Django Reinhardt Festival, Steve Gadd, Steve Grossman, Bucky Pizzarelli and Ken Peplowski
November 4, 2009
This six-night residency celebrated a decade of Djangofests at Birdland, where the principle aim is to see how many Reinhardt guitar disciples can be jammed onstage at any one time. Over the years, the organizers, Pat Philips and Ettore Stratta, have built up a virtual repertory company, some of whom are destined to make return visits. This time, the chief guitarists were Sweden's Andreas Oberg and Tchavolo Schmitt, from France, but there was also fellow Frenchman Samson Schmitt and Ted Gottsegen from Queens; the latter pair took responsibility for most of the fleet rhythmic chuffing. Even this second night's midweek show was completely sold out, as the festival has steadily built up a loyal following.
Öberg's playing might seem highly flashy, and indeed it is, but when Schmitt joined in later, he triumphed not just through dexterous lightning, but with the sheer singing tone that's projected from his guitar body. His sound is very distinctive; it's a mellowed plumpness with a stinging attack. Aside from the guitars, there was Brian Torff providing a constant upright bass pulse, then accordionist Ludovic Beier, who switched from traditional runs to purring Hammond organ impersonations, presumably flicking some secreted switch each time his sound transformed.
The multi-faceted company also invited a nightly guest to trim the group's standard gypsy jazz style with a slightly wayward influence. On other nights, there were trumpet, saxophone, harp and harmonica invitees, but on this particular evening, the washboard specialist David Langlois sat in, his core equipment adorned with a metal pan and a bell, his fingers tipped by metal thimbles. Langlois added a rhythmic hyperactivity that was captured by the French violinist Aurore Voilqué, who managed to magnify the energy levels of the entire ensemble with her vigorous scything. At first she didn't seem to be entirely feeling the gypsy pulse, but eventually her rhythms relaxed and she began to surf the washboard clatter. The first set seemed to breeze by almost too quickly, but this was a sign of the ensemble's shimmering entertainment qualities. There was always some fresh element being introduced, which kept the audience continually riveted.
November 4, 2009
There was an electrical charge in the air. There's something about the drummer Steve Gadd that encourages devotion or even hero worship. As he's often something of a high-quality session player, the audience arrives from areas beyond jazz itself, reflecting the sticksman's ongoing involvement in rock, funk, pop and fusion. This was the opening night's second set, the first of a five-night run at the Iridium. The house was full, and Gadd was going to heat them up fully for close to 90 minutes.
The drummer was surrounded by an exceptional band: Ronnie Cuber (baritone saxophone), Joey DeFrancesco (Hammond organ) and Paul Bollenback (guitar). Far from being a dominant leader who loads the set with extended drum solos, Gadd actually took his place as a band member, mostly choosing to use brushes or light sticks, whipping around his kit with an almost casual grace. He set up poly-rhythmic accents that were in a constantly suspended motion. It was only near the set's climax that Gadd let rip with a longer statement. He encouraged his partners to solo; DeFrancesco was in a notably wired up state, issuing great floods of ecstatic expression. Cuber too was belching down at his lowest end, joining with DeFrancesco in a solo-tossing game of increasing ambitions. Bollenback was comparatively cool, but this was almost a relief from the heated exchanges between his cohorts. The audience refused to let them go, even though the band had already played a much longer set than is customary in a jazz club.
The Steve Grossman Quartet
November 22, 2009
This was apparently the old Miles Davis sideman's first appearance in New York in 15 years. Grossman was going to guest with drummer Al Foster at the Kitano a few months earlier, but Grossman pulled out at short notice. The Brooklyn-born tenor man played a high profile four-nighter at the Jazz Standard and drew capacity crowds for each set. At the second show on the closing Sunday, it was not quite clear whether Grossman was relieved or exhilarated. It seemed like he'd given his all, which resulted in a mien of frazzled abstraction. Sometimes, he soloed from a seated position, and at others he was adopting the Milesian pose of turning his back to the audience, locking eyes with drummer Jason Brown, as the music reached a fever pitch.