Monday, January 20, 2014

Up Front at The Side Door + Matt Swings & Pete Rocks

Seemingly without much fanfare, The Side Door Jazz Club in Old Lyme, CT, has become quite the venue to see and hear music.  Located in the Old Lyme Inn, right off of Interstate Route 95, the nightspot is 15 miles from the nearest city (New London) but strategically placed close to both Boston and New York City (as well as Providence, Rhode Island, and New Haven.) Since Ken Pickering opened the doors back in the late Spring of 2013, the club has brought world-class musicians to play for joyous crowds.

 This coming week is no exception.  On Friday January 24, the venue welcomes saxophonist JD Allen and his Quartet, featuring pianist Orrin Evans.  Allen (pictured above), born in Detroit, has been on the scene for nearly 2 decades, has worked with a slew of jazz greats, from vocalist Betty Carter to trumpeters Dave Douglas and Jeremy Pelt to composer Lawrence "Butch" Morris to pianist Evans' various groups.  His series of Trio CDs for Sunnyside Records and Savant, recorded with bassist Gregg August and drummer Rudy Royston (issued between 2008 - 2012), displayed a composer, arranger and improviser who understood group dynamics and how interactions moved the music forward.  His 2013 Savant CD, "Grace", introduced his Quartet with pianist Eldar Djangirov and the Hartford, CT, rhythm section Dezron Douglas (bass) and Jonathan Barber (drums).

Doors open at 7:30 p.m. and the first notes commence at 8:30 p.m.

Saturday (1/25), The Side Door opens for the Andrew Atkinson Quartet.  Drummer Atkinson, born in Jamaica and raised in Miami, FL, brings many influences to his music, a fine and often fiery mix that leans towards mainstream jazz.  On Tuesday (1/28), the Matt Wilson Quartet + John Medeski (all pictured left) celebrate the release of "Gathering Call", the drummer's latest venture for Palmetto Records (reviewed below). This is a rare weeknight date for the Club but who can resist bringing Mr. Wilson and his compatriots in to play any night of the week.

For reservations to any and all gigs at The Side Door (including the Fred Hersch Trio on 2/7 + 8, vocalist Patricia Barber on 2/25 and Wayne Escoffery on 3/01), call 860-434-0886. To check out the impressive lineup, go to

No surprise that drummer/composer Matt Wilson gives the title "Gathering Call" to his latest CD to feature his Quartet of Jeff Lederer (soprano and tenor saxophone, clarinet), Kirk Knuffke (cornet) and Chris Lightcap (bass) plus John Medeski (piano).  Whenever and wherever Mr Wilson and his compatriots play becomes a "revival meeting" masquerading as a concert.  There is usually an infectious feeling when this band plays so that, even if the material is "in" or "out", soft or very loud, the listener is an active participant in the proceedings.

That sort of enthusiasm does not always translate to recordings but, no fear, the MWQ and Mr. Medeski have created a program that leaps out of the speakers and into your soul on "Gathering Call."  From the opening seconds of the "swinging" reading of Duke Ellington's "Main Stem" (from 1942) to the sweet melody of the traditional "Juanita", the music shimmers, shakes, squawks, shines, and, yes, swings.  Lederer's tenor work brings to mind, among other, Albert Ayler and Paul Gonsalves, with his ability to kick solos into a higher gear within seconds well on display here.  Knuffke's cornet lines blend so well with Lederer (they have played together a lot in the past few years), there are moments when it seems their 2 minda are thinking as one.  Lightcap is such a melodic bassist as well as a solid foundational player, he gives the other voices plenty of space to move around.  His counterpoint and chordal work on "If I Were A Boy" (a Beyonce hit from 2008) is quite fine while the band catches the sadness inherent in the lyrics.  Medeski, who first worked with the drummer when both were member of The Either/Orchestra in the early 1990s, sounds as if he's been in the group for years. His spare chordal work under the tenor solo on Charlie Rouse's "Pumpkin's Delight" leads to a sparkling solo that simmers with blues riffs while he injects a New Orleans feel to the raucous reading of Hugh Lawson's " Get Over, Get Off and Get On."  Wilson slows down the tempo of bassist Butch Warren's "Barack Obama", capturing the wistful feel of the melody (lovely clarinet work from Lederer)

The drummer contributes 6 originals to the 13-track program.  They range from the frisky rhythms of "Some Assembly Required" to the lovely, classically influenced, "Hope (For the Cause)." The highly rhythmical "Dreamscape" resembles an Ornette Coleman melody from the early 1960s and leads right into the hard-driving "How Ya Going?" with a polyphonic melody for piano, soprano sax and cornet.  Lightcap's thick tones open "Dancing Waters", a sweet, rubato, ballad with a unison melody for cornet and tenor plus Medeski's impressionistic chordal work.

"Gathering Call" was recorded in a 6 &1/2 hour session in late January of 2013 yet never sounds rushed or incomplete.  The participants are friends, comfortable with each other, knowing when to push or lay out.  This is very much "live" music, alive with possibility, melody and fun, in other words, a reflection of Matt Wilson.  He can be serious, he can be meshugenah but he's never phony. Neither are the members of the Quartet or guest John Medeski - they are musicians and this is good music.  For more information, go to

Alto saxophonist/composer Pete Robbins has worked with bassist Eivind Opsvik and drummer Tyshawn Sorey on numerous occasions while dreaming of playing with pianist Vijay Iyer.  "Pyramid" (Hate Laugh Music) is that dream come true, featuring all 3 alongside Robbins on  program that combines 5 songs that the saxophonist says "influenced and affected me earlier in my life and musical development" with 4 originals.  Sorey, who has worked alongside Iyer in the Fieldwork trio (with saxophonist Steve Lehman), is the driving force on this recording, often "kicking" the music into a higher gear.  Whether it's the funky reading of Stevie Wonder's "Too High" or the sweet reworking of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah", the drummer makes this music move in good directions.  Listen to the "strutting" Sorey does on "Wichita Lineman", pushing the music out onto the dance floor, nudging the soloists away from the melancholy that infused Jimmy Webb's melody.  Both Robbins and Iyer's solos pick up on the on that "push" and have an element of strength.  The arrangement of "Sweet Child O' Mine" (the Guns N' Roses classic) accentuates the handsome melody (Robbins overdubs clarinet to give his alto an interesting shadow). The piano solo has great power (not unlike Slash's guitar work on the original) and truly fires up Robbins whose solo rips over the intense rhythm section.  Nirvana's "Lithium" rises and falls on the interactions of Opsvik and Sorey with short solos that build quickly and burn brightly.

The Robbins original compositions are also quite strong, ranging from the slippery rhythms and trance-like melody lines of "Vorp" to the soulful piano chords that serve as the melody of the title track.  The leader sits out the song, giving the rhythm section full rein to deliver a powerful performance.   The intense drive of the rhythm section on "Intravenous" offers a good contrast to the leader's softer approach on alto - Iyer's 2-fisted solo is fiery and leads to Sorey's solo, which burns with great intensity.   Robbins' "Equipoise" lives up to its name with its blend of Opsvik's solid bass lines juxtaposed with Sorey's poly-rhythmic approach and Iyer's stabbing chords.  The saxophonist rides the equilibrium with a fine solo then everyone drops out save for Iyer, whose unaccompanied piano brings the piece to a quiet close.

The more I listen to "Pyramid", the more its grooves insinuate themselves in my brain (and feet).  Pete Robbins has found a great balance on this recording, allowing the intensity of the rhythms to co-mingle with his more melodic leanings.  With Vijay Iyer, Eivind Opsvik and Tyshawn Sorey, he's found partners who kick this music as hard as they support his vision.  Find this CD and let the sounds make you smile.  For more information, go to

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