The Bad Plus rock Earshot as festival continues

The Bad Plus aren’t the kind of trio that swings, you’re much more likely to hear after-show comments like “That rocked!” or “Those guys are epic!”

Playing songs mostly from their upcoming as-yet-untitled new album, the trio used all of the acoustic advantages of Seattle’s Town Hall – having no problem filling the room with at-times pounding piano-bass-n-drums, at times so quiet as to have all of us in the audience holding our breath.

Piano as percussion intrument

Pianist Ethan Iverson combines simple, classically influenced melodies with a driving left hand that reminds us the piano is a percussion instrument, too.

Drummer Dave King goes beyond the standard techniques, at once all jittery around the kit, then pushing at his cymbals and drums with bare hands, scraping the tip of a drum stick across a cymbal (an unearthly tone perfect for the Halloween weekend), even brushing at the drum heads with his fingers.

Bassist Reid Anderson has developed an amazing tone on his upright bass and seems at times to be the heartbeat of the band, unpredictable yet solid.

No covers, no problem

The effect of the trio is suspenseful, playful, triumphant and always emotional.

The crowd, a mix of ages from high school kids to ol’ beboppers, peppered with costumes for the parties sure to follow the show around Capitol Hill, was kept on the edge of their seats. The audience was treated to a preview of many songs from their impending new release along with a handful of older favorites.

No one seemed disappointed at the lack of cover songs, which had become a staple at Bad Plus shows in the last decade. Only their version of Aphex Twin’s “Flim” (for the 2nd standing-ovation encore) was performed.

The new song “Wolf Out” was classic Bad Plus with a difficult to follow time signature, propulsive playing from all three, and a simple, hummable melody line. Another new one, “In Stitches” was epic – a slow building tune that began with King’s hand-drumming and built through extended solos from Anderson and Iverson to a mid-song jazz-rock party, finally drifting back the way they came, leaving all in attendance a little spent.

Back on stage in December

Earshot Jazz brought The Bad Plus for their Seattle debut at The Tractor Tavern years ago and it was wonderful to see them thrilling a near-capacity crowd at Town Hall, showing the increasing popularity of both the band and the non-profit.

Sadly, I won’t be in town to catch The Bad Plus playing more new compositions with the acclaimed Mark Morris Dance Group at Seattle’s Moore Theatre Dec. 1-3, but I hope to catch ’em playing their twist on Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” at Tacoma’s Broadway Center March 10th of next year.

Now, go out and enjoy more of the Earshot Jazz Festival, continuing through November 6th!

An evening of accolades and ‘hope’ with We Four and Sonando

We Four and Sonando was an inspired Earshot pairing Saturday at Town Hall. The concert was a tribute to two “restless geniuses” of jazz in one night.


Fred Hoadley’s long-lived and popular Latin Jazz group Sonando opened the show. In his introduction, Earshot director John Gilbreath praised Hoadley for his dedication and commitment to the project at hand, re-working music by Charles Mingus for Afro-Cuban rhythms.

It truly was a tall order: to take the dense, multi-layered and often complicated compositions of Mingus and add yet another facet to them is not a task that many musicians would seek out.

Sonando highlights

Sonando’s treatments of Pithecanthropus Erectus, Self Portrait in Three Colors and particularly Nostalgia in Times Square served to show the Mingus genius in a slightly different light. Hoadley’s arrangements, especially that of Meditations on Integration also seemed to bring forward the composer’s reverence for Duke Ellington. A highlight was the seldom-heard The I of Hurricane Sue featuring the three percussionists each on a different size of Batá drum.

All well done and well received by the audience, Hoadley and Sonando gave a spirited performance. They can be heard every third Thursday at Tula’s in Seattle’s Belltown neighborhood.

We Four: Javon Jackson

Javon Jackson

We Four, the John Coltrane tribute quartet, is fronted by saxophonist Javon Jackson, whose many credits include graduation from Art Blakey’s “Hard Bop Academy,” the Jazz Messengers. Jackson has also taken part in tribute performances to Freddie Hubbard and Dexter Gordon, and has recently convinced the great soul-jazz keyboardist and composer Les McCann to come out of retirement and do some touring.

Jackson was only half-joking when he said from the stage last night, “John Coltrane is the only man I dream about.”

In his stance, his attack and often in his sound, Jackson had moments when he did manage to channel the most mythological saxophonist of the modern jazz pantheon.

We Four: bassist and pianist

Bassist Nat Reeves, alternately burning up the strings and producing warm, round tones à la Paul Chambers throughout the performance was a delight to hear.

When pianist Mulgrew Miller explores a melody, you’ll hear things you’d never find on your own. His delicate solo on Naima was haunting, and the encore, Green Dolphin Street, truly became his own.

We Four: The star

The star of the evening, of course, was drummer Jimmy Cobb.

A NEA Jazz Master and the last remaining member of Miles Davis’s Kind Of Blue band, Cobb was a friend to John Coltrane and worked with him in various settings. Cobb propelled the band through an incredibly up-tempo Impressions, seemingly without breaking a sweat. His solo on Mr. PC brought the audience to their feet. Oh, and did I mention that Mr. Cobb is 82 years old?

A local drummer seated near me was heard to exclaim, “He’s 82?!  There’s hope …”

Yes, there’s hope.  Thank you, Earshot Jazz, for bringing us hope.

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Mehldau shines in an unforgettable solo performance at Earshot

Brad Mehldau, photo courtesy of Suntory Hall

The Nordstrom Recital Hall was home to the first performance by a headliner of the 2011 Earshot Jazz Festival Friday night, with a mesmerizing solo piano performance from Brad Mehldau. The intimate setting was perfect for this concert, which was completely acoustic. No wires, no amps, no microphones, simply Mehldau and the piano and the acoustics of the beautiful room.

And it appears that Mehldau was the perfect musician for this environment. Each note seemed so painstakingly deliberate and important, and one might assume that a room any larger or less acoustically superb would allow the notes to not properly reach the ear as intended.

While simply posting a list of the songs performed might sound like it was simply an evening of “covers” (with tunes written from everyone from Hendrix to Monk, from Radiohead to Jeff Buckley), Mehldau’s artistic arrangements and creative improvisation could be convincing, in many cases, that the tune was his own. His personality and style was apparent in each song, and it was clear why he has been billed as one of the most lyrical and intimate solo performers alive.

With the exception of the guy sitting behind me that needed to announce the title of each song out loud as he recognized it, the crowd sat silent and awestruck until the last note of each song could no longer be heard, and then would burst into applause and cheers. At the end of the program, the audience would not let him leave, persuading him into not one, not two, but three encore performances.

I was about 30 minutes into my drive home when it hit me that I hadn’t had the radio on the entire way. I then came to the realization that I had been hearing the last four bars of his final tune, Paul Simon’s Still Crazy After All These Years playing over and over again in my head. This is a song we all know, but was performed with such touch and artistry by Mehldau. After realizing this, I kept the radio off for the remainder of my drive, and kept listening.

Other highlights from the first week of the Earshot Jazz Festival

Those who chose to head to the Chapel Performance Space on Tuesday night were rewarded with a high-octane avant-garde performance by the Rich Halley Trio + 1. Halley, a veteran sax man from Portland, was joined by his son Carson on drums, Vancouver bassist Clyde Stewart, and guest trombonist Michael Vlatkovich, who gelled nicely with this band. The soft-spoken Halley seemed to let his wild side out via his sax, demonstrating great range and skill while creating intense solos. Highlights included Snippet Stop Warp and Requiem for a Pit Viper.

The Beat Kaestli Group

Vocalist Beat Kaestli treated a good crowd at Tula’s on Thursday to his unique vocal style over a wide variety of songs ranging from standards to originals. Backed by a talented Seattle trio (Bill Anschell on piano, Clipper Anderson, bass and Mark Ivester on drums), the Swiss-born New Yorker demonstrated his versatility on tunes like The Nearness of You and La Vie En Rose.  A highlight was the love song Eso, which Kaestli described as a song with Spanish lyrics, written by a New York composer set in Brazil.

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Pianists steal the show for Mountlake Terrace, Roosevelt bands on Earshot’s opening night

The Mountlake Terrace and Roosevelt high school bands were the opening act last night for the 2011 Earshot Jazz Festival, entertaining a good crowd at Seattle’s Town Hall. Both bands were celebrating wins at the prestigious 2011 Essentially Ellington 2011 competition, each performing eight songs throughout the evening.

In both cases, the bands sounded excellent. Mountlake Terrace, directed by Darin Faul opened the program, moving musicians around on stage almost every song in order to get the right musician playing the right part to get the right sound. Featuring compositions by Duke Ellington and Benny Carter (among others), the band took full advantage of the use of mutes and the occasional full flugelhorn section. A highlight includes a wonderful arrangement of the Bob Florence composition, Evelyn, Queen of the Racquet Club.

Scott Brown directed the impressive Roosevelt High School jazz band after intermission, with the band playing compositions ranging from John Clayton to Oliver Nelson, to two compositions by current Roosevelt Band members. Their opening tune, That Old Feeling, set a great tone for an exciting, energy filled program.

But the highlight of the program had to be the performances by the pianists in both band. Taylor Griffin, the pianist for Mountlake Terrace showed his ability to accurately interpret the styles of Count Basie and Duke Ellington, while demonstrating his own unique personality as a soloist. For Roosevelt, pianist Chris McCarthy delivered a powerful performance. His performance on John Clayton’s The Jazz Calling was compelling, and his creativity was demonstrated not only in his solos, but also in his original composition, Something Small, which the band performed.

Other opening night performances included shows by the band Endangered Blood, as well as a show by vocalist Elspeth Savani.

Planning on seeing a show? Have some thoughts of your own on a performance? Did you read a great review? Leave us your thoughts in the comments box, or send us a tweet @kevinkniestedt . You can follow current festival information by clicking here.

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