The Fall Festival at The Seasons ended on Saturday night with a shout. In the second of two concerts by the Bill Mays Trio, the focus was primarily on themes from classical music. The string section of the Finisterra Trio integrated with the Mays group on several pieces. Following two days of rehearsals laced with hard work and laughter,
violinist Kwan Bin Park and cellist Kevin Krentz put aside the typical classical player’s apprehension about whether they could swing. They could. They did–mightily–with pianist Mays, bassist Martin Wind and drummer Matt Wilson.
The program included Rachmaninov, Debussy, Mendelssohn, Ravel, Borodin, Bach and Rodrigo, with additional compositions by Mays, Wind and Wilson. The pieces by the trio alone were at the Mays Trio’s customary high level of excellence. The performances with strings were extraordinary, particularly in the breathtaking closers of each half. Mays’ arrangement of the fourth movement of Felix Mendelssohn’s “Piano Trio in C Minor” opened up for the trio’s jazz improvisation and May’s skillfully written “blowing” lines for the strings. One section employed unalloyed E-flat blues changes, the other Mendelssohn’s own harmonies. Wilson’s solo on the blues was a living definition of melodic drumming, Wind’s on the more complex Mendelssohn changes a stunning demonstration of tonal depth and harmonic resourcefulness. In the movement’s famous hymn variations, the blend of cello, violin, piano and arco bass was almost unbearably moving. Mays’ variations on the variations summoned up still more hymns, including an allusion to “Bringing In The Sheaves.” If you think the famous “We Want Cantor” 1-6-2-5 harmonic sequence began with Eddie Cantor, listen to the conclusion of the Mendelssohn C Minor. And it was old when he used it. Properly played by a classical piano trio, that finale is a powerhouse. With the addition of Wind’s bass and Wilson’s drums, it is enough to lift an audience out of its seats. It did.
Mays’ “Peace Waltz” (aka “Kaleidoscope”) and Wilson’s setting of three poems by Carl Sandburg included narration, which I was flattered to be asked to provide. The poems from Sandburg’s The People, Yes, were “As Wave Follows Wave,” “To Know Silence Perfectly” and “Choose,” with beautifully written parts for the five instruments. Wilson’s instructions included improvisation by the classical players, which Krentz and Park performed as if they had been doing it all their lives. “Choose” has the passion of a 1930s labor protest song or something by Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra.
The single clenched fist lifted and ready.
Or the open asking hand held out and waiting.
For we meet by one or the other.
I was recruited to play melody on flugelhorn in “Choose” and to commit free improvisation along with the quintet. It ended up sounding like Don Cherry sitting in with your neighborhood Salvation Army band.
The final piece began with Mays playing J.S. Bach’s “Two-Part Invention No. 8 in F Major,” BWV 779,segueing into Charlie Parker’s “Scrapple From The Apple,” the cello and violin playing Parker’s “Ah-Leu-Cha” in counterpoint. Mays, Wind and Wilson each soloed at length, Mays quoting “Nola” and “Jitterbug Waltz,” among other several other unlikely things. But he wasn’t through quoting when his solo ended. The penultimate chorus that Mays wrote for the ensemble contained snatches of “Tenor Madness,” “Buzzy” and “Honeysuckle Rose.” The final shout chorus of counterpoint on the Parker themes concluded with the celebrated coda of Parker’s 1947 Dial recording of “Scrapple From The Apple,” the strings wrapping it up on a tremendous tremolo. The encore was a repeat of the shout chorus.
We have frequently discussed in Rifftides the undeservedness of ninety percent of standing ovations these days. This standing O at The Seasons was in the other ten percent.
Jim Wilke recorded the concert for his Jazz Northwest radio program. There is talk that it may also be released on compact disc. Stay tuned.