Words by Gabriela Kerson :: Images by Robert Chapman
What is Jazz featuring: Christian McBride, Charlie Hunter, DJ Logic & Bobby Previte
04.05.06 :: B.B. King Blues Club :: New York, NY
Established in 1999, Manhattan-based ropeadope records is a well-known and respected independent label. They've worked with everyone from Mike Gordon to Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra, and they have a really sharp line of clothes. The long-awaited ropeadope What is Jazz tour, a spin-off of their monthly NYC shows, featuring DJ Logic, Bobby Previte, Christian McBride, and Charlie Hunter, kicked off Wednesday, April 5th, at B.B. King Blues Club just off of Times Square. The bright lights infused a late night excitement to the early show.
Bobby Previte :: 04.05
B.B. King's is where the greats play - down red-carpeted stairs, in a dark, candle-lit room with tables and a breathlessly seated audience. The bar features brass instrument taps, the staff was quick, quiet, and professional, and the audience was informed.
Bobby Previte's solo drum work started the evening. His strong style and intelligent drumming were arresting. He made a political statement, looping the words, "We have the terrorists on the line. Please hold the line."
Christian McBride held his stand-up bass, confidently relaxed, as he manipulated the sound in a sexy and complicated way. With Terreon Gulley on drums, Ron Blake on saxophone, and Geoff Keezer on keys, they had a warm, talented, and welcoming sound.
Christian McBride :: 04.05.06
McBride's patter was top notch. He outlined the three types of people in the audience: those who know jazz, those who think they know jazz and don't, and those who know they don't know, miming the looks of all three. "But that's all right. We're just gonna have a good time."
It was refreshing to be able to enjoy the music without feeling pressure to be highly educated. Gulley, Blake, and McBride are all large men who exude a laid-back energy. Thin, seated, almost introverted, Geoff Keezer stood out on the keys. Following in the great Berklee tradition, he dropped out of the Boston college after a year and two job offers, one from Miles Davis and one from Art Blakely. All four of the musicians on stage are delicate with their well-intentioned notes. They opened with "I'm Coming Home," followed by "EGAD," and then hit a stride with a beautiful rendition of The Police's "Walking on the Moon." Blake rode the saxophone, his head bopping and fingers jumping as McBride brought in a soft, slow Arabian feel and Keezer played long with subtle treble tones.
For the fourth and final song, "Sonic Tonic" written by Ron Blake, Rashawn Ross (DMB, Soulive), a Berklee graduate, joined the quartet. Ross and Blake both grew up on the Caribbean Island of St. Thomas, although by the time Ross started playing, Blake was already in the big time. "Sonic Tonic" began with drums, keys, and a little clapping rhythm. Blake came in with an inviting, island riff on the sax, and Ross responded on trumpet. The two soon found a rhythm together and began trading solos. Ross's powerful notes shot over the crowd, forceful yet playful. McBride began to dance slightly with his bass as the rest of the band began moving. The eternal jazz club question flashed through the crowd, to dance or not to dance? The compromise was seen in the dark corners and on the edges of the crowd. Logic joined in on the turntable, and the six men ended the song with a slam.
DJ Logic :: 04.05
DJ Logic, a beaming presence out of the Bronx, spins with the best and is often credited as the man who helped reunite hip-hop with jazz, as seen on Medeski Martin & Wood's Combustication. He is currently in the studio working on a record with the Popper Project. Unfortunately, the movement of the stage crew overshadowed his rump-shaking second set during the rapid changeover. The excited chatter of the audience didn't help either.
Charlie Hunter is not only one of the most talented musicians on the planet, he's also got an incredibly expressive face and is quite entertaining to both listen to, and watch. He sat towards the back of the stage, eight-string guitar balanced on his knee, facing drummer Derek Phillips and grinning broadly. John Ellis switched between the Wurlitzer, melodica, bass clarinet, and saxophone and was highly proficient on all counts.
The trio presented a mix of subtle melodies and funky rhythms. Steve Bernstein (Sex Mob etc) joined in, giving Ellis a chance to incorporate the Wurlitzer. The quartet created a big band feel without the big band. Again, every note was well placed, and the sound reverberated throughout the legendary walls of venue.
Charlie Hunter :: 04.05
This type of show is why people used to dress for concerts. The music was so elegant and the musicians so talented, they deserved the most beautiful face the audience could put forward. Erik Deutsch joined Charlie Hunter's group for the last song, his polite piano playing fitting right in. Each of the men listened intently to the others as they built the tension in a light, chaotic jam. There were notes everywhere, but every note was heard.
It is rare to see such an amazing show. No peaks or valleys, just straight across the board, strong, well-intentioned, fun music. From Previte's out-there hard drumming to McBride's sultry bass to Charlie Hunter's insane strumming, ropeadope is sending the best of jazz out into the world and making it intellectually accessible to those of us who don't have jazz degrees. For people everywhere who love music, the ropeadope What is Jazz tour was a welcoming place for those who just want to have a good time.
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