Ilona and I saw a terrific performance on Friday night. It was a quartet led by bassist Charlie Haden, who performed on some of the paradigm-shifting records of Ornette Coleman back in 1959 (The Shape of Jazz to Come) and years following.
Haden’s fellow musicians — Ernie Watts on tenor saxophone, Alan Broadbent on piano, and Rodney Green on drums — are spectacularly talented. Initially I wasn’t sure what sort of evening we were in for; the quartet seemed to be holding back a little on the opening number, Charlie Parker’s “Passport”. I think it was on the fourth song that Ernie Watts really cut loose on a solo complete with Ornette-like squawks and wails.
By then, all the musicians were performing jaw-droppingly masterful solos in turn. Ilona, who knows something about playing the piano, was particularly impressed by the solo on a Coleman composition, “Lonely Woman”. Broadbent shifted effortlessly through a half dozen styles — from stride piano gone to the dark side through Rachmaninoff — without once dropping a beat as he transitioned from one genre to the next.
Tonight, we started with Nimmons ‘N’ Nine…Now! They are a ten-piece band who perform the compositions of Phil Nimmons, plus contemporary ("Now!" ) compositions by band members. Fun music, performed well, with kudos especially to the alto, tenor, and baritone sax players.
Now pianist Brad Mehldhau has taken the stage with his trio. Mehldau is reputed to be the premier pianist of his generation: I guess I’ll have an opinion on that before the night is done.
Meh. I was underwhelmed by Mehldau. He solos almost exclusively with his right hand. 90% of the time, he played simple chords with his left hand; for at least one extended stretch he played with his left hand in his lap. When he did use both hands, they tended to move in lock-step — nothing contrapuntal.
Also: it was odd that Mehldau didn’t speak to the audience even once during the first 70 minutes of the set. He finally acknowledged our presence before the second-last song of the evening. Maybe the show would have been more inspiring if the musicians didn’t appear to be playing solely for each other’s amusement.