7 September 2011

Not at all Bird-like

I was put off even before the first notes of Gary Peacock at Birdland. I should have guessed. I’m not one for the moody approach of Keith Jarrett and his ilk. But I can warm to it with my eyes closed and GP has played widely since KJ and I should maintain an open mind. But Birdland started me off badly this day, with its Parisian Café chic and its suited formality and its “Quiet policy” and its refusal of any pics. Thus the feature pic above: the sidewalk outside Birdland. Call me purist, but I was thinking good jazz creates listeners around it. The club worries about talking or mobiles, but its waiters still hover during the performance and there’s a decent amount of cutlery clatter to muddy the percussion in the room and nothing is said. Then there’s the Birdland shop we were offered when invited to leave after our short set. They say the business of America is business, and this looked liked that. We left disappointed. Oh, but how as the band? I felt that Gary Peacock took on some of the distant formality of the venue, not speaking until the penultimate tune when he introduced the band before an escapologist’s departure with nary any recognition from the band. Certainly no bows. What have I forgotten? Oh yeah, the music.

This was a renowned set of players: Gary Peacock, Marc Copland, Victor Lewis. Marc Copland floored me with a subtlety of invention and fluency. Lithe movements in harmony, distilled melody that sat deep in this harmony, chromatic moves with the moody voicings and chordal approaches of Debussy. He was often hunched over the piano in concentration, but I also saw gazes at the band members in a few passages. There was a lovely, clear intent in his playing despite some challenging sounds. I felt he provided the most groove of all the band, but perhaps that’s not unexpected in this style. Gary Peacock was fluent and obviously exploring some very challenging scales and substitutions but I heard him as all counterpoint rather than groove. The band approached tunes in a standard way (head, then solos passed around, then head, even swapping fours on a few tunes) but I only remember one walk and there were a few ostinato bass lines. I can’t think that I’ve heard more exploratory harmonic explorations on bass and I found it hard to follow. I worried about his intonation at times but these were explorative harmonies that I had trouble fathoming. I loved his explosive solo lines that would run up the neck, clear and precisely intoned and with more obvious harmony. I often had my eyes closed, but I didn’t notice much of a smile on his face, so maybe he wasn’t enjoying the night. Victor Lewis did his part with ease and comfort as another layer of colour. He was a big man, but moved bodily over the kit and sounded sharp and precise, but no surprises there.

There were many tunes I didn’t recognise, and All blues and My foolish heart and a bopper that I did. It was very good, of course, and I have friends who would have melted at the playing, and I did too, especially the piano. Maybe it’s just this formal concert style that leaves me cold, but it wasn’t a favourite outing, as it was not for the Belgian drummer and his wife sitting at the next table. We were all impressed if a little disappointed, but nothing I shouldn’t have expected.

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