Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

The Ear-Regulars Still Rule Sundays

Popularity is never a reliable barometer for quality: would you stand in line with the tourists and the permanent tourists for eight hours just for a hastily grilled burger at that overpriced joint in that midtown park? Not likely. Longevity, on the other hand, is a sign that something good is going on. The Ear-Regulars began their Sunday evening residency at the Ear Inn over three years ago and are still going strong. What they do is sort of the teens equivalent of what Thad Jones and Mel Lewis started at the Vanguard fifty years ago. Trumpeter Jon-Erik Kellso, guitarist Matt Munisteri and the rest of the guys who rotate through the band here get a lot of work, a lot of gigs: this is their fun night out. But it isn’t a gig for messing around. Listeners can get lost in this – but the band doesn’t. The focus they bring to their usual mix of obscurities and mostly obscure classics from the 30s, and sometimes the 20s, is pretty intense, but less so when you realize what a fun time they’re having over there in the corner. This time they had Joel Forbes on bass and Chris Byars on tenor sax, joined by Nathan Botts on trumpet on a couple of numbers. Botts was celebrating his anniversary, so the band ran through a couple of verses of a slow, summery, lyrical ballad of his titled Anna (his wife’s name – she seemed to have no idea that he’d be pulled away from his table to join the band this time out). A little later he joined Kellso, running a couple of warmly bluesy solos on a swinging, warmly familiar midtempo pre-Benny Goodman-style number.

And that’s the vibe they mine. A couple of numbers worked familiar, bluesy changes into chromatic descending progressions on the choruses, a chance for Munisteri to add extra edge and bite to his percussive, incisive playing. He cut his teeth in bluegrass and old hillbilly music, and that influence still rings true, most noticeably during his sinuous bent-note work in one swaying, fluid solo. Solos around the horn is how these guys do it, yet there’s always an element of surprise. Forbes trolled the rich subterranean depths of his bass all night, stickin with a low, rolling groove even when he’d get a verse of his own, Munisteri holding it together with staccato precision as the four-string weaved over the center line and back again. Kellso is a blues guy at heart and brought his usual bluesman’s wry humor and joie de vivre to the songs, whether subtly working the corners with a mute, or casually blazing away over Munisteri’s spiky chordal pulse. Likewise, Byars sailed buoyantly and melodically through the changes. What these guys are playing, after all, are songs – and they keep them that way. The instruments do the singing. By the time they’d wrapped their first set, the crowd had grown to the point that they were backed up all the way to the door: pretty much everyone who didn’t get here by 6:30 didn’t get a seat.

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September 20, 2010 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Ear-Regulars Live 12/23/07: Marquee-Caliber Jazz at a Ghetto Price

One of the most exciting developments in the New York music scene in recent months is this weekly Sunday 8 PM hot jazz session at the Ear Inn run by trumpeter Jon Kellso and guitarist Matt Munisteri. This is the best deal in town for marquee-caliber jazz: for the price of a drink and a fiver or two for Philip the bucket, you can see an ever-rotating cast of star international players join the two anchors here and push it as far as it’ll go. That was Kellso and Munisteri’s plan from the start, and it was definitely working tonight. The material is traditional jazz (mostly oldtime stuff from the 30s or earlier) but the agenda, as Munisteri put it, is to see “see how far outside we can take it.” By outside, he didn’t mean obscure it or make it deliberately inaccessible. On the contrary, this crew does what all great jazz cats do at the top of their game, hitting a lot of peaks, taking the songs to the limit and sometimes beyond.

The interplay and chemistry between the players is remarkable. They sank their teeth into the old 30s hit Farewell to the Blues, upright bassist Danton Boller taking a solo, and Munisteri didn’t hang him out to dry. When Boller slowed down his run, giving the notes room to breathe, Munisteri picked up the rhythm, comping and punctuating it and it was clear that everybody here is on the same page. Everything sounds better when the band is a team and the song is the manager, and this crew knows that.

Kellso is a bluesman, straight up, no chaser, tonight alternating between gregarious dixieland licks, admirably minimal straight-up blues and a coyly magisterial Prez solo which Boller followed. The likelihood of hearing a Lester Young-inflected horn line played on the bass is pretty rare, but the guy did it. And later in the set he followed another Kellso solo, this time a boisterous, bouncy dixieland one, without straying from the genre. The band was joined this time around by a reed player doubling on clarinet and sax, often working in tandem with Kellso, holding down the melody while Munisteri or Boller were wailing away.

Munisteri is a great listener and expects the crowd to do the same: he doesn’t play very loud, but he doesn’t have to. At one point, he took a solo that was totally B.B. King at his most richly complex until he decided to play fifths on two strings down the scale in some jazz mode. It’s impossible to recall which one it was because the first part of the solo was so amazingly authentic and soulful. Munisteri has blazing speed and a fondness for whipping chords around, but he’s just as likely to mold the melody gently and sparsely (another solo found him tremoloing out his chords a la Bill Frisell, building his crescendo with a lot of suspense). Considering how good the crowd was here tonight in a rainstorm two days before Xmas, with Varick Street closed by police barricades at Charlton Street due to debris from the latest Trump monstrosity falling from several stories above, it would make sense to get here early to assure yourself a seat.

This series started early last summer and it’s picked up enough momentum to the point where it could explode. On one level, that would be fantastic, considering how good the music is and that the players deserve a bigger space. On another level, it’s perfect just the way it is. In the meantime, the Ear Inn – which has admirably designated itself a cellphone-free zone – is the perfect spot, an oasis of decency, good food and fairly reasonably priced drink way over on the west side, a mere couple of minutes walk from the train. Where they put butcher paper on the tables and supply crayons for your personal use.

Believe it or not, this is the only weekly hot jazz blowing session in New York at this time. In a city – or what’s left of it – that has springboarded the careers of so many thousands of great jazz players, it’s about time we had one. Bigtime props to Kellso and Munisteri for getting it going.

December 24, 2007 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Weekly jazz in NYC – who knew? And it’s FREE!

Thought this would bring some of you jazzcats out of the woodwork…. the nonchalantly brilliant guitarist Matt Munisteri sent this over:

“New York keeps losing venues for live music every month, and last summer we lost a wretched – but oddly loveable – joint called The Cajun (NYC developers, and their Lord and Master Michael Bloomberg, finally succeeded where the board of health repeatedly met with failure.) So flash forward to summer 2007, and NYC still has no place where traditional jazz is a regular offering – for the first time in maybe 80 years. So Jon Kellso and myself are starting a regular Sunday hot blowing gig at The Ear Inn (Spring St a half block from the Hudson on the island of Manhattan ).

The Ear is it, folks. It will be free, with tips graciously accepted and respectfully encouraged. And it will be early – 8pm to 11pm. And it will feature many of the best local – and national – players in the scene. And, even better, while we’re calling it a “traditional jazz” gig, you know…that’s just the jumping off point – and pool’s shallow end has been roped off. The only sour note is that it may take a few weeks for Jon and me to be there together.

On the subject: If you’d like a taste of the Ear gig, Jon Kellso’s first CD in around 10 years has just been released. It’s called “Blue Roof Blues” and it’s really good. Go get it. Now.”

June 28, 2007 Posted by | jazz, Live Events, Music, New York City | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment