6 June 2013
Calling the Beat
I was embarrassed that Beat Kaestli had to correct me on the pronunciation of his name, but it must be common. He’s a jazz singer, originally from German-speaking Switzerland, once a scholarship student at Manhattan School of Music and a NYC (now Dumbo) resident of 20-years, so I wouldn’t have been alone in guessing Beat was a nickname (Beat as in Groove). But he’s actually Beat as in Euro-vowels: Bay-at is perhaps closest in a non-phoenetic script. But that’s by-and-by. What mattered was that he was at the Loft, singing two sets with accompaniment from Jonathon Zwartz and Jackson Harrison. There were no drums (although they had played a gig with Andrew Gander in Sydney), but there was groove to die for. This was a clear and crisp sound, unhurried and with groove from the depths. Beat is a substantial man, tall and well built. You could hear it in his full voice as he dropped lower, but he’d also sing to higher notes, always gently formed with soft attack and measured sustain. He sang some scat although not much and it was great when he did it, but I heard his improvisation more in interpretation and phrasing. His lines would move over the beat, before or behind, but it wasn’t an obtrusive thing. I remember reading that Miles studied Sinatra for his phrasing. I imagine it’s a singer’s thing, and being voice, it’s human and unobtrusive. Thinking back, Jonathon was also singing as he soloed, and that was also melodic and unforced. It’s something of voice. Beat also had the loudest finger snap I think I’ve ever heard. Just a sharp, regular, perfectly timed snap that resonated and drove with the rhythm. This rhythm was so strong, what with Beat’s finger snap and Jonathon’s busy and expressive pizzicato. It was his right hand work that defined Jonathon’s playing for me this night, playing around the groove, holding funky ostinatos or breaking up latin or swing with all manner of syncopations. There were fills and runs and various harmonic inventions, too, but the groove was the essence and it was so strong. And that voice that accompanied his bass solos, making for more lyrical and intuitive lines. I just tried it while practising this morning and it worked for me. There’s something special in singing with solos. Jackson had rhythm, too, of course, but his was more contrasting, moving over or against the beat, comping chords, adding tension and lifting complexity. He could be pretty exploratory, and once or twice I lost his intention, but his role was more as the provider of harmonic wealth. Piano is an orchestra in a box, and we got a feast of blues inflections and melodic invention and various harmonic contortions.
The repertoire was obviously songs. Beat mentioned his CDs and took songs from several. One CD is an exploration of European song; another is a return to the American songbook. We got a bit of both and also crossovers. He observed that Americans are easy appropriators (no worries there: it’s a basic means for progress in the arts) before he sang a medley of I wish you love and the Euro original that it was came from. He sang in several languages. He sang lyrics that he’d written and originals by mates. He sang Invitation and L’amour and Besame mucho and Round midnight and Sarah Vaughan’s Day in day out. There was a conflict with the Gods and the turnout was small, but we got a feast of singing and airy groove that I’ll remember with affection. I don’t like to pass up the international and NYC visitors. Here’s one good reason why.
Beat Kaestli (vocals) sang with the accompaniment of Jackson Harrison (piano) and Jonathon Zwartz (bass) at the Loft.