Julian Priester is a musician of uncommon breadth as a composer, leader
teacher and–most notably–a highly individual and subtle trombone soloist . Priester is quiet and self-effacing, but he could justifiably boast about having satisfied such contrasting leaders as Duke Ellington and Sun Ra, Cal Tjader and John Coltrane, Lionel Hampton and Dave Holland, Bo Diddley and Max Roach, among others. Since he immersed himself in academia thirty years ago, opportunities to hear Priester live have been rarer than when he was in the thick of the New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco jazz scenes.
Last night, I had had one of those rare opportunities. Priester and pianist Dawn
Clement, his teaching colleague and former student at Seattle’s Cornish College of the Arts, brought their quartet to The Seasons. The concert was superb throughout, but in three extended pieces following the intermission, it went beyond that. Five years ago Priester’s CD In Deep End Dance, was striking for the rapport between the sixty-seven-year-old trombonist and the pianist then in her early twenties. Their empathy has deepened. Last night with the collaboration of bassist Geoff Harper and drummer Jose Martinez, the power of their performance built through the evening until, on the final number, the swing feeling reached a happy intensity that raised it above the “having a good night” category. The piece was Priester’s “First Nature.” For the musicians and the audience, it became a memorable experience in ¾ time, one nobody in the room is likely to forget.
Last year, Priester, Clement, Harper and Martinez recorded much of the music they played last night. Harper told me that “First Nature” reached the same height at the record session in Rudy Van Gelder’s studio as it did at The Seasons. That CD will be out later this year. I look forward to it.
Coincidentally, two new CDs involving Clement arrived a few hours before last night’s concert. One is her own album, Break, with drummer Matt Wilson and bassist Dean Johnson. The other is soprano saxophonist Jane Ira Bloom’s Mental Weather, also with Wilson, and bassist Mark Helias. I’ll be listening further to both, but a couple of hearings of each persuade me further that Dawn Clement is one of the most interesting pianists to emerge in years. In the precision and interaction of her work with Bloom, she fully employs both her classical technique and her jazz soul. It seems to me that in Bloom’s extensive discography, Mental Weather is one of the finest things she has done.