Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Ellen Lease/Pat Moriarty Jazz Quintet

Where: Studio Z, home of the Zeitgeist new music ensemble
Who: Ellen Lease (piano), Pat Moriarty (alto saxophone), Kelly Rossum (trumpet), Chris Bates (bass), Dave Stanoch (drums)

We snag the last three seats in a row in a small room that fills to standing room capacity. (The young man in the orange polyester zigzag trousers just outside the door keeps selling tickets.) I’m not familiar with Lease, Moriarty, or Stanoch but knowing that Bates and Rossum will play has brought me here tonight.

It’s the first CD release for the avant-garde quintet; Chance, Love, Logic is just out on Innova Recordings, the label of the American Composers Forum and home to George Cartwright, Carei Thomas, Steve Reich, and other interesting modern musicians and composers. All of the compositions on Chance, Love, Logic are originals by Lease and Moriarty.

Lease introduces “Phoebe” as “the oldest tune in our book.” It’s melodic and tuneful. “Phrenology,” named for the practice of determining one’s mental faculties and character by the shape of the skull, is next. Stanoch blows a toy trumpet and the band quotes from “Spinning Wheel,” the song by Blood, Sweat & Tears that in turn quotes “The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round.” It’s a tricky tune with a carny feel.

I think the next song is “Italy” but I can’t be sure. The two horns dance. I’m wishing Lease’s piano was miked, or her playing was a bit more muscular; I’m missing parts of her performance, especially the more lyrical passages.

Lease tells us that the title track was inspired by something she read by Robert Motherwell, who was a philosophy major before he was an artist. He called chance, love, and logic the “eternal values.” As I listen, I wonder if I’m hearing a love song, a melody of chance and improvisation, a logical work, or all three.

“Orange” is an homage to Matisse. The next tune has no title; Lease suggests a contest where we all submit suggestions to win a six-pack of a fancy microbrew. She lays down a thick carpet of arpeggios repeated over and over. Bates bows his bass; Moriarty and Rossum come in together, bending and sliding. I think the word "undertow." A potential name for the tune?

“Liner” leaves room for everyone to solo. “A Round with Sphere” is a bow to Thelonious S. (for Sphere) Monk. “Cloisters,” the final song of the evening, is thoughtful and spiritual; Stanoch plays sleigh bells.

Lease is an artist of subtlety and grace. Since this is the first time I have heard her, I hesitate to speculate on her style, but she doesn’t seem like someone who plays strident runs or splashy chords. I would like to hear her again. Until then, I’ll enjoy the CD by the quintet formerly known as “the best unrecorded band out there.”

Photo of the quintet by John Whiting.

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