Gather a group of jazz musicians into a concert hall, and you’re guaranteed an interesting night. When those musicians are part of the New School’s renowned jazz faculty, that interesting night takes a quirky turn. Randomly selected to perform together in Arnhold Hall with bandleader Andy Milne, the two pianists, two bassists, tenor saxist, trumpeter, and vocalist filled the modest venue with a few standards, faculty originals, a folk tune or two…and five moments that stretched the bounds of instrumentation to creative heights.
5. Standing before a laptop, gong, and drum set, pianist (and percussionist for the night) David Lopato introduced “Shadow of a Bird in Passage”, a Tibetan-inspired interpretation of the soul’s journey to birth. Wielding several metal bowls in hand, bassist (and also impromptu percussionist) Johannes Weidenmueller joined Lopato in crafting an earthy vibe, punctuated by Cecil Bridgewater’s siren-like trumpet. The layering of rustic and sleek textures was surprisingly intuitive, even when Lopato digitally remixed Julie Hardy’s vocals against an organic aural backdrop.
4. As soon as the opening notes of “11211” seeped from the piano, only one thought came to mind: This must be Jay Bianchi’s piece. And Bianchi –hunched over and immersed in the keys – did indeed craft the intense composition. While he pensively pushed forward, Weidenmueller’s upright bass twisted into Alexis Cuadrado’s Latin-tinged electric chords, both bassists infusing the air with a playful edge.
3. Amid the stew of tangents in “The Farmer’s Market” – Milne’s keyboard synths, Bianchi’s acoustic musings, Bridgewater and tenor saxist Arun Luthra’s brassy conversation – one voice stood strident and sensational. Hardy’s voice, that is. Her scatted “do-dah”s recalled the plump sound of a xylophone, especially when dancing across Weidenmueller’s mellower plucks.
2. Lopato, Milne, and Bianchi raised Duke Ellington to the third power in a musical and gymnastic feat on “In a Sentimental Mood”. Alternating as lead pianists, they lent the piece three distinct flavors in a matter of minutes. Lopato dipped in and out of melodic conventions in a warm opener, passing the aural baton onto Milne, who – while Lopato played on his knees to make room on the bench – brought a cooler ambience to the florid affair. Bianchi slipped in after, echoing the warmth and ease of his piano predecessors in a more traditional context.
1. Throughout the evening, the band was vocal about its lack of a drummer and ironic abundance of pianists and bassists – but Luthra transcended the obstacle in his witty, cross-instrumental “Collective”. Saxophone slung over his neck, he jolted right into the improvised jam…though not with his brassy tone. Luthra’s konnakol (a South Indian form of vocal percussion) launched a funky rhythm accented by Milne’s piano string plucks and Cuadrado’s acidic electric bass. Weidenmueller knocked away at his upright bass frame, adding a hollow foil to the pungent mix. And Bianchi summed up the mood in Arnhold Hall as he watched from the stage steps, swinging, twisting, tapping, and grooving to the downright irresistible beat.