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Words by: Gabriela Kerson
Gold Sounds featuring Chesnut, Jackson, Veal & Carter
02.10.07 :: Dizzy's Jazz Club at Lincoln Center :: New York, NY
Wintry nights in New York can be cold and intimidating. So can the jazz scene. I found myself fighting the wind and crowds of Columbus Circle searching for good jazz. After braving the elements, Dizzy's sophisticated, streamlined comfort was a palpable relief. The friendly staff and warm colors of the intimate room surround the stage, which is set before huge windows that look out over Manhattan and Central Park.
The evening featured four contemporary jazz greats - Cyrus Chestnut (keyboards), Ali Jackson (drums), Reginald Veal (bass) and James Carter (sax). These four renowned musicians came to play their inspired arrangements of the music of famous Northern California indie rockers Pavement. The quartet's studio album, Gold Sounds, was released in 2005, and found them digging into the abrasive, often experimental Pavement originals to smooth them out and expand their range.
Live, Chestnut's shoulders hunched into his red shirt as he gently teased notes from the Fender Rhodes like a lover. Veal lounged against his amp, his mellow presence and lazy grin floating over the crowd like his hands floated over his five-string bass. Jackson hid behind the drum kit. After the Chestnut solo piece, an improvisation introduced the rest of the band. James Carter entered with baritone, alto and soprano saxophones in his large hands. He had to sit the first song out due to a broken blood vessel that happened during soundcheck.
The highlight of the evening was the second song of the set, "Blue Hawaiian." Chestnut started at the piano and Carter's alto came in so sweet it was chilling. Veal played the upright bass with a bow while the tortured horn cried out, a scattering of cymbals beginning and then trailing off into treble notes. Carter swung the sax up, a push of air with no tone. Chestnut had one hand on the piano and one on the Rhodes for a tropical flair.
The incredibly tight foursome was well practiced, inventive and smooth. Each is crucial to the mix but also interesting in their own right. Jackson and Veal have great communication and played with physical swing, fast and intense but so subtle that the tension was a surprise. There were mini-crescendos where Carter would swagger in with a chill vibe that let the tension out like a slow leak in a tire. Carter would then switch to long sustained notes where he spazzed, freaked and hung on the far edge of counter balance.
"Improv is composition at a rapid pace," said Chestnut. "Right now, we're gonna flip a coin into the imaginary bucket of songs by Pavement. Whatever it is we hope you enjoy it." They pulled "Trigger Cut" from the bucket. The lights were dark, letting the city enter the room through the giant windows. Their interpretation was pretty like a carriage ride through the park. Veal listened intently as Carter's sax grew more intentional, darker, more mature. The whole time Chestnut was talking through his keys - teasing, calming, testing, changing, reminding, guiding. The bass and piano anchored the song as Carter continued to go nuts, the animal connotations of the cowbell totally fitting his attack. Carter gave our ears a rest while he changed a reed, and Chestnut continued playing like the sweetest suitor. Veal's fingers danced, his instrument buried beneath the sudden overlap in tones as the drums rode high in the war of sounds.
Introducing a song, Jackson explained, "We couldn't figure out how to play this in the studio. [Veal] picked up the bass and just started doing it. That's what's gonna happen now." Chestnut joined Veal, and Carter's horn frills, even away from a mic, were overpowering. It had a sultry vibe and fun energy but something was missing. Chestnut hummed as he played the Rhodes, and Carter picked up on his vocalizations and they took off together. There was dissonance for a second but at some invisible cue all four shifted to a higher, softer sound, their instruments crying a song of seduction as the tune slowly faded away.
Jackson broke into Kool & The Gang's "Ladies Night" for a friend's birthday to close the show. It was a heartbreaking end to a phenomenal experience, neither Pavement nor experimental. The club quickly turned the tables for the second of three sets. I left feeling revived, warmed as much by the southern hospitality as the music, which titillated my ears and left me loving jazz again.
JamBase | New York
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