Sunday, November 20, 2011

Raising the Roof and the Spirit

Jeff Lederer's Sunwatcher elevated the spirits gathered this past Friday evening (11/18/11) in Firehouse 12, at least, those who ventured into the performance space/recording studio on the second floor.  With the support of Matt Wilson (drums a'plenty), Jamie Saft (acoustic piano, Korg organ) and Mr. Avery Sharpe (acoustic bass master),  Lederer (who played tenor and soprano saxophones plus clarinet) illustrated how "ecstatic" playing over rock-solid rhythms can set the soul free.  He originally assembled the band for a project inspired by the music and visions of saxophonist Albert Ayler (1936-1970), whose often ferocious solos and squalling sound sent jazz fans to the exit but whose music was based on the rhythm 'n' blues and jazz he heard growing up in Cleveland, Ohio.  Oh, yes, he played "free" music but music rarely far from its roots.

Throughout the 2 sets, Lederer and company continually blurred the lines between genres but rarely if ever lost the heartbeat of the music.  Whether it was the church organ-fueled blues-soaked "Cristo Redentor" (composed by Duke Pearson) or the pounding drums and throbbing bass of Ornette Coleman's "Old Gospel, New Gospel", the joy in the music never wavered.  The quartet genuinely enjoyed creating music together and their spirit elevated the vast majority of audience members (a few people could not handle the intensity of Lederer's energetic "blowing.") 

It's always fun to watch Matt Wilson at play.  Yes, he can be goofy but he is also a rock-solid rhythm master who knows when to push, when to "color", when to carry on and when to lay back.  His relationship with the other band members ranges from shouting encouragement to wide smiles when Sharpe strummed his upright bass like a flamenco guitarist and Saft filled the quieter moments with waves of glissandos (foot holding the sustain pedal).

O, what a way to elevate a day from tiring to inspiring!  Sunwatcher takes its name from a funky Ayler tune off his unjustly maligned "New Grass" Lp - if you suffer from SAD (seasonal attitude depression), my prescription would be a healthy dose of Jeff Lederer's musical elixir.  I've not heard the band's 2011 CD on Jazzhead (with Buster Williams on bass) but, if the groove comes close to that of the live show, find it.  To discover more about Jeff Lederer, go to  

In 2010, Matt Wilson released his "Christmas Tree-O" CD (Palmetto Records), a joyful and somewhat wacky collection of tunes ("The Chipmunk Song" side by side with "Winter Wonderland" and "Little Drummer Boy") - if you have yet to discover the CD which features the drummer with Lederer and bassist Paul Sikivie, put it on your list or go get it right now.  The trio's performance on Claude Thornhill's "Snowfall" is stunning in its beauty -  and you will probably never hear a more forceful and dramatic version of Handel's "Hallelujah Chorus" or happy, hard bop-march, rendition of  "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing."

The Christmas Tree-o will be playing concerts Christmas week in Washington D.C. (12/21 at Atlas Perforrd ng Arts Center, 1333 H Street NE) and the following night at Cornelia Street Cafe in New York City.  For more information, go to

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