marcus Strickland, Patricia Barber, Rob Duguay, Stephan Crump, The Jazz Standard, Vijay Iyer