John Richmond at Cecil's Jazz Club
Cecil's Jazz Club
West Orange, NJ
April 17, 2009
John Richmond's recent two night stand at Cecil's Jazz Club is the latest chapter in his evolving relationship with Bob DeVos. The saxophonist and guitarist have appeared together on a couple of occasions over the past year at The Turning Point Cafe, as part of the Monday night jazz series. Richmond and DeVos are insightful interpreters of selections from the jazz canon, the American Popular Songbook, and play their own original material as well. They're also smart, savvy improvisers who avoid histrionics and create momentum in ways that aren't always readily apparent.
Based on Friday night's opening set at Cecil's the union of Richmond and DeVos holds a good deal of promise. Veteran bassist Gene Perla and drummer Steve Johns (of DeVos's working trio, as well as a frequent Richmond cohort) filled out the band. They opened with a medium tempo version of "You And The Night And The Music." Richmond's rendition of the melody moved between the low and high ends of the tenor's range. The solo began in an affable manner, and then his tone became larger and more authoritative. Over the cushion of DeVos's evenly spaced, unruffled chords, a brief rapid run led to a banshee wail at a chorus's end.
It's not disparaging to point out that DeVos's playing seldom includes the element of surprise. As he followed Richmond the guitarist offered things that were ultimately more important: A full, rounded tone that made each and every note glisten, and a continuity of line that never sounded rushed or strained.
Richmond's "Blues for Mr. Snipes," one of the tracks from his Live At Cecil's disc released in 2007, moved between a shuffle feel and straight-ahead swing. DeVos's introductory remarks began in a relaxed, blues drenched manner and gradually became more animated and complex. After some relatively simple lines expressed in a hearty tone, one long bent note signaled a change in the direction of Richmond's solo. He made a coherent phrase out of notes that sounded like laughter, plumbed the depths of the horn and gradually worked his way back up, and juxtaposed a number of brief cries. Unfazed by Johns's spot on ride cymbal beat and brusque snare drum accents, DeVos's solo stayed in a self-contained zone which entailed bright single note passages and a brisk chordal interlude.
Richmond, DeVos, and Johns had an abundance of substantive things to say on "Monk's Dream." Richmond made notes pop evenly out of the horn, slurred a phrase and fell silent. Amidst the guitarist's low pitched, edgy chords, he found a snippet of the song and made a sound like a muffled scream. DeVos's turn offered variations of a leaping three note phrase. Two chords were firmly planted in the middle of a long run, and bits of the melody quoted in various places throughout a single chorus. Each of Johns's eight bar breaks made a distinct impression. One featured brusque four and two stroke slaps to the snare. Another created the effect of running in place by executing a bundle of sixteenth note strokes to the tom toms.
The leader's treatment of Tadd Dameron's ballad "Soultrane" impressed with its depth and sincerity. Roughly singing through the instrument, his solo shot off a passel of high notes before becoming more cautious on the tune's bridge. Perla plucked upper register tones as if nailing them into place, and then found other meaningful things to say in a select group of notes.
Another track from Live At Cecil's, Richmond's soulful composition "House of Truth," made for a rousing set closer. DeVos rode Perla's and Johns's deeply entrenched swing, briefly quoted "Softly In A Morning Sunrise" and used chords to punctuate some pointed single note lines. Richmond initially offered lethargic, behind the beat phrasing. After reworking a portion of the melody he suddenly couldn't contain himself, playing long passionate lines with a serrated edge. Accompanied by Perla, Johns had the last word. Each stroke was hard and biting. The bass drum made for a low, riff-like foundation, and everything swung in a sparse, somewhat abstract manner.