Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

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.

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