Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Lyrical Jazz Piano Icon Bill Mays Plays a Rare Small-Room Stand in Manhattan

Pianist Bill Mays was playing catchy tunes decades before “translucent” became the latest word for a melody that sticks in your head. It’s hard to believe that last year marked a half century since he made his first record – backing Sarah Vaughan, no less. Mays did not let the lockdown get in the way of his vast creative output: he has a bunch of new tunes and a rare small-room Manhattan gig coming up this May 27 and 28 at Mezzrow, with bassist Dean Johnson and drummer Ron Vincent. Sets are at 7:30 and 9:30 PM; cover is $25 cash at the door. If you’re going you might want to get there early.

For all his melodicism, Mays also has a dark side, epitomized by his work on the Angelo Badalamenti Twin Peaks classic Moving Through Time. Might there be an album in the extensive Mays catalog that captures that sensibility and can be heard without falling back on evil, censorious Spotify? Fortuitously, yes! In 2018, Vancouver saxophonist PJ Perry and Mays did an unhurried, unselfconsciously gorgeous duo album, This Quiet Room, which is still up at Bandcamp.

They open with Parisian Thoroughfare. a cheery, Gershwinian stroll where they follow through variations on a stubborn riff down into resolution, with some nimbly articulated clusters from Mays. They reinvent In My Life as a slow waltz. Perry’s airy sax contrasting with Mays’ sober, terse piano. When he takes an unexpected detour into the noir, the effect is quietly breathtaking.

Perry’s muscular spirals take centerstage over Mays’ incisive chords as the two pick up the pace in Laird Baird. After that, Mays delivers a bright, thoughtfully paced, glittering solo take of The Folks Who Live on the Hill that segues into Two For The Road, the latter with some balmy work from Perry.

The two balance Perry’s fond resonance with Mays’ occasional hints of disquiet in the slow, warmly methodical, waltzing ballad Alice Blue Gown, a dichotomy that’s even more striking in their take of There’s a Small Hotel, right through Mays’ emphatic stride as the two wind it up.

Brooding modalities permeate the simmering bossa nova Beija Flor, then they romp through a determined, resonant version of East of the Sun. Perry saves his most fondly lyrical work on the record for the title track, bobbing and weaving over Mays’ tersely assembled, spacious backdrop.

The last time this blog was in the house at a Mays gig, it was January, 2018 at the now-abandoned weekly series at St. Peter’s Church at Lexington and 54th, where the crowd just walked in without a care and filled up the benches even though it was the peak of cold and flu season. There was a veteran singer on the bill and she had pitch trouble, which brought the energy down. But it was rewarding to see Mays get a chance to parse the showtune side of the jazz repertoire with his usual sagacity and funefulness.

May 25, 2022 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bill Mays’ Inventions Trio Gets Cinematic and Soulful

The loss of Dave Brubeck left a void the size of an ocean in the world of third stream piano jazz, but thankfully we have others who keep pushing the envelope in that sphere, and one of that style’s finest, most eclectic exponents continues to be Bill Mays. His latest album, Life’s a Movie, with his Inventions Trio (Marvin Stamm on trumpet and Alisa Horn on cello) is a richly tuneful, purposeful collection that bookends a characteristically cinematic Mays suite with fresh takes on old classics.

They open with a quartet of Bill Evans pieces. My Bells gets a matter-of-fact, glistening, all-too-brief take, followed by Interplay, a through-composed/through-improvised blues. Before recording it, Mays said to Horn he wished she could play both the original Jim Hall guitar part along with Percy Heath’s bassline, to which she replied that she could do both at once. And she does – it’s a terse, pulsing treat. simultaneously and she tells him she can. The cello-fueled dirge Turn Out the Stars has Mays edging toward Ran Blake noir under Horn’s mournful austerity. A bittersweet Watz for Debby with balmy flugelhorn above the glimmer concludes the mini-suite.

Mays’ own Life’s a Movie: 4 Cues in Search of a Theme balances a pensive, often poignant narrative with considerable wit, drawing on Mays’ prolific career in film music. The long, expansive Main Title theme is grounded by Horn’s ambered, sustained lines, Stamm’s clear, terse passages and livened with Mays’ increasingly lively leaps and bounds – this isn’t a horror movie. Love Theme Bittersweet is true to its name, beginning as a spacious, starlit, rather avant garde tone poem and then reaching toward an angst-fueled neoromantic swing. A similarly swinging chase scene develops with a surrealistic twelve-tone acidity; the main title is reprised as a genial nocturne that takes on a Brazilian-tinged pulse fueled by Stamm’s animated, spiraling phrases.
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They follow a brief, rapt take of Joaquin Rodrigo’s famous Concierto de Aranjuez theme with an upbeat, swinging romp through Chick Corea’s Spain, an apt segue. A trio of familiar Monk classics wraps up the album tersely: Trinkle Tinkle, with some nonchalantly arresting harmonies from the trumpet and cello; a gentle, almost pastoral take of Pannonica; and Straight, No Chaser, Horn offering an affectionately lithe, bluesy nod to Miles Davis. In its own unselfconsciously soulful way, this is one of the best jazz albums of the year.

September 18, 2013 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment